THINGS TO DO:
The cultural amenities include professional theatre, chamber music concerts, cabarets, art exhibits, galleries, a fine art center and other special events like the Saturday Summer Music Series. A variety of educational classes and informative seminars are also available. Highlands gives you a range of choices and somehow manages to nurture your spirit at the same time.
For those who possess a more adventuresome spirit, nature is always calling and beckons you to spend time away from the harried cares of your world. Take a long walk or an invigorating hike to a nearby waterfall; go mountain biking or stroll the sidewalks of Main Street. There is championship golf, tennis, swimming, fly-fishing, boating, kayaking, canoeing, and even whitewater rafting in the rivers nearby. Spring, summer, fall and winter each of the seasons offers its own unique set of outdoor adventures that attract residents and visitors alike to revel in the magnificent splendors of the mountains.
Find just a small selection of some of the Natural Retreats team’s favorite hikes in the area below. Our concierge is more than ready to give you excellent directions to get to these hikes. Go ahead, take an hour or even a day to explore the natural beauty that surrounds the Highlands.
Easy: Secret Falls 0.75 miles (one way)
Secret Falls is not quite the secret it used to be it now that it lies on public land, but we finally get to enjoy its spectacular beauty! The Secret Falls trail follows old roadbeds and turns swiftly into natural footpaths that guide you toward the falls. Explore different options as the trail splits to take you toward the top of the waterfall or descends steeply to the frothy base of Secret Falls.
Easy: Sunset Rock 0.6 miles (one way)
Sunset Rock is thusly named for a reason. It’s the perfect place to bring an afternoon picnic with wine and cheese and watch the sun set over Highlands. After a short walk, you’ll arrive at a natural cliff-side amphitheater where you can choose a front-row seat upon giant slabs of granite to enjoy the scenery.
Moderate: Satulah Mountain 1.6 miles (one way)
The Satulah Mountain Trail is a moderate hike on paved roads and continues onto a rocky trail culminating in one of the best views in the entire southeastern United States. The peak rises to 4,500 feet and boasts a near 360 degree view, with the best viewing opportunities to the east, west, and south. Enjoy watching clouds billowing across the vast expanse of mountains around you, and if an afternoon storm catches you at the top, seek refuge in the old tea-shelter. For hundreds of years, women made the afternoon trek to the top of Satulah armed with hot tea just to watch the sunset and storms roll through the hills. Don’t miss this hike!
Moderate: Whiteside Mountain 2 miles (loop)
Another ‘Best View’ in Highlands candidate is the Whiteside Mountain loop trail. The summit of the mountain reaches an elevation of almost 5,000 ft, and you view Shortoff, Yellow, Nantahala and Chimneytop Mountains, as well as see the outline of Lake Keowee. The trail is a 2-mile loop that goes around the back or north side of the mountain and then along the ridge. The total climb is approximately 500 ft. The trail can be walked in an hour but you will want to allow plenty of time to take in the vistas.
Difficult: Yellow Mountain 5.3 miles (one way)
For the extreme adventurer, consider uncovering the secrets of three Highlands Mountains (Cole, Yellow and Shortoff) with this day hike. While incredible views abound in this hike, once you reach the summit of Yellow Mountain you’ll truly understand why we fell in love with this area. Yellow Mountain’s peak―at 5,127 feet―allows for sweeping panoramic views of North Carolina and beyond! Expect a bit of rough terrain and the occasional need to climb. It’s an expert hiker’s paradise.
Fly fish in the area for those big browns, rainbows, and wild brook trout in all of the rivers and tributaries that flow through our emerald mountains. Our affiliates will teach you how to read the water around you, spot those reclusive fish, and help you select the perfect fly pattern to line you up for the perfect catch. Beginning fishermen and women alike can even choose an hour casting lesson before dipping their lines into big river water. Explore secluded and nearly untouched fishing spots on the Chattooga, Davidson, Nantahala, Cullasaja, Tuckaseegee, French Broad and Whitewater Rivers.
