35 Things To Do In Highlands, North Carolina

35 Things To Do In Highlands, North Carolina

At 4,118 feet above sea level, Highlands is located on the highest plateau of North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains. In June, 75 degrees is generally as hot as it gets. Abundant rainfall ensures rich flora and fauna. (It’s the self proclaimed “salamander capital of the world.”) Despite the town’s country club pedigree, hiking is the outdoor activity of choice, followed closely by canoeing, horseback riding, and fly fishing.

If you’re looking for a place to revel in cool breezes and high mountain scenery in the southeastern U.S. you would be hard-pressed to find a better spot than Highlands, North Carolina.

Once there, Highlands is a very close (day-trip) distance to a number of popular tourist destinations in North Carolina, including the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Cherokee Indian Reservation. It’s 320 miles from Hilton Head, SC, 280 miles from Charleston, SC, 175 miles from Columbia, SC, and a quick 70 miles from Greenville, SC.

THINGS TO SEE AND DO

Waterfalls

A number of picturesque waterfalls can be explored along the Mountains Water Scenic Byway, which is a segment of US 64 that goes from Franklin to Cashiers, North Carolina, with Highlands located about midway. The Franklin Chamber of Commerce provides a complete list of area waterfalls. These are our suggestions.

  • Bridal Veil Falls: This roadside waterfall is a charming sight to savor when you visit Highlands, and you don’t have to exit your car to see it. While observing many waterfalls necessitates hiking, Bridal Veil Falls is different. It is directly on Highway 64 and you can even drive your car directly below it. The breadth of the Falls fluctuates with the amount of rain the vicinity has experienced; it is most imposing just after a rain but it is unfailingly attractive at all times.
  • Dry Falls: About one mile away from Bridal Veil Falls you’ll find Dry Falls. To view this 75-foot waterfall you will need to leave your vehicle. There is a designated parking lot and then a short, easy walk down a well-marked trail to reach the falls, which you can even walk behind. There is a wheelchair accessible observation zone at the edge of the parking area.
  • Glen Falls: Viewing this waterfall takes a little effort. You will need to hike slightly more than a mile over a moderately rough trail. The result, though, will be the viewing of a stunning multi-tiered waterfall, the tallest of which reaches 70 feet.

Other Outdoor Activities

Highlands presents multiple choices to be active in the great outdoors.

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1. Hiking

Highlands is located in the Nantahala National Forest and this provides countless arresting places where you can get out for a day hike. But before you set out, we would strongly suggest you stop by Highland Hiker. The local owners are very knowledgeable in helping people find the right gear for any outdoor activity you might be contemplating.

You can also grab a copy of “Guide to Day Hikes, Fly Fishing, and Mountain Biking” written by one of the owners. This is an invaluable tool to enhance your hiking experience.

Options range from “easy” to “difficult” in terms of how demanding they are to hike.

Easy options include the two-mile round-trip Chattooga Loop Trail and the Chattooga Narrows Trail, which is just under three miles round trip.

For a more taxing trek with a rewarding pay-off, try the 1.9 mile Whiteside Mountain Trail. What it lacks in distance it makes up for with a 500 ascent in a short distance, but the views at the edge of the Highland Plateau are outstanding. There is an easier hike to the plateau with a less steep ascent but it will take you longer.

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The most difficult hike in the area is the Yellow Mountain Trail, which is almost ten miles round trip on one of the highest mountains in the Highland Ranger District.

Highland Hiker
601 Main Street
Highlands, NC 28741
(828) 526-5298
https://highlandhiker.com/

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2. Motorcycling

Motorcycling enthusiasts are sure to enjoy the twisting and sloped roads in and around Highlands. Check out https://www.motorcycleroads.com/ for Highlands, NC, to find some suggestions. This site especially recommends a stretch of 19 miles on Highway 64 between Franklin and Highlands which, not coincidentally, is within the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway. Breathtaking!

Picture from Highland Hiker

3. Fishing

If you are a fishing devotee you will relish the chance to go fishing in this area to catch a variety of trout, including rainbow, wild brook, and brown. You can enjoy shoreline fishing or fly fishing.

