Catawba Falls, popular NC waterfall hike, reopens after 2-year closure

MCDOWELL COUNTY, N.C. — One of the most popular waterfalls in the North Carolina mountains has reopened after it closed for two years.

The National Forest Service wanted to improve access to the Catawba Falls in McDowell County after numerous rescues and deadly accidents.

A full parking lot at the trailhead on Friday was a clear sign of just how popular the hike is. Officials are even prepared to bus people in over the weekend.

Channel 9′s Dave Faherty went on the newly reopened trail Friday. Not only could he see the falls, but he also saw the 30 stories of stairs that now run up the mountainside. A family from Kentucky told Faherty they were glad to see them.

“I greatly appreciate it,” Virginia Jewell said. “With two littles, it does feel a lot safer for us to go up. And we’ll be able to go to the top to see everything.”

The 530 stairs connect the lower falls to the upper falls. There are places to look out onto the falls and the mountains that surround it.

“At first, I wasn’t thrilled about it,” said Shea Holden. “I thought they were going to ruin it. But I really like what we’ve seen.”

For nearly 50 years, Randy Vess has responded to dozens of rescues at the falls as people tried to climb the mountainside to reach the upper falls. During that time, the Crooked Creek firefighter has seen hikers who have died and rescuers who have spent hours trying to get injured hikers out safely.

“To get up where the steps are was basically cliffs. You had to climb steep, steep rocks and part of it was with ropes,” Vess said. “And we would have an awful lot of people slip and fall.”

A new trail that circles back to the parking lot will allow first responders to reach the upper falls quicker.

Jennifer Holden is glad she made the hike Friday.

“This is magnificent, so it was well worth all the stairs,” she said.

The hike to the bottom of the falls isn’t bad, but the 580 stairs may not be for everyone. The entire hike is about 3.5 miles.

VIDEO: Man suffers multiple injuries after falling 60 feet off NC waterfall, park officials say

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