WADING TRIPS FOR TROUT: When you’re looking to snag a brook, brown, or wild rainbow trout, we’ve got the outfitters to help you catch them on the fly! Pricing for a half day starts at $200 pp ($250 for two people) and full day rates begin at $250 pp ($350 for two people).
DRIFT BOATS & RAFTING FOR TROUT AND BASS: If you’d prefer to make your way down larger stretches of river, enjoy the float with some of our favorite expert guides in the area who can make your fishing experience five-star excellent! You can have your choice of drifting along for trout, or take your rod and reel out to catch small-mouth bass. Boat prices for 2 people start at $400.
FLYFISHING SCHOOL: If you want to go back to the basics or spend the day learning with or teaching your little ones, consider added FlyFishing School to your activities during your stay. Take part in a 2-hour casting clinic that will develop your techniques for knot tying, casting, and fly choosing! Pricing starts at $125 pp ($200 for 2 anglers).
For those adventure seekers who don’t want spend a day without clear water, swift rivers, and cool waves, consider a whitewater rafting adventure. We have intensity levels to meet everyone’s needs ranging from beginner to expert, and our suggested guides are truly experienced professionals! Set off for an exhilarating ride down the Nantahala, Ocoee, or Chattooga.
MOUNTAIN WATERS SCENIC BYWAY
Spend a few hours on one of the most breathtaking drives you’ll ever experience in America, the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway. The Scenic Byway is a 60 mile drive that ticks all the boxes of the most scenic locations in the area like the Cullasaja Gorge, Bridal Veil Falls, Dry Falls, Cliffside Lake, Van Hook Glade, Wayah Creek, Rufus Morgan Trail, Wayah Bald, Nantahala Lake and the Nantahala River. Forests fade into countryside, countryside to rivers, and rivers to waterfalls on this astounding scenic drive.
HIGHLANDS HERITAGE TRAIL: (Walking Tour of Historical Landmarks)
Since the 1870s, Highlands began to develop as a major trading hub in the southeast. Little did the townsfolk know, but Highlands swiftly turned into a health and vacation resort in the area where people flocked to relax in the cool mountain air. But there still remains traces of the history that started it all! On the Highlands Heritage Trail, you’ll visit all of the historical landmarks that culminated in the establishment of the town like 1800′s homes, butcheries, stables, groceries, and hardware stores. Nineteenth century school houses, libraries, and drug stores still exist but are now repurposed as the Highlands Town Hall and new community stores. To truly enjoy the history of Highlands, add the Highlands Heritage Trail walking tour to your activities during your stay.
The Highlands area naturally lends itself to some of the best outdoors activities in the southeast, including exceptional mountain biking and cycling opportunities. The Highlands Ranger District recommends an easy 3 mile route called the Round Mountain Bike Trail that overlooks Lake Jocassee, the more challenging 6-mile Brush Creek Mountain Bike Trail with mountain and valley views, and the very challenging 9-mile Big Creek Loop Mountain Bike Trail that boasts dramatic views of Blackrock, Rich, and Fodderstacks Mountains. Also consider visiting DuPont State Forest that has over 80 miles of multi-use trails that pass mountain views and waterfalls alike.
Travelling by horseback through the mountains may be one of the best experiences that you’ll have on your vacation to Highlands. Enjoy winding your way through deeply wooded trails in National Forests that few have ever seen. We have many private and public stables that are available for our Handpicked guests and concierge is happy to point you to one that will best suit you and your family’s needs.
The Highlands Biological Station has worked for years to preserve the integrity and natural heritage of the area. It seems that they’ve succeeded in every aspect! Spend a day discovering the splendor and the science behind some of America’s native plants. The area boasts over 40 different kinds of salamanders and large number of trees, ferns and wildflowers. Upon visiting, explore gardens dedicated to moss, azaleas, native grass, and traditional Cherokee plants. The Botanical Garden is free to the public, dog-friendly, and open year-round.