The Chattooga River is a magnificent spot to cast your fishing line. The Chattooga is one of the longest in the United States and one of the most dramatic whitewater rivers. It’s also considered a true gem when it comes to fly fishing.

Highland Hiker (above) is a great fishing resource. They offer a fly fishing guide service and fishing lessons. Note: you must have a NC state-issued fishing license to do any angling in the area.

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4. Zip Lining

If you want to get a panoramic view of the mountains above, stop at Highland Aerial Park where you can catch a bird’s eye view.

Highland Aerial Park offers two ziplining experiences. The Brave Indian course is suited for the less adventurous as well as kids and seniors. The premium course includes 8 ziplines up to 250’ above the ground and 1,550’ long. These ziplines will dispatch you through corridors carved into tree canopies and across wide open spaces with exhilarating views.

Highlands Aerial Park
9625 Dillard Road
Scaly Mountain, NC 28776
(828) 526-8773
https://www.highlandsaerialpark.com/ 

Art Oriented Activities

There is a flourishing artistic community in Highlands, NC. If you enjoy the fine arts, Highlands is sure to have something for you.

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1. The Bascom: Center for the Visual Arts

If you are interested in art you won’t want to miss the Bascom: Center for the Visual Arts. A covered bridge leads visitors to the Bascom. Situated on six acres of the Highland Cashiers Plateau, the Basom is a great spot to spend an afternoon. Boasting a soothing stream and striking wildflowers, this center offers a one-of-a-kind experience in a bucolic setting. The center features rotating exhibitions of both artists from the local area as well as world-renowned artists. This provides you with a way to see work created in the area, as well as works you would typically expect to find in a major city. The center is also home to many workshops (including ceramics, photography, and drawing), a pottery shed, a huge green terrace, a nature trail, and an inviting cafe. 

The Bascom: Center for the Visual Arts
323 Franklin Road
Highlands, NC 28742
(828) 526-4949
https://www.thebascom.org/

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2. Highlands Playhouse

During the summer months you can enjoy live theatre at the historic Highlands Playhouse. The Playhouse began with a group of amateur performers in the late 1930’s and has continued ever since. Each year local and professional actors put on 2-3 shows. They also feature indie movies year round.

Highlands Playhouse
362 Oak Street
Highlands, NC 28741
(828) 526-2695
https://www.highlandsplayhouse.org/ 

A Few More Things to Do

1. Jackson Hole Gem Mine & Trading Post

A quirky roadside place, Jackson Hole provides unique family-friendly entertainment with its fun gem hunting activity. Whatever gems you discover, from rubies to aquamarines, you get to keep. The mines are covered so you can hunt for vibrant amethyst or rich garnets rain or shine. There’s also a shop with locally crafted wares.

Jackson Hole Trading Post & Gem Mine
9770 Highlands Road
Highlands, NC 28741
(828) 524-5850
http://www.jacksonholegemmine.com/ 

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2. Highlands Botanical Gardens

A picture-perfect waterfall and a fanciful wetlands boardwalk, Highlands Botanical Gardens is an ideal place to enjoy a sunny afternoon. Located on 12 acres, it is a scenic spot that includes a cove forest, glimmering wetlands, and luxuriant upland woods. In addition, there is a beguiling butterfly garden and a chromatic azalea garden that will place nature lovers in paradise.

Highlands Botanical Gardens
265 North Sixth Street
Highlands, NC 28741
(828) 526-2602
https://highlandsbiological.org/botanical-garden/ 

Shopping

There are no outlet centers nor major retail stores here….though that is surely a good thing in this beautiful setting. But there are plenty of places to shop. Downtown Highlands around Main Street and Fourth is lined with upscale boutiques, antique shops, art galleries, jewelry, furniture, and home decor shops. The sidewalks are wide and provide easy walkability and there is plenty of parking.

A few of our standbys:

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1. Highlands Fine Arts & Estate Jewelry

Browse estate and modern jewelry, gems and stones of all kinds and radiant art glass. Whether you are searching for the perfect gift or just something for yourself this is a great stop.

