Catawba Falls Trail: Your Updated Guide (July 2024)

This guide shares everything to know about the new Catawba Falls Trail, from where to park to trail length, what to expect at the falls and details on the latest updates.

Catawba Falls is a waterfall trail just 30 minutes from downtown Asheville in Old Fort, NC. The trail to the first waterfall is fairly easy, though you do have the option to take over 500 stairs to a second waterfall.

It was closed for over two years for renovations and opened to the public again in May 2024. It is now a looped trail, so visitors have the option to either take a four-mile loop or a shorter 1.3 mile out and back (~2.5 miles total.)

This guide shares everything to know about the updated Catawba Falls Trail before your visit, including details on parking, information on each of the trails and whether we recommend it for kids.

Quick Facts

Base of Catawba Falls waterfall

Trailhead location: 3074 Catawba River Rd, Old Fort, NC 28762

Trail length: 4-mile loop, but you can take a 1.3 mile out and back trail to the base of the falls.

Difficulty: Easy to moderate (and then really difficult!) The River Trail from the parking lot to the base of the falls is relatively easy. From there you can take 580 stairs to Upper Falls.

Elevation change: The elevation change from the parking lot to the base of the falls is minimal, but it’s extreme once you pass this.

Distance from downtown Asheville: 30 miles

Drive time from downtown Asheville: 30 minutes

Trail Condition: Can be muddy after heavy rain. This is when the waterfall is most impressive. The trail is very shaded.

Directions to Catawba Falls

The Catawba Falls Trailhead is located at exit 73 on I-40 in Old Fort, NC. The trailhead is just under 30 miles east of Asheville and 60 miles west of Hickory.

If coming from downtown Asheville, the road to Catawba Falls (Catawba River Road) is pretty much on the exit– you’ll turn right before you even get to the main road.

If arriving from the opposite direction, you’ll first drive under the interstate and take a right just before the off-ramp for I-40 West.

You may feel like you are going in the wrong direction but you’ll see Catawba River Road on the left. You’ll have to cross over the lane for inbound traffic coming off I-40W.

The trailhead for Catawba Falls is about 3 miles from here. You’ll pass by a few establishments and houses on the way.

Don’t miss our itinerary for a fun day trip in Old Fort, NC. It starts with cinnamon rolls and ends with a cheeseburger (oh, and includes time on the Catawba Falls Trail, of course!

Parking At Catawba Falls

Catawba Falls has a large, looping parking lot right at the trailhead. Be sure to arrive early, though, because it’s a popular trail!

We recommend getting to the trailhead by 9:30 am from May to October. You may want to go even earlier during peak season weekends! This is especially true given the anticipation of the trail’s reopening– it’s one of the most popular trails near Asheville right now!

Cars typically park alongside the road once the lot is full. Be careful when doing this and remain aware of any signage.

Trails At Catawba Falls

There are two main trails at Catawba Falls– one to the main area (the River Trail) and another to Upper Catawba Falls (The Ridge Trail.) The updated trail forms a loop now, but the majority of visitors tend to turn around at the lower part.

Catawba Falls Trailhead

There’s a restroom building and informational signs at the far end of the parking lot. Both trails begin here. The Ridge Trail to Upper Catawba Falls is to the left of this area and the River Trail is to the right.

Catawba Falls River Trail

The River Trail is just over 1 mile to the base of the falls. It’s a fairly easy trail along the Catawba River, with a few bridges to cross. It can get a bit muddy during the rainy season.

You are immediately in the woods once you pass by the entrance to the trail. You’ll find a few picnic tables alongside the trail just a few feet in.

The trail is pretty wide and begins with gravel, though it eventually switches to a dirt path.

A section of the River Trail closed in spring 2024 due to a landslide, but hikers can take the Wildflower Trail to get to the falls. Additional details are found in the next section. It loops around to the original trail and you should have no issue getting there.

Once you arrive at the falls, you’ll see a series of steps that will eventually take you to Upper Catawba Falls. But be warned– there are almost 600 stairs! It is an impressive and absolutely massive structure.

You’ll only need to go up a few flights of stairs to get to the main falls area. There’s seating once you arrive and additional benches along the way.

