Old Fort

The Old Fort Area is the furthest southwest portion of the Grandfather Ranger District surrounding the town of Old Fort, including national forest land north and south of I-40.  The area features the Old Fort Picnic Area, several miles of hiking trails, Kitsuma Peak, and the spectacular Catawba Falls.



Catawba Falls Trail (#225):

Length: 1.2 miles
Blaze: Yellow
Users: Hiking only

Catawba Falls Trail is a 1-mile trail leading to the spectacular 100-foot waterfall.  The trailhead is at the end of Catawba River Road, where the Forest Service has constructed a large parking area with vault toilets.  The trail follows an old road along Catawba River heading upstream.  There is a new footbridge over the river is in less than a quarter-mile from the start to avoid a potentially difficult creek crossing.  At the bridge is the ruins of an old building from when there was a hydroelectric station on the river here.  The trail continues to follow Catawba River upstream and crosses Clover Patch Branch in just under a mile.  Lower Catawba Falls is down from the trail shortly after this crossing.  The old dam above the lower falls was part of the old hydroelectric station.  The trail then crosses Chestnut Branch and ends at the base of Catawba Falls.

Kitsuma Peak Trail (#205):

Length: 0.5 miles
Blaze: None
Difficulty: Difficult
Users: Hiking and Biking

Kitsuma Peak Trail is a half-mile trail that leads from the Kitsuma Peak parking area up to the summit of its namesake.  The trail runs parallel to I-40 for about 0.2 miles then begins a grueling climb up the mountain, gaining 400 vertical feet in less than half a mile.  Some of the upper switchbacks have nice views.  The trail ends near the summit of Kitsuma Peak at the intersection with Youngs Ridge Trail (#206).

Point Lookout Trail (#203):

Length: 3.5 miles
Blaze: None
Difficulty: Easy
Users: Hiking and biking

Point Lookout Trail is a paved trail that follows the old route of US-70, open to hiking and biking.  Today, US-70 follows I-40 between Old Fort and Black Mountain.  Along the trail is Point Lookout, a once-popular drive up viewing platform.  In the early 1980s, vehicle traffic was blocked as US-70 had been re-routed into I-40 corridor.  The route re-opened as a greenway trail in 2008 in partnership between the Forest Service and Department of Transportation.  Note that there is no parking at either trailhead as both sides are private property.  Park at the Old Fort Picnic Area or Kitsuma Peak parking to access the trail.

Youngs Ridge Trail (#206):

Length: 3.5 miles
Blaze: Yellow
Difficulty: Difficult
Users: Hiking and Biking

Youngs Ridge Trail is a 3.5 mile trail that leads from the Old Fort Picnic Area up to the summit of Kitsuma Peak.  The trail is quite steep, gaining about 1800 feet with most of it in the first 2 miles.  The trail is open to both hiking and mountain biking so pay attention for other trail users.  The trail ends near the summit of Kistuma Peak at the intersection with Kitsuma Peak Trail (#205).

Points of Interest:

Catawba Falls:

Catawba Falls is a beautiful 100-foot cascading waterfall on the upper reaches of Catawba River.  It is has been a natural attraction for more than 100 years.  In the early 20th century, the river below the falls was dammed to generate electricity for the town of Old Fort.  The hydroelectric station was in use until the mid 20th century.  Although the waterfall was on national forest property for some time, there was no legal way to access.  In 2009, the Forest Service acquired the land for a legal access point at the end of Catawba River Road to ensure public access.

There are actually three waterfalls here, though the upper one is difficult to reach.  The lower and main waterfall are accessed from Catawba Falls Trail (#225).  Lower Catawba Falls is just below the old dam.  Shortly after crossing Clover Patch Branch, look for a short but steep side path that leads down to the river.  If you reach the dam, you've gone too far.  Although dwarfed by the much larger waterfalls upstream, Lower Catawba Falls is a nice waterfall with a cave on the left side.

Catawba Falls is just a short ways further up the trail.  The waterfall is over 100 feet high, but its difficult to see the entire thing and there is lots of vegetation growing along the sides.  There is a nice pool at the base to cool off on a hot day.  Please don't climb the waterfall or try to go out on the top; several people have died here.

Upper Catawba Falls is more difficult to reach.  From the base of Catawba Falls, follow the obvious path on river-left that climbs up the side of the waterfall.  It's quite steep and there is a rope in several places to assist.  Do not try to go out on Catawba Falls as a slip would be fatal.  After you get to the top of the waterfall, the trail levels off.  Where there is a split, go left to stay close to the creek and go another 0.1 miles or so to the base of Upper Catawba Falls.

Point Lookout:

Point Lookout was once a popular drive up viewing platform along US-70 between Old Fort and Black Mountain.  When the road was re-routed to follow I-40, the former road transitioned to a greenway trail and is now Point Lookout Trail (#203).  The overlook provides great views of the Swannanoa Creek valley towards Old Fort.

Kitsuma Peak:

Kitsuma Peak is a mountain at 3,195 feet above sea level that towers over I-40.  The summit itself is forested so no views, but some cliffs to the north of the peak provide great views looking west.

Blog Entries:

01-Sep-2018: Old Fort Hikes

External Links:

US Forest Service website for Catawba Falls: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/nfsnc/recarea/?recid=81789

US Forest Service website for Old Fort Picnic Area: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/nfsnc/recarea/?recid=48966