The Catawba Falls trail on the Grandfather Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest will close on May 2, 2022, and remain closed until spring of 2023. The popular trail near Old Fort, NC, will be closed for 9-12 months to ensure the safety of the public and construction crews building retaining walls, boardwalks, staircases, and overlooks that will greatly improve the trail and visitor safety.
“The location of Catawba Falls allows a wide spectrum of visitors to have an outstanding experience at a waterfall on the National Forest, but this is also the site in McDowell County with the most emergency rescue calls,” explains Nicholas Larson, Grandfather District Ranger. “This work will address critical safety needs and protect the headwaters of the Catawba River, while increasing accessibility for visitors. We recognize that Catawba Falls is one of the most loved waterfalls on the Pisgah National Forest. We ask for folks’ patience as we make these critical improvements.”
Improvements have been planned since the U.S. Forest Service acquired the site from the Foothills Land Conservancy in 2006. Between 2010 and 2016, trailhead parking and restrooms were added, and one mile of trail was upgraded including the installation of two bridges at river crossings that increased accessibility, safety, and water quality along much of the trail. However, after crossing the second bridge visitors must travel through a boulder field with no clear path to reach Lower Catawba Falls.
This phase of improvements will begin at the second bridge continuing to the base of Lower Catawba Falls and along the creek to Upper Catawba Falls. Boardwalks, platforms, and overlooks will improve access to the lower falls, while still providing access to the creek for wading.
Beyond the lower falls, an increasing number of visitors ignore warnings and climb to Upper Catawba Falls on a dangerous user-created route that follows the cliff edge of the falls. Many serious injuries and deaths have occurred on this route and at the upper falls. The dangerous trail will be replaced by stairs taking visitors to an overlook half-way up the falls. This will provide a safe view of the upper falls and allow visitors to experience the spray of the waterfall. In addition, a 60-ft tower will be installed at the base of the cliff as an overlook that will be part of a future path to the upper falls.
This work is supported by funding from the Great American Outdoors Act, NC State Recreation Trails Program, McDowell County, National Forest Foundation, and G5 Trail Collective. Work will be completed by Tag Contracting, a local Old Fort company.
The work at Catawba Falls is just one part of the larger Old Fort Trails Project that will bring a wide range of trail improvements to this area of Pisgah National Forest.
More work at Catawba Falls is planned in the future that will allow visitors to climb the trail to an overlook at the base of the upper falls and loop back to the parking lot along a new trail on the south side of the Catawba River. That work has not yet been scheduled.
During construction, public access will be prohibited with fines up to $500 for violators. For more information, contact the Grandfather Ranger District at 828-652-2144.