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Let’s Hike: Catawba Falls delights both new and experienced hikers

Catawba Falls is a popular hike for good reason – it’s not difficult and the scenery is awesome.

Many people ask me for advice about where to go hiking, especially those who are new to the area and eager to explore. I don’t think anyone should miss out on the natural beauty of our area, and many hikes are suitable for beginners. Catawba Falls is a destination that most people can tackle. Near Black Mountain and Asheville and just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Pisgah National Forest, it is a short drive from Greenville. 

The falls lie just outside the rustic hamlet of Old Fort, N.C., with its simple, white Victorian homes. Old Fort is no shopping mecca, but there is an art gallery in town. On the way to the falls, Dragonfly Studios sits upon a grassy hillside covered with unique, metal sculptures. Consider bringing a picnic or eating in one of the nearby towns if fast food isn’t your style.

The gravel parking lot has ample space for many visitors. At the trailhead, there are chemical toilets, not flush.

The trailhead does not have a map, but the route is obvious, without confusing rabbit trails. Most of the trail follows along the river. Some websites state the trail is three miles, but the sign at the trailhead said 1.2 miles. It’s an out-and-back hike, so that would put actual distance at 2.4 miles. 

The start is mostly flat, and then there are a series of gradual inclines. Someone with mobility issues would have difficulty navigating some of the rocks, but many seniors were on the trail during my last visit. This is the type of hike I would have brought my preschoolers to venture, but I would also have planned on carrying them part of the way.

There are two creeks to cross along the trail. Consider bringing a second pair of socks and shoes, especially during cooler months. Parents may wish to carry little ones across to keep little feet dry. If you do bring extra shoes, keep in mind that after crossing once, you have to go back across again, so be mindful not to end up with two pairs of wet shoes.

Along the way, there was such a beautiful cascade, I thought I had reached the main falls. Although lovely, the main draw was farther up the trail. The second bridge crosses another waterfall just before the trail ends. The main waterfall was just beyond the bridge, so arriving among all this rushing water was stunning. 

Important notes: as always, it’s never safe to climb waterfalls. This is a day-use area. There is no camping on the trail, but there is a commercial campground just before the falls. Also, no biking or horses are permitted on the trail. Dogs are allowed, but they must be leashed.

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