We Love Visiting Highlands, NC and Here is Why!
The mountains are calling, specifically Highlands, NC a charming town centered around Main Street. Highlands is very different from other tourist towns like Gatlinburg, TN or Helen, GA because residents and visitors lend together at so many popular local spots such as the Blue Bike Cafe.
For us, our three things to do in Highlands are eat and shop on Main Street, walk the trails and waterfalls, and enjoy our rental home.
Trails and Waterfalls:
Highlands is positioned on the Natahala Forest which includes the nearby town of Cashiers, abundant in day hikes ranging from easy to difficult. If you love the outdoors, you happily fill your days with visits to classics such as Glen Falls, Whiteside Mt., and Sunset Rock. In the summer, creeks are full of swimmers and you will see daredevils sliding down the slippery rocks of waterfalls. Be sure to take heed to the warnings, my sister cracked her tailbone on “Bust Your Butt” falls 20 years ago, one where we were all sliding, but she gained a bit more air and ended up in a brace for three months. We recommend stopping by the Highland Hiker outfitters store on your first day and pick up their guide to area Day Hikes. The locals who run this store know the area very well and are always so friendly to help with recommendations. You may also enjoy a visit a bit further outside of the Highlands-Cashiers (pronounced Cash-ers)to the Gorge and Panthertown, and all that Sapphire has to offer.
Where to Stay and Getting There:
You can fly to Atlanta, rent a car, and do the two-hour drive to Highlands NC, and Blue Ridge GA. We do the 9-hour drive and split it via Birmingham (staying at a big kid-friendly golf community resort) on the way up and straight through on the way back. You will love driving on the swooping hills and curving 4k foot elevation mountain roads. An additional bonus to driving is the stops along the way, such as Jaemor Farms and Julep Farms to pick locally canned jams, spreads, and pickled vegetables. Getting there and around all the main roads suggested and directed are well maintained and paved.
As for lodging, there are a few inns (Old Edwards and Wells), but most visitors will rent a home for their stay. You may find that you know a family that has a house in Highlands to rent, there is a small faction of New Orleanians who frequent Highlands. We enjoy staying in a house, it is so enjoyable to kick back, enjoy the scenery and read through the Highland Cashiers guide to Day Hikes. For us flat-landers, be sure to research how steep the drive to the home is, as well as, the driveway.
While we have not stayed here, we drove to the restored 1950s mod-motel-style Skyline Lodge on this most recent trip. It is a secluded, and artfully decorated mid-century resort, with a highly-rated steak house on site.
Time of Year to Visit:
Highlands, NC has all four seasons, what a delight! Although even though the summers can be warm, they never become the stifling brutal heat we have here in New Orleans. The summertime is warm enough to very easily swim in the waterfalls, and the evenings can still cool down to a lovely 60! The winter time is a pure winter and we delighted in the snowfall. They do take care of the roads when it snows and we felt very safe.
Highlands is a short 90-minute drive from Asheville, NC which also makes for a great day trip or splitting the week between the two.
Main Street Highlands:
We can spend an entire day or two on Main Street, meandering between the restaurants and specialty shops. Main Street in and of itself is visually appealing with lovely stonework and quaint storefronts.
All of the storefronts on main street and 4th Street feel nothing like a strip of tourist stores, but rather a localized capsulation of the essence of Highlands ranging from hiking gear and pottery to estate sale antiques. The restaurants and stores are mostly local with clever names such as Colonel Mustard and Thyme. A visit to Highlands, while in the Mountains, leans more towards feeling like a quiet luxury. Most restaurants are full service, with a limited set of counter service.
When you need a change of pace for a 4-5 day road trip, any time of the year, consider our family’s favorite Highlands, NC!