Upper Catawba Falls after a good summer rain. // Photo courtesy Jordan Mitchell and www.WNCOutdoors.info

Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:

Question: Catawba Falls was closed last spring for major work by the Forest Service. Is it on track to open this spring? What kind of work are they doing there? I’ve never visited and would love to get there this year.

My answer: Have you thought about maybe visiting a little later, like say, spring of 2024? Or maybe just setting your sights on some other waterfalls in the area? Hey, just trying to break it to you easy …

Real answer: Just as a quick FYI, I first sent this question to the U.S. Forest Service public information office on Jan. 31. I think they’re going through some transitions with their public information office, so after multiple emails and not hearing back, I just called the Grandfather Mountain Ranger Office.

So, apologies to the reader for this taking so long, as the spring hiking season is upon us.

At any rate, it’s not good news if you were hoping to hike to this scenic attraction this year.

“It’s going to be 2024,” said Teresa Eisenbraun, an office assistant in the Grandfather District who also handles information duties. “They’re just doing a lot of improvement in the area, and some other things to make it safer.”

View from Catawba Falls Trail // Photo courtesy US Forest Service

I’ve hiked this trail before, and it is a beautiful waterfall. But it’s also very rocky, and really steep in places, so the upgrades are needed.

Just a word of safety here, as a lot of folks will be getting out to view some of the hundreds of waterfalls in the mountains this year: Stay off of the falls! Every year people plunge to their deaths from waterfalls, or suffer horrible injuries, usually after venturing to the top or trying to climb up them. Some drown in the pools below.

The falls are beautiful but really slippery and dangerous, so please be careful out there. And again, stay off the falls!

Getting back to Catawba Falls, which is located in McDowell County near Old Fort, this is a major project. The April 20, 2022 press release about the closure did say the falls would “remain closed until spring of 2023,” but clearly that’s not the case.

The release said the popular trail would 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.”

Lisa Jennings, Recreation Manager for the US Forest Service Grandfather District, and Jon Lane, a Trails & Resource Specialist with the G5 Trail Collective in Old Fort, at Catawba Falls // Screengrab from USFS website

“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,” Nicholas Larson, Grandfather District Ranger, said in that press release. “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 (in) the Pisgah National Forest. We ask for folks’ patience as we make these critical improvements.”

Looks like they’re asking for even more patience now.

To be fair, this attraction became crazy crowded in recent years, and it needed some upgrades. The Forest Service acquired the property in 2006 from Foothills Land Conservancy.

Between 2010 and 2016, the Forest Service added trailhead parking and restrooms, and it upgraded one mile of trail, including two new bridges over the river, according to the release. But visitors, after crossing the second bridge, had to walk through “a boulder field with no clear path to reach Lower Catawba Falls.”

The ongoing work began at the second bridge and continues to the base of Lower Catawba Falls, and along the creek to Upper Catawba Falls, the release states.

Stay off the falls!

“Boardwalks, platforms, and overlooks will improve access to the lower falls, while still providing access to the creek for wading,” the release continued. “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 Forest Service will replace this trail with stairs that take you 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,” the release states. “In addition, a 60-foot 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.”

By the way, if you’re thinking of sneaking onto the property, you can be hit with fines up to $500.

So, be patient. Sounds like it’ll be worth the wait — until 2024.

Got a question? Send it to John Boyle at  jboyle@avlwatchdog.org or 828-337-0941.

One reply on “Answer Man: Catawba Falls won’t reopen until 2024?”

  1. You mean “inexperienced” hikers should not climb to the top of the falls for a better selfie, right? Asking for a Floridian.

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