Most visitors stop at the bottom of the main area and spend a bit of time exploring before heading back the same way they came. There are a few waterfall access points along the stairs.

Only the most determined hikers will take the insane amount of stairs (over 500!) to Upper Catawba Falls. We think the lower falls are impressive enough but if you are ready for an adventure, head on up!

There are several areas to stop along the way as well as a few overlooks. For the most part, the view on the way up is blocked by leaves, though there are a few areas that offer a nice mountain view. This will of course not be the case during winter months– the views will be great at that time!

You’ll arrive at a second waterfall (Upper Falls) at the top of the River Trail (currently not pictured.) You can either hike back down and head to the parking lot on the River Trail, or loop back to the parking lot on the Ridge Trail.

Wildflower Trail

The Wildflower Trail is a spur off of the River Trail. We took it in June 2024 because the main trail was under construction.

Though the name ‘Wildflower Trail’ may sound like an open meadow full of flowers, it’s just a quarter-mile walk through the woods. There weren’t any flowers to report in late spring, but perhaps a visit in early May would be a different story!

Rescue point sign on the Catawba Falls trail

Trail Rescue Points

Keep an eye out for markers indicating where you are along the trail. These are used to direct help your way in case of an emergency.

The Wildflower Trail is a bit narrower than the main trail and takes you up a few stairs and inclines surrounded by trees.

Ridge Trail

The Ridge Trail is new as of May 2024. You can access it to the left of the restroom area at the trailhead. It’s a 2-mile hike to Upper Catawba Falls. Once there you can either turn around or head down the River Trail (over 500 stairs!) to the lower falls and loop back to the parking lot.

Know Before You Go

The River Trail marker is a yellow diamond. It switches to a blue diamond at the stairs.

The Wildflower Trail marker is a red diamond.

The Ridge Trail marker is a purple diamond.

Hiking With Kids At Catawba Falls

The Catawba Falls River Trail is a popular destination for families. It’s great for kids because the trail is just over 1 mile to the base of the falls and isn’t too steep.

You’ll pass several points of interest along the way, including a few bridges and small waterfalls.

The main point of attraction is the waterfall itself, of course. Kids love splashing in the water and walking along the rocks. They are slippery, though!

If you are wondering whether it’s the right trail for you, make sure to consider the length of time your kids will want to walk. Plan on an hour to the trail if your kids aren’t the trail-running type. This allows for a few stops along the way. It’s typically a bit quicker on the way back, but the whole experience can easily fill an entire morning.

Another tip? Pack several snacks and lots of water! And don’t forget a towel (and even a change of clothes!) if your kids have a tendency to splash in water.

If hiking with younger kids, consider bringing a backpack for child carrying to use when their legs inevitably stop working.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long is the Catawba Falls trail?

The Catawba Falls trail is a four-mile loop, though it’s broken into several sections and can easily made into a shorter out-and-back trail. The most popular option is to take the 1.3-mile River Trail to the base of the falls and return the same way. However, you can make it a loop by continuing on the same trail .3 miles UP to Upper Falls, and then looping around on the 2.3-mile Ridge Trail. And, of course, you can do the loop in the opposite direction and start on the Ridge Trail.

Is Catawba Falls good for kids?

Yes, Catawba Falls is a kid-friendly hike. Be prepared to carry your youngest, though! And bring snacks because you’ll want to spend a bit of time at the falls to let your kids rest before hiking back.

Are dogs allowed on the Catawba Falls Trail?

Yes, the Catawba Falls Trail is dog-friendly. Dogs must be leashed at all times.

Where do you park for Catawba Falls?

There’s a large parking lot at the Catawba Falls trailhead. It fills up early during peak season, so plan to arrive early!

Is there a restroom at Catawba Falls?

Yes, there are restrooms at the Catawba Falls trailhead.

Why did Catawba Falls temporarily close?

The trail needed repair, especially the part to Upper Falls. Retaining walls, boardwalks and staircases were added to increase safety. The Ridge Trail was also added, connecting the parking lot to Upper Falls.

Why is there a loose Great Dane at Catawba Falls?

If you made it this far we’ll answer one last burning question! You may have seen a loose Great Dane on the trail. It lives near the trail and is often found wandering around.

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