Last week my barefoot frolicking led me to the Catawba Falls trail in the Pisgah National Forest. The trail itself is 1.5 miles (3 miles round trip) and passes several small waterfalls before ending at the 100+ foot waterfall, Catawba Falls. However, if one stays on the main trail, they would miss many wonders.
The beginning of the trail was a bit of a let down. Many trees have been cut to make a footbridge across the river and there are other signs of construction in the forest. This was a small part of the trail, and it quickly got more interesting as we made our way deeper into the forest. Once we got past the bits of recent human encroachment, we saw an old stone building across the small river. We took a small side trail that led across the creek and up to the abandoned building. Graffiti decorated the walls of this empty shell. The names of the men who built it were carved into the stone.
At just about one mile, a small creek runs across the trail. This is where the fun really begins. If you climb down on the left, or back up on the trail about 50 feet and follow a side trail down, you will find some beautiful areas. The creek falls between two rock slabs into a small wading pond. There are small rock shelters underneath the falls. This is an amazing little place to relax and bathe in the forest’s magic.Keep following the water downhill and you end up at a small swimming hole in the river.
Now back up to the part of the trail where the small creek runs across it… take a right up the creek and you will find about an hour’s worth of rock scrambling up the mountain. Small waterfalls lace through the boulders leaving small, sparkling pools of mica water.
Back on the main trail, after about .2 more miles, you will hear another waterfall. This cascade rushes out through an old stone dam and tumbles down over moss covered stone ledges. If you take a side path down a steep hill just before the dam, you can reach the bottom of the falls. You have now entered a scene from a fantasy story. Old, broken stone making up the wall of the dam hosts various shades of green life. Cracks in the wall release melodious streams of water, descending into the dark depths.
We couldn’t resist making our way up the ledges. Climbing carefully over moss, and up… and out… through a hole in the dam… back into our story.
Eventually you will find that the trail disappears a bit! Make your way through the “rock garden”, finding the trail picking up to the left of the river and soon you will come to the gorgeous falls. There is a small wading pool at the bottom where people like to cool off.
And then there is the other trail… a 1/2 mile climb up to the upper falls. Many websites and trail guides will tell you not to climb this unless you are a seasoned rock climber. This trail is NOT for children! Much to her dismay, I did not let my 11 year old all the way up though she has been rock scrambling since she was very little. I do not suggest this climb if you have bad knees or terrible balance or not much strength in your limbs or if you are alone. Otherwise…
The trail (on the right of the falls) is uphill most of the way with a section of rock climbing where there is an attached rope for your convenience. You may or may not need it. The trail splits a little after the rope. Take the trail on the left at the rock ledge. The trail on the right will get you there, but it’s climbing up soft dirt, grasping roots the whole way. You will be rewarded with a crystal clear swimming hole under a 50 foot waterfall. Enjoy this moment. This is one of the most beautiful spaces in the Pisgah National Forest.