Additional Catawba Falls Trail improvements planned: closure extended through spring 2024

Release Date: 

Contact(s): Lisa Jennings


NEBO, N.C., March 30, 2023 — The Grandfather District of the Pisgah National Forest has received additional funding for the Catawba Falls Trail to continue improvements for safe access to beautiful Upper Catawba Falls. To complete this critical work, the Catawba Falls Trail will remain closed through Spring 2024. Located near Old Fort, NC, the popular Catawba Falls Trail has been closed for major renovations since May 2022. The project includes construction of retaining walls, boardwalks, staircases, and overlooks along the trail to allow visitors to safely reach the upper falls.

Over the last 10 months, contractors have worked to complete the first phase, focusing on improving access through the boulder field just below the lower falls and beginning the construction of the staircase to the upper falls. Over 1,000 feet of elevated boardwalk and stairs is nearing completion, including 3 overlook platforms. The 60-ft stair tower is currently being installed at the base of the rock cliff.

“While the current phase of work is on time to be complete at the end of spring as planned, we have an opportunity to extend progress to reach the upper falls,” explains Nick Larson, Grandfather District Ranger. “Knowing additional closures are necessary for this critical work, we made the hard decision to extend the current closure to complete this additional construction. We know folks will be disappointed about missing the falls another summer, but we are excited to be able to complete this critical piece and reopen the site for the long term in 2024.”

Due to the complexity of terrain and access, the Catawba Falls improvements are being constructed in three phases. The next, second phase of construction will connect from the tower to a series of stairs and boardwalks that will eventually end in natural-surface trail as the topography evens out above the cliffs that surround lower Catawba Falls. This critical piece is complex and the only way to access it is from the current trail to the lower falls.

The final, third phase will improve the natural surface trail to an overlook at the base of the upper falls, and loop back to the parking lot along a new trail on the south side of the Catawba River. Because of the alternate access for the final phase, no future long-term closures for construction are anticipated on the trail to the lower falls.

“The first phase is finishing up, and we are excited to share the progress to-date. As we move into the second phase, we appreciate the patience and understanding of our visitors and the Old Fort community,” says Lisa Jennings, Grandfather District Recreation Manager. “The work at Catawba Falls is making a huge difference in safety and accessibility. We wouldn’t be able to continue this work without the support of our partners and the commitment of the Forest Service under the Great American Outdoors Act.” 

New Walkway at Catawba Falls
The image above, taken March 28, 2023, shows the progress on first phase of the trail improvements.

Major improvements to the Catawba Falls Trail have been part of a long-term plan since the Forest Service acquired the site from the Foothills Land Conservancy in 2006. Over the nearly two decades since the site became part of the Pisgah National Forest, there have been many improvements to the trail and trailhead including parking, restrooms, and trail bridges. In 2021, Catawba Falls was selected as a Great American Outdoors Act project as part of the historic investment in recreation infrastructure on public lands.

In addition to the Great American Outdoors Act, the Catawba Falls Trail improvements are supported by funding from the NC State Recreational Trails Program, McDowell County, the National Forest Foundation, and the G5 Trail Collective. The Catawba Falls work is part of the larger Old Fort Trails Project that will bring a wide range of trail improvements to this area of Pisgah National Forest. The current construction is being completed by Tag Contracting, a local Old Fort company.

The closure prohibits public access to the site until lifted. Violations of the closure can result in fines of up to $5000. For more information about the closure, contact the Grandfather Ranger District at 828-652-2144.

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Media note: To help share progress at Catawba Falls, the USFS Grandfather District will be hosting a media visit to Catawba Falls tomorrow, Friday, March 31, 2023. Media outlets should contact Lisa Jennings, 828-337-1359, Lisa.n.jennings@usda.gov, for more info and to RSVP.

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