At 42, I probably shouldn’t be going on my first-ever hike. I’m not the most outdoorsy person, but I love trail walking near home. The problem is that my home is basically at sea level, and according to most hiking maps, the nearest proper trail is a few hours from where I live. I haven’t been on a trip yet where I was willing to drive three hours to hike.
As an update right after we visited North Carolina had a huge storm that wiped out much of what we experienced. They have been working to reopen and make significant improvements. It appears they are trying to reopen in Spring 2024!
However, since Mom and I got a season pass for Biltmore Estate (check out how to get a FREE wine tasting at Biltmore Estate), we have begun exploring the Asheville, NC area with more interest. Catawba Falls was one of those places we wanted to check out, and it was a delightful morning that I want to share with you.
Things To Get Before You Hike Catawba Falls (Lower Falls):
- Trail Shoes or Boots. My mother and I rarely agree on things, but we agreed after today that some sort of trail shoe or boot is necessary. I worked part-time in a running store, so we both got trail running shoes since that’s what I know. I got the Saucony Peregrine Trail Running Shoe, and I LOVED them (full disclosure: I had a BIG coupon code because of my job- not sure I would have paid the actual price for them since we can’t hike too often where I live). They would be well worth the investment if I lived near hiking trails. I could climb, go through muddy spots, jump, and feel MUCH more secure than I would have with regular tennis shoes.
- Bring water/food. This seems like a no-brainer, but it was so lovely to sit and look at the falls while drinking some water! We didn’t bring food, but some couples were setting up small picnic meals. Please note SMALL because there isn’t a ton of level space. So if you want to hang out for a while, maybe bring some snacks.
- Walking Sticks/Poles. I did okay without these, but my mom said several times she wished she had some. From a quick online search, it seems they vary in price from about $15 to $40 new. It might be a good investment depending on your comfort level.
- I’m not sure if the socks made a difference, but they are comfy. Mom and I also both got hiking socks before the trip. Through a weird scenario I would never be able to replicate I managed to get a really good deal, so I got some wigwam hiking socks. This hike isn’t too long, and they didn’t get wet so I didn’t really need them, but I appreciated the crew height and the extra padding was nice. The shoes are much more important.
My First Ever Hike
My mom actually did all the research on this particular hike. It was listed as easy and perfect for beginners. I had never been on a proper hike before, and it had been years for my mom so we figured beginner was appropriate. We got the few supplies we thought we would need and headed out. The GPS led us there; we just searched for “Catabwa Falls Trail,” and it led us right to the parking lot. If you need some guidance, it’s in Old Fort, NC.
I was delighted to find a nice paved parking lot and a clean, well-equipped BATHROOM. It doesn’t have running water but had everything I needed not to have to pee in the woods.
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I’m a sucker for history so I also stopped and read the plaque about the trail, its history and the dedication.
It is about a three-mile round-trip hike from everything I had seen online. My mom was expecting it to be under an hour, but I had done some digging around, and in my head, I was expecting closer to two if not longer. My number ended up being the right one so be sure to give yourself some time. I know it seems like a short distance, but you will want to take pictures and explore. I would hate for you to be rushed and miss something!
The first part of the trail is indeed perfect for the beginner. Completely flat. Beautiful trees (at least in April when we went) and so quiet you can hear every animal moving. The trees were tall and beautiful.
I’m a rebel. Not really- I never climbed on the walls. Inside the park are the remains of a facility that used the falls to create electricity years ago. There is also an amazing dam from that period as well.
Most of the walk is on the river bank so you have delightful sounds and views. I didn’t want this post to be all pictures in the middle so be sure to scroll down to see the shots of the river.
So this shot is the first moment Mom and I became painfully aware of our novice status. As I said she had read online, that the trail was for beginners. She had also read that there were lower falls (the easy hike) and upper falls (a treacherous hike). If you look above you will see the little water crossing I am navigating. We hit this crossing and the small falls by it and assumed we had reached the falls. Because obviously, only a seasoned hiker could cross that right?
We took tons of pictures and discussed how beautiful the small waterfall was. We were ready to turn around, but I wanted a picture of me on the big rock on the other side so I braved the “dangerous” rocks. After a few crossings, I showed my mom how easy it was and we decided to continue and then stop once it became “treacherous”.
We kept going. And then I heard the water getting louder and saw a waterfall ahead. Surely THIS is the waterfall. We had made it through the treacherous path! Then the senior woman using her camera to take pictures said “Keep going- the actual waterfall isn’t too far away.” It turns out this was the dam built back in the day. Her husband- who was 60 and had two knee replacements- assured us we could make it. Yep, we aren’t all that smart.
When I was researching hiking, I saw the term “scramble” often. It means to be hiking, but you have to use your hands. I’m not climbing, but I’m kind of in between hiking and climbing. What we saw as we went ahead was what I would call a “light scramble.” There were plenty of branches to grab, some big steps, and a little dirt, but you could hear the waterfall getting louder and louder. It gave me the energy to keep going. Mom rocked it.
Then we came around the corner, and BAM! Catawba Falls. While in awe of its beauty, I also felt like a complete idiot that we had almost stopped with those tiny little falls and missed this amazing thing.
I noticed to the right of the falls was a proper scramble. I wanted to get as close to the falls as possible so Mom stayed at the bottom and I climbed up the side. Some challenges reminded me I needed to get back in the gym. I could stick my hands in the falls and have a little privacy for a spiritual moment alone behind a big rock.
Also at the top is this sign and number, a right of passage to touch. I had to go do that.
After much time appreciating the falls, the walk back to the car was mostly downhill. We stopped and checked out some side paths and took more pictures. Since we were so much braver on the walk back than we had been on the walk out we really explored. The whole forest is absolutely stunning. I saw VERY little garbage or human impact. Everyone on the trail was so friendly.
I would love to hike it again on another trip, especially with my newfound confidence on the trail. I highly recommend Catawba Falls! We will be planning more trips soon!
Here are the rest of my favorite photos: