The forest cover is also typical southern cove hardwoods. Most of the hemlock forests have succumbed, leaving some pines and the general mix of southern hardwoods to fill the gaps. This area has not been logged in roughly one hundred years, so the forests look pretty healthy and are on their ways to being respectable second growth forests.
The most amazing thing about Allison Ridge and the gorge below it are the various watersheds flowing out. The main tributary is the upper reaches of what later becomes the Catawba River. It comes down from the higher country, draining lush coves and rain-soaked peaks. The water quality is fine here, and the route down into the lowlands is a spectacular one. For this area has some truly impressive waterfalls.
The most well known waterfall here is Catawba Falls. It's pretty high, with a combined drop of about two hundred feet. But it's in the form of a number of cascades and not a single plunge. Almost everywhere you look there are waterfalls of varying volumes and heights. But the nicest waterfall I've seen in this watershed is the Upper Catawba Falls. It lies beyond the top of the lower falls and is accessible only by way of a very rough manway that combines an extremely steep route and some tough scrambling.
But the hike into this area is well worth the effort. For there aren't many waterfalls that match the spectacular setting of the Upper Catawba Falls.
The Upper Catawba Falls.
Getting ThereDirections taken from NCwaterfalls.com
The property is open to the public and getting to the trail head is easy. From west of Old Fort, take I-40 east down the Old Fort grade and
There is no camping or overnight parking allowed! This area will be patrolled by the McDowell County sheriff and strictly enforced under the agreement for access. Camp on the river back at the campground and walk the road to the trail head. The river will be on your left coming up the road, then it curves to the right where the road ends. There's a one lane bridge across the river with a chain link fence at the end preventing vehicle traffic, but there's a gap for foot traffic. Head towards the building on the right and walk to the left of it. The building is still private property so please respect that and stay out! Pick up the trail that heads up river behind the building. You may see 'Land for Sale' signs, but I believe that is for the property on the right side of the trail. The trail up to Catawba Falls is fairly easy with a little scrambling in a couple of places and about 1.5 miles one way. There are 3 stream crossings and you may have problems at the first one. Rocks have been positioned for a dry crossing, but if the river is up like it was on my October 2009 trip, you'll have to wade in the river. It's only maybe shin to calf deep, so be prepared. Wear shoes you don't mind getting soaked or bring a towel to dry your feet off if you have to take your shoes off. A hiking stick comes in handy for balance if you can get over on the rocks.