Surrounded by the Nantahala National Forest and just two hours north of Atlanta, the quaint town of Highlands in North Carolina is a charming little metropolis that has a variety of things to see and do all year round. Resting at an elevation of 4,118 feet, the aptly named town and its surroundings are a haven for outdoor lovers with several spectacular waterfalls, including Bridal Veil Falls, Dry Falls, and the cascading 411-foot Whitewater Falls. There are plenty of hiking and mountain biking trails and scenic drives to explore and a few great restaurants that serve local and global cuisine.
Dry Falls, also known as Upper Cullasaja Falls, is a cascading waterfall with an 80-foot drop, 40 feet of which is freefalling water that flows on the Cullasaja River through the Nantahala National Forest. Located less than a mile from Bridal Veil Falls, Dry Falls is easily accessible on an easy, paved pathway from the parking lot that leads inside the recessed ledge of the waterfall behind the roaring waters. The falls are situated about three miles north of Highlands, North Carolina, and a parking area on the side of the road offers parking for people visiting the falls.