Highland Fine Arts & Estate Jewelry
388 Main Street
Highlands, NC 28741
(828) 526-0656
https://highlandsfineart.com/ 

Picture from Houzz

2. Reclamations

This antique shop offers one-of-a-kind pieces to arouse your interest. Find an antique rocking chair or a spindle that will give your home a rustic look or examine bric-a-brac that you never knew existed.

Reclamations
99 Cherrywood Drive
Highlands, NC 28741
(828) 787-2299

Picture from The Laurel Magazine

3. Cabin Couture

Find the perfect backdrop for your cabin. With offbeat rugs and throws, and singular lighting and fixtures, Cabin Couture will have something for everyone. Their items work well anywhere, but particularly if you have a mountain home….or want to give your home a mountain feel.

Cabin Couture
468 Carolina Way
Highlands, NC 28741
(828) 526-3909
http://www.cabincouturehighlands.com/ 

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4. The Spice and Tea Exchange of Highlands

Enjoy a pot of tea? Find over 30 unique teas to take home and enjoy. Looking to make your grill night extra special? Let the Spice and Tea Exchange help you put together the perfect rub.

The Spice & Tea Exchange of Highlands
330 Main Street
Highlands, NC 28741
(828) 482-1609
https://www.spiceandtea.com/ 

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5. Rosenthal’s

Offering designer apparel, shoes, bags, jewelry, furs, and accessories, Rosenthals is a women’s specialty shop like you have never seen before.

Rosenthal’s Boutique
375 Main Street
Highlands, NC 28741
(828) 526-2100
https://rosenthalsboutique.com/ 

WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK

There are many delightful places to eat in Highlands, NC. Options range from upscale and elegant to casual and family friendly. THis list includes a few of our favorites to try when you’re in the area.

Breakfast/Lunch

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1. Mountain Fresh Grocery & Wine Market

Basically a gourmet market-type grocery store with a little restaurant in the back, you can order food, hang out and eat, and also pick up some snacks for your hotel room or cabin. They have a vast wine selection and a ton of different fresh cheese options to grab-and-go for later. They have great and economical breakfast sandwiches in addition to complete breakfasts. They also offer New York style pizza and a variety of grill items like burgers, hot dogs, pulled pork, fresh fish, and salads. They also have a bakery that makes fantastic pumpkin bread.

Mountain Fresh Grocery
521 Main Street
Highlands, NC 28741
(828) 526-2400
https://www.mfgro.com/ 

Picture from MapQuest

2. Bucks Coffee

This coffee shop is around a 15 minute drive from Highlands, located in Cashiers, but it’s worth the drive because we love the atmosphere so much. There are antlers on the walls, a large fireplace in the middle, and lots of comfortable leather chairs spread around the shop.

The coffee is excellent, but we especially like the hot apple cider. Sandwiches and paninis can be ordered to-go and are great to take along on a hike.

Bucks Coffee Cafe of Cashiers
6 Highway 107 S
Cashiers, NC 28717
(828) 743-9997

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3. Calders Coffee Cafe

Nice assortment of coffee (excellent), sandwiches, and pastries.

Calder Coffee Cafe
384 Main Street
Highlands, NC 28741
(828) 200-9308
https://calderscoffeecafe.com/ 

4. Madison’s

This is a lovely, formal spot located in the Old Edwards Inn. The dining room is gorgeous, light and sunny, with stone floors and windows overlooking Highlands Main Street. We enjoyed lunch where you could get a variety of soups, salads, and sandwiches. There is also the Wine Garden adjoining Madison’s which is ideal for a more casual alfresco lunch. Enjoy the trickling water fountain.

Madison’s Restaurant
445 Main Street
Highlands, NC 28742
(828) 526-5477
https://www.oldedwardshospitality.com/old-edwards-inn-spa/dine/madisons

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5. Blue Bike Cafe

A quaint, casual spot for breakfast and lunch and great people watching on the patio. Decorated with vintage Schwinn bikes and bike-themed decor, the cafe is a favorite with tourists and locals alike thanks to their all-day breakfast menu. A large selection of bike named breakfast plates include the lowrider breakfast burrito and the 10-Speed pancakes platter. Plenty of outstanding burger and sandwich options.

