Archived Outdoors

Major improvements coming to Catawba Falls

The popular Catawba Falls Trail on the Grandfather Ranger District of the Pisgah National Forest will close Monday, May 2, not to reopen until spring 2023. 

The closures will allow construction crews to build retaining walls, boardwalks, staircases and overlooks to greatly improve trail and visitor safety on the popular trail. Fines of up to $500 will be assessed to people who illegally access the site during construction. 

The U.S. Forest Service had planned improvements for the site since acquiring it from the Foothills Land Conservancy in 2006. Between 2010 and 2016, trailhead parking and restrooms were installed, and one mile of trail was upgraded, but after crossing the second bridge visitors had to travel through a boulder field with no clear path to Lower Catawba Falls. 

Beyond the lower falls, increasing numbers of visitors were ignoring warnings and climbing the upper falls on a dangerous user-created route following the cliff edge. Many serious injuries and deaths have occurred on this route. 

This phase of improvements will start at the second bridge and continue to the base of Lower Catawba Falls and along the creek to Upper Catawba Falls. The dangerous cliffside route will be replaced by stairs to an overlook halfway up the falls, and a 60-foot tower at the base of the cliff will provide an overlook and serve as part of a future path to the upper falls.

The project, which is part of the larger Old Fort Trails Project, is supported by funding from the Great American Outdoors Act, N.C. State Recreation Trails Program, McDowell County, National Forest Foundation and G5 Trail Collective. Work will be completed by Tag Contracting.

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