HIGHLANDS NATURE CENTER
Make sure you spend time exploring the Highlands Nature Center with your children when you visit the Highlands Biological Station. The Nature Center has many activities for children of all ages, like interacting with live animals, interactive demonstrations, special events, daily programs, and even nature day camps.
Dry Falls: The 75-foot Dry Falls continues to be one of the most loved waterfalls in the Highlands area. Don’t be deceived by the name, however. You’re sure to feel a bit damp by the end of your visit! The trail to these falls is consistently updated with perfect viewing opportunities for those who need easy access to nature or have limited mobility of young members of your family.
Whitewater Falls: Whitewater Falls truly lives up to its name! Within an easy half-mile trail to the falls, look upon over 800 feet of rushing, white water as it plummets towards the earth. Explore the areas around the falls and discover great places for picnicking and wading in shallow pools.
Glen Falls: Glen Falls is a local favorite in Highlands. With 3 tiers of falling water dropping over 640 feet. The footpaths around the falls are steep, rising and falling over 700 feet within a mile depending on which way you’re traveling.
Bridal Veil Falls: If you don’t even want to get your toes wet, consider driving through—yes, THROUGH—Bridal Veil Falls. Less than 3 miles from Highlands, enjoy the 120 foot falls whose spray is fine and white enough to look like a sheer veil. The best time for viewing is after a nice rain, as dry weather can affect the falls. For the more adventurous in your group, there is room to pull off the road and walk under the falls as well. Please drive slowly as locals and tourists love to use this amazing natural area.
In the 1930s the town became a golfing magnet when Bobby Jones of Atlanta founded the Highlands Country Club. With over 9 pristinely groomed public courses in the area, straighten up your shank on any of these award winning courses.
- High Hampton Country Club: 18 holes, 71 par, 6,012 yards. This golf facility is located just 7 miles from Highlands.
- Red Bird Golf Links: 9 holes, executive length course. This golf facility is located 10 miles from Highlands.
- Sapphire National Golf Course: 18 holes, 70 par, 6,147 yards. This golf facility is 12 miles from Highlands.
- Sky Valley Resort: 18 holes, 71 par, 6,901 yards. This golf facility is located just 8 miles from Highlands.
LAKE DAYS & BOATING
Lake Glenville is the highest manmade lake east of the Mississippi at an elevation of 3,492 feet. It offers visitors and residents a wide variety of activities like boating, water sports, and great fishing in clear, clean water for trout, walleye, bass and even catfish. On the shores of Lake Glenville is a 79 acre recreational facility, Ralph J. Andrews County Park, which is the perfect place for families to enjoy boating, fishing, hiking, a family picnic and camping in a clean, safe environment. For a faster paced adventure, visit any of our surrounding rivers like the Tuckaseegee, Cullasaja, Ocoee, and more to enjoy a day of kayaking, canoeing, and other water-adventures that our region loves.
ZIPLINE FAMILY FUN
Our guests can’t get enough of zip line tours in the Nantahala Gorge. The Mountaintop Zip Line Tour, a part of the Nantahala Outdoor Center, whirls you 500 feet above the Nantahala River and 0over the Gorge. With a 360-degree panoramic view of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you’ll see stunning vistas as you sweep over half a mile from mountain top to mountain top. For a softer zip line adventure, the Nantahala Outdoor Center also has shorter tours and can accommodate children weighing 60 pounds and over.
SHOPPING IN HIGHLANDS
Whether you’re looking for a warm, snuggly pair of wool socks, a swim suit, or spectacular cocktail attire, the Shops on Main Street will have you covered. Several blocks of high end retail dot the streets of Highlands. Visit the famous fur shop, antique shops, and well-known auction house. Or―for the adventure-bound explorer, don’t miss out on the outfitting shops on main for Mountain Hardwear, Patagonia, and some of our other favorite brands.