Catawba Falls is one of Western North Carolina’s exceptional Blue Ridge waterfalls – one which is along the steep escarpment where the higher mountain lands drop off to the Piedmont areas below.
It’s located on an isolated tract of Pisgah National Forest property near Old Fort, NC, at the southern end of the Grandfather Ranger District, just south of I-40. A new parking area and trail culminates years of effort to provide public access to this special area, which required a variety of legislation to accomplish. Today, Catawba Falls is open to visitors and a highly recommended destination.
Catawba Falls itself is divided into two or three main sections (depending on who you ask), along a stretch of the Catawba River which drops around 600 feet in about a half mile. The main upper part is about 50 feet high and is a free-fall, while the lower (or middle) section is over 100 feet high across multiple falls and cascades. It’s more of a rushing creek than a river at this point, and thus shares an attribute with most higher mountain falls: it looks best after wet weather. Still, there is enough area on the plateau above to gather water that it’s worth visiting any time, even in periods of lower water. It never dries up completely.
The small cascade below the old dam may constitute a third “lower” part of Catawba falls. Much of this cascade – the part most people see – is man-made and will be eliminated when the dam is removed, making them even smaller. The prettiest part of this cascade is natural, but most people don’t see it due to difficulty of accessing it. Personally, this is far enough downstream and distinct from the main falls that I think they should have a separate name.
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