When an easy hike brings you to the bottom of an incredible waterfall, you go for it. You bring the kids. You bring the dog. You just get your tush moving right to it! Catawba falls is just under 2 hours from Charlotte and 45 minutes East of Asheville. North Carolina waterfalls baby! They never fail to amaze me.
With a round trip of about 3 miles, this is a fantastic opportunity for kids to see a fantastic North Carolina waterfall. Because you can play for as long as you like at the bottom of the falls, everyone has time for a nice break and a snack before heading back down. There is some scrambling over rocks involved in the hike and kids just love it! There are also a few stream crossings that have dry rocks positioned, but in times of high water after a large rainfall, you will be getting your feet wet in the river. I advise water shoes for this hike and many other hikes near water. If you are with young children, be sure to hold their hands or carry them across these streams as the rocks are very slick.
Towards the beginning of the hike you will encounter your first crossing and when the water is high this one can be tough. The second stream crossing comes after about 20 minutes (with kids) and is easier to cross and stay dry. Clearly you will move much faster without les enfants.
Then you begin to hear and see the falls. And get excited!
Most people say there are 3 falls on this hike. What is known as the lower falls is really what comes over a dam that was built in the 1920’s to provide hydroelectric power for Old Fort, NC. You can see the remains of an old powerhouse to the right of the dam. I hear eventually this dam will be removed. It is very dangerous and not advised to go on the wall at all. There is a small trail down to the the bottom but it seems dangerous and we have never gone down there on our hikes.
Just a few minutes after the dam is the 3rd crossing, which can be tricky. We had to help the kids over a large tree that has fallen and over some big rocks. Then it is just a few minutes to what is known as Middle Falls and the main waterfall at Catawba. It falls 100 feet in a terraced fashion over levels of rocks and is stunning. It is one of the shortest hikes to a fall like this.
If you are feeling adventurous there is a VERY rough trail to the right of the falls that will take you to the upper falls. Be warned, it is dangerous and can be considered technical hiking. There is a rope that you can grab onto to help with the climb, but be aware that it is not meant to support your whole weight and also remember that it is more difficult to get down from the upper falls than it is to get up. I have not personally hiked all the way to the top, but stopped about half way up middle falls for a gorgeous view. My young children stopped at the rope, and that will be the case for some years to come. Sometimes as parents we must give up the thing we would do if we were on our own with grown ups and tackling a dangerous portion of a hike is one of these things. I did get a picture from about half way up the falls.
Catawba Falls was just opened to the public in 2012 after many years of collecting land and monies to keep this land from being developed and to provide access to everyone. Supporting groups that work to keep gorgeous areas like this open for our use is so very important. Catawba falls was purchased in two separate transactions by the Foothill Conservancy of North Carolina.
Directions: Take I-40 to exit 73, the second Old Fort exit. Before the ramp ends, turn right onto Catawba River Road. Go 3 miles to the end of the road. The new, larger parking area is on the left side of the road just across the bridge. Currently (July 2013) the bridge is closed to cars, but you may park before the bridge and walk over. The parking lot will be empty but there are restrooms and a trail map there before you hop on the trail.
Happy Trails is a new series here on That’s Vandy! Exploring our gorgeous forests is one of our favorite things to do as a family and I hope to encourage more people to get outside and take the kids to the mountains! A little forest adventure goes a long way towards encouraging confidence and fostering a love for the outdoors and a passion for protecting the land we live in.