Blue Bike Cafe
423 North 4th Street
Highlands, NC 28741
(828) 526-9922
https://www.bluebikecafe.net/

Drinks

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1. Highlands Wine Shoppe

A huge selection of wine. Pick up a bottle to go or better yet sit at a table on the front lawn and have a glass right there. It’s a beautiful garden setting and a nice way to spend some time in the afternoon.

Highlands Wine Shoppe
269 Oak Street
Highlands, NC 28741
(828) 526-4080
https://highlandswineshoppe.com/

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2. The High Dive

Equipped with TVs, billiard tables, and dart boards, the High Dive is a place for locals and visitors to relax and socialize at a leisurely pace. A “Cheers” ambiance. Karaoke night and occasional live music on weekends. Basic bar food menu

The High Dive
476 Carolina Way
Highlands, NC 28741
(528) 526-2200

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3. The Ugly Dog Public House

This classic American tavern has a wide selection of regional craft beers and well-crafted cocktails, pub-type food, and live music.

The Ugly Dog Public House
294 54th Street
Highlands, NC 28741
(828) 526-8364
https://www.theuglydogpub.com/ 

4. Hummingbird Lounge

A warm, sophisticated spot located in the Old Edwards Inn. Plush easy chairs, sofas and antique bistro tables give it a drawing room feel. The best in cocktails and small plates. Live music on Friday and Saturday. It has an atmosphere of the Great American Songbook.

The Hummingbird Lounge
445 Main Street
Highlands, NC 28741
(828) 526-5477
https://www.oldedwardshospitality.com/old-edwards-inn-spa/dine/hummingbird-lounge

Dinner

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1. Ristorante Paoletti

A fixture on Main Street for more than three decades, Ristorante Paoletti serves upscale Italian cuisine with impeccable service. The menu includes many freshly made pastas and excellent seafood selections. The wine list includes more than 1,000 choices. Very romantic. Don’t miss the gnocchi and if wild grouper is on the menu, order it. Note: all this comes at a cost.

Ristorante Paoletti
440 Main Street
Highlands, NC 28741
828 526 4906
https://paolettis.com/

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2. Wild Thyme Gourmet

Wild Thyme offers American fine dining with a deep Asian influence. We were impressed by the Spicy Thai Shrimp and the Waterfall Beef stir fry was a delectable, flavorsome dish. Another interesting dish was the bacon-wrapped quail served over spinach with a honey sage balsamic reduction. A special treat was the pan seared mountain trout in a lemon caper sauce. Wild Thyme also has an extensive and well-thought out wine list. Comfortable patio seating option.

Wild Thyme Gourmet
343-D Main Street
Highland, NC 28741
(828) 526-4035
https://wildthymegourmet.com/ 

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3. On the Verandah

Romantic setting, lakefront views, luscious food, and attentive service overlooking peaceful Lake Sequoyah, On the Veranda offers a polished but welcoming dining experience.

Some stand-outs we tried: a well-composed charcuterie board, a flavorsome pan seared duck with apricot curry glaze, and a North Carolina trout with a sweet praline sauce. Leave room for their homemade desserts made fresh daily. Deep wine list.

On the Verandah
1536 Franklin Road
Highlands, NC 28741
(828) 482-0083
http://www.ontheverandah.com/ 

4. Wolfgang’s Restaurant & Wine Bistro

Wolfgang’s is an ideal spot for romantic dinners and special occasions or to enjoy a well-prepared gourmet meal while on vacation. They have an eclectic menu with German and Cajun influences. Several of the rooms have fireplaces and in good weather there is outdoor seating. Dishes we enjoyed include: a roasted loin of lamb and a Bavarian sampler featuring bratwurst, knockwurst, kassler, and schnitzel. The venison au poivre wrapped in smoked bacon and a lingonberry demi-glace was a masterpiece.

The chef and owner, Wolfgang Green, formally cooked in New Orleans and it shows in his Cajun bar-b-que shrimp with asiago grits and collard greens. The wine list is smart and long.

Wolfgang’s Restaurant and Wine Bistro
474 Main Street
Highlands, NC 28741
(828) 526-3807
https://wolfgangs.net/

Picture from Facebook

5. Rosenthal’s

Offering designer apparel, shoes, bags, jewelry, furs, and accessories, Rosenthals is a women’s specialty shop like you have never seen before.

Rosenthal’s Boutique
375 Main Street
Highlands, NC 28741
(828) 526-2100
https://rosenthalsboutique.com/ 

WHERE TO STAY

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1. Park On Main

A 24-suite, luxury, dog-friendly hotel. Upscale rustic theme. Rooms have views of the hotel’s garden terrace and balconies overlooking the town’s streets.  Complimentary breakfast. The courtyard is gorgeous with lots of flowers and small tables and chairs where you can hang out and nibble on cheese with a glass of wine. Though very dog-friendly, the rooms are so clean that you would never know that a dog had been there before.

The Park on Main Street
205 Main Street
Highlands, NC 28741
(800) 221-5078
https://www.theparkonmain.com/ 

2. Highlands Inn

Located on Main Street, this 31-room historic hotel is often referred to by locals as the “Crown Jewel of the Highlands.” It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Some of the rooms are in the original inn (which has been operating for more than 130 years) while others are in new parts of the property. Each room is uniquely decorated. Ideal spot for those who enjoy cozy and intimate accommodations.

Highlands Inn
420 Main Street
Highland, NC
(828) 526-9380
https://highlandsinn-nc.com/ 

3. Half-Mile Farm

This renovated farmhouse turned into a 27-room inn, complete with eight cabins, is near Mirror Lake. Putt-worthy grass greets you as you turn down the pea gravel drive with an edible garden on your right and a private lake on the left. Receive your complimentary glass of champagne and breathe in the crisp mountain air.

The outdoor pool includes a beautifully-appointed building for changing.

Complimentary hors d’oeuvres are served each evening (oysters, charcuterie, dips). Get a drink from the Henry Tavern (just inside the main house) and grab a lake-view rocking chair on the porch.

Shuttle provided to downtown Highlands. Daily complimentary breakfast. Menu changes daily but always features a starter and an entree. Imagine a soft-shell crab BLT with sunny side up eggs or blueberry bread pudding with sausage links.

Tip: The cabins are rustic, sumptuous, and are in amazingly scenic locations. Don’t miss it.

Half-Mile Farm
214 Half Mile Drive
Highlands, NC 28741
(855) 271-7246
https://www.oldedwardshospitality.com/half-mile-farm

You can also find many cabin rentals in the area. Browse through VRBO or Airbnb to see what you can find.

Highlands, NC, provides a sublime outdoor adventure with creative cuisine, top-of-the-line shopping, interesting art venues, and lively bars. Don’t miss this North Carolina beauty!

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4. The Vineyard at 37 High Holly

This 45-acre vineyard about ten miles from Highlands offers five distinctive cottage rentals in a picturesque setting. Each of the five cottages sleeps 4-6. They all have a wooden deck overlooking the vineyard. All have 2 king bedrooms and 1 sleeper sofa, 2 bathrooms (1 shower and 1 shower tub), a kitchenette (refrigerator, ice maker, oven, toaster, microwave, air-fryer), Internet, Roku, and cable in the living room and both bedrooms.

In addition, they have the Mountain Retreat which is a family home that sleeps 10 and the Homestead Cottage which is a studio and sleeps 2.

The Vineyard at 37 Holly
37 High Holly Road
Scaly Mountain, NC
(828) 482-5573
https://www.thevineyardat37highholly.com/

5. Highlands House Bed and Breakfast

Only 1.5 miles from downtown, but you will feel that you are deep in a forest with many sitting areas, gardens, ponds, and streams. Well-designed rooms with a boutique hotel feel. Location provides the right amount of privacy that is not available in town.

Grand cocktail hour and a full-serve breakfast every morning. First class experience all the way.

Highlands House Bed & Breakfast
101 Potter Lane
Highlands, NC 28741
(828) 787-1186
https://www.highlandshousebandb.com/