Hike the Catawba Falls Trail to a series of beautiful waterfalls east of Asheville, NC Pisgah National Forest

Catawba Falls Trail

Hike the Catawba Falls Trail east of Asheville, trekking through a mossy, shady forest valley to a beautiful series of waterfalls on the Catawba River.

trail info

2.7 miles
(round trip)
moderate
Dog-
friendly

LOCATION:east of Asheville, in the Pisgah National Forest (maps & directions)

GEAR: Osprey Stratos 24 Backpack w/ our favorite hiking gear list and Canon 6D Camera

OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 779 Trails Illustrated Map

The headwaters of the Catawba River are beautifully scenic. Just east of Asheville, the river tumbles through a rolling forest, cascading in a series of waterfalls and flowing over a mossy riverbed set in a shady, scenic stretch of the Pisgah National Forest. This fantastic dayhike explores waterfall after waterfall on the Catawba Falls Trail, hiking just over two miles through a shady forest to the seeping wall of vibrant green moss and tendrils of water known as Lower Catawba Falls.

Hike the Catawba Falls Trail east of Asheville to a beautiful, waterfall-filled river valleyAbove: the Catawba River cascades down over a rocky, moss-covered cliff east of Asheville

In the early 1900s, the river’s turbulent flow was dammed by a small concrete dam and harnessed by a hydroelectric facility. The rustic remnants and ruins of the electrical plant still stand in the quiet, sun-dappled forest today, covered in moss and lichen, and slowly receding into the forest. The history, beautiful forest and stunning waterfalls score this trail high with local hikers: it’s one of the most popular waterfall hikes near Asheville, and it makes for a great, shady trail run, too.

The trail meanders through a shady forest, fording several usually-shallow crossings to visit several small waterfalls, a beautiful waterfall at the old electric dam, and the tall cascades of Lower Catawba Falls as it tumbles down a multi-tiered, moss-covered cliff. At just over 2.5 miles, roundtrip, and with just over 300 feet of climb, it’s a moderate hike that’s great for families with kids, families with dogs or just about anyone in search of some beautiful waterfalls.

Catawba Falls Trail: the hike

The hike departs a signed trailhead near Old Fort, just east of Asheville on I-40 (view maps and driving directions). The hike trails southwest, ducking into a shady forest of pine and leafy fern. The trail reaches the Catawba River at just under .2 mile, following yellow trail blazes on a newly-opened section of trail. The hike crosses a metal span bridge over the Catawba River, newly installed in summer 2016, at the base of the moss-encrusted remains of a stacked-stone powerhouse on the banks of the rocky-bedded river.

Hike the Catawba Falls Trail to beautiful waterfalls and the century-old electric plant near Asheville

The hike follows the river upstream, climbing elevation and rising high above the river’s banks. A small side trail descends to the river at .75 mile, sighting several small waterfalls on the Catawba at the confluence with a small tributary stream.

The hike returns to the Catawba Falls Trail, crossing the stream, Clover Patch Branch, and resuming the climb. A steep side trail descends to the river’s banks at .9 mile, catching views of a tumbling waterfall on the river beside a small cave.

The Catawba River tumbles over a cliff in a mossy, shady forest on the Catawba Falls Trail

The hike continues climbing, reaching an old moss and lichen-covered concrete dam at 1 mile. The river cascades down through an opening in the dam, tumbling in streams of whitewater and over moss-covered rocks. (As always, don’t climb on the dam, or on or near the rocks surrounding waterfalls, as the rocks are often very slippery.)

 

The Catawba Falls Trail hikes to a historic dam on the waterfall-filled Catawba River near Asheville

Departing the dam, the trail becomes rocky, scrambling over boulders and crossing Chestnut Branch, as the sound of rushing water grows louder. The hike arcs through a switchback and rounds a curve, the lower stretches of the towering waterfall suddenly appearing in the near distance.

Lower Catawba Falls cascades over a rocky, blocky outcrop, spilling in multiple tiers and tendrils over the moss and plant-covered cliff.

Hike to lower Catawba Falls near Asheville, catching views of this beautiful waterfall framed in mossy and leafy, green foliage

Large boulders below the falls make a great place to relax, grab a dip in the waterfall’s cool flow or enjoy some quick mid-hike refreshments before the return hike. Departing the waterfall, the hike doubles back on the outbound trail, an easy and nearly continuous descent. The trail reaches the Catawba Falls trailhead at 2.7 miles, completing the hike.

Note: slippery rocks and fast moving water can be extremely dangerous! Please don’t climb, stand on, swim near, or jump from any waterfall. Previously, the trail continued past Lower Catawba Falls, making an extremely difficult, heavily eroded and dangerous climb to an upper waterfall. Until trail conditions improve, though, the trail to Upper Catawba Falls is officially closed.

Nearby Asheville-area hiking adventures

Catawba Falls is located south of Mount Mitchell, the tallest summit east of the Mississippi River, and one of the most beautiful, scenic hiking areas we’ve explored. Catch stunning, sweeping, see-forever views and hike through a beautiful high-elevation forest on the Mount Mitchell Summit and Balsam Nature Trail. Or hike from peak to peak on the Deep Gap Trail from Mount Mitchell to Mount Craig and Big Tom Mountain, following the view-packed ridge line of the Black Mountain range.

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Catawba Falls Trail Map, Directions & Details

Catawba Falls Trail Map
Catawba Falls Trail Map
This map is not a substitute for official trail maps or topographic maps.

Driving Directions


Parking

Free parking is available at the Catawba Falls trailhead.

GPS Coordinates

35.613083, -82.230667     //     N35 36.785 W82 13.840

Elevation Profile

Catawba Falls Trail: Elevation Profile
Leave No Trace: Asheville Trails is an official Leave No Trace partner

Please Remember

Always leave no trace, tell someone where you're going, pack safety and wayfinding essentials, don't rely on a mobile phone to find your way, and follow these trail etiquette tips.

 
Eric Champlin is a writer and photographer who loves to hike, run, backpack, kayak and cycle the southeast. He’s the editor and founder of Atlanta Trails and Asheville Trails, online magazines that cover the South’s best outdoor adventures. His mission? To inspire others to get fit outdoors and explore the South’s incredible scenic beauty.
 
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