Catawba River Falls Adventure

Upper Catawba Falls Postcard

The Catawba is arguably the most important river in North Carolina. Its hydroelectric stations provide a sizable amount of the state’s electricity needs. It has two sources of its headwaters. One is located just south of the Blue Ridge Parkway near the Linville Falls community. This is called the Catawba North Fork. The other, appropriately called the South Fork, emerges from the high ridges along the Eastern Continental Divide just south, and over the ridge from the town of Black Mountain. Over the past three years, I have hiked to the lower falls on that creek four times, and have made the hazardous climb to the higher set of falls only once. My latest trip came just three weeks ago, with spring just beginning to appear in the gorge. The Catawba drops more than 600 feet in less than half a mile, rewarding the hiker with three sets of dramatic falls and cascades along the way. The lower part of the creek, below, shows the effect of erosion and rock falls over the past half a million years.

Catawba River Headwaters
The Black Lab in the foreground is “Spot”, who lives near the entrance of the hiking trail. She loves to climb the gorge with any hikers who happen to come along.

Catawba Falls History
This page is from a travel book of the early 20th Century. It features a stylized montage of all the falls.

Catawba River Electric Powerhouse
Powerhouse below the dam…

Catawba Power Dam
In 1923, this concrete dam was built to harness water that powered the electric generating powerhouse further down the gorge. It served Old Fort, North Carolina. Today the broken wall shows the power of rain and ice to reshape man’s intrusions. The powerhouse is now only rock walls covered over with vines and trees.

Catawba River Relic
Plans are in the works to remove this dangerous obstacle, and return the river to its natural flow. My cousin Tim is definitely in the wrong place. This was in early April.

Catawba dam falls

Just below the dam, above, is the first set of falls and a cascade. That’s my friend Bryan in a place where he shouldn’t be. These moss covered rocks can be very slick and dangerous. This was in early October.

Catawba River Boulders
Further up the gorge, you encounter giant boulders in the creek, evidence of a violent past. That’s Tim in early April.

Catawba Falls lower
Climbing higher, you finally come to the “Lower Falls’. The creek drops 100 feet in a series of small cascades. Only the bottom of the falls is visible in this image. This was made in early April.

Catawba lower falls pool
On a June afternoon, my friend Bryan has thoughts of swimming in the pool at the bottom…

Catawba Falls Green
The top 30 feet of the Lower Falls is covered in vegetation, giving it the appearance of a jungle “Shangri La”. This photo was made in early June after new vegetation had covered the mossy, wet rocks. The climb to get to this point is treacherous and not advisable for the weekend climber. The Forest Service is designing a new trail that will make these falls, and the higher “Upper Falls”, accessible to the regular hiker.

Catawba Falls Rope Climb

Catawba Falls in a dream
After scaling the vertical wall of rock, and clinging to roots and vines along the steep trail, you hear the sound of water, and you see the high falls through the woods. This photo is from early October, and autumn colors are already creeping into the gorge.

Catawba Upper Falls
The Upper Falls are the most dramatic of all, with a free fall of almost sixty feet from the ledge above. The sound is very loud, even from 50 yards away.

Catawba Upper Falls and Bryan
Bryan is dwarfed by the sheer immensity of the Upper Falls. The rush of wind created by the falling water is a wonderful sensation.

Catawba Upper Falls pool

Moving closer, the beauty of these spectacular creations becomes more and more apparent. From this point, we climbed to the top of these falls, and found a flat meadow covered in wildflowers and giant trees. I’ll warn you that the trip back down was even more difficult than the climb to the top, but Spot the Black Lab stayed by our sides the entire way up and back.

Catawba Upper Falls Gorge

Giant thickets of Carolina Rhododendron cover the walls of the gorge throughout the entire climb. Bryan was part of the overall grotto with a pool at the bottom. This was a weekday, and, except for Spot, we had the entire gorge to ourselves.

2 thoughts on “Catawba River Falls Adventure

  1. What an awesome experience to share with us, the non-climbers, so love waterfalls. So Spot took over for Hunter and Buddy on this trip, how special is that. My so Mike would enjoy climbing those falls. Enjoyed

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