Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Catawba Falls Trail

After Jack and I met up at the McDonald's in Old Fort we drove to the nearby trailhead to begin our hike to Catawba Falls. Neither of us had ever seen this waterfall, but we'd both read plenty about it. Until recently access to the falls was difficult. While the waterfall itself is solidly on public property (Pisgah National Forest), the trail passes through private property right at the start. The landowner had forbidden any trespassing at all, and so the only way to get to Catawba Falls was either via an arduous bushwhack, or taking yer chances and trespassing on private property.

Finally, though, an accommodation was reached and now access through the bit of private property is now allowed for hikers.

The trail is pretty easy and straightforward. There are about three water crossings, but only one of them can get you very wet, and we found a way around it by hiking upstream to a log bridge formed by a dead hemlock tree. Lots of dead hemlocks in those forests, of course. The place is soon going to be lousy with fallen hemlocks.

The best known of the three major falls on the hike are the ones generally called Catawba Falls. They are, in fact, best labeled "Lower Catawba Falls". For while they are the higher of the trio of big waterfalls, they are not the most spectacular. Still, they're worth the hike if all you do is travel to the base of the lower falls and look on. They are quite impressive.

Before you get to those you pass an unnamed waterfall below an abandoned dam. The dam once produced electric power pre-Depression. But it has long since been abandoned and breached and now is just a very dangerous spot where (stupid) people can crawl atop it and fall to their deaths. You can hike a trail to the base of these falls for a good look up at them.

But the best waterfall on the trail is the ones that lie far above Lower Catawba Falls. Access to them involves negotiating an extremely steep and rugged trail that follows the right side of the lower falls. It hugs close to those falls and often involves the use of all four limbs. At one point there is a rope that someone has installed to aid in getting up a rock face. The help is good, but I wouldn't trust the rope with full weight. As others have advised, just use it as an aid.

Once you reach the top of the trail you are rewarded with a grand view of what has to be among the finest waterfalls in all of the southeastern USA. There are few waterfalls that I've encountered that equal this one is sheer beauty. I would dearly love to revisit this spot in summer to go swimming in the plunge pool at the base of the falls.

I reeeeeally need to revisit this waterfall.

The falls at the abandoned dam.

The Lower Catawba Falls

The Upper Catawba Falls


dogboy443 said...

All this and you didn't lose another camera? Awesome water works.

HemlockMan said...

You have NO idea! On the second of our two hikes I realized I no longer had my cell phone. So after that hike I had to drive back to the Catawba Falls trail head and begin walking back, retracing my steps, trying to find that damned cell phone. Worse than trying to find a needle in a haystack. But I figured if I stopped and concentrated on all of the spots where I stopped to look or take photos that I'd have a better chance. Against all odds I found it. It was lying in the leaves at one of the last places I lingered to take photos on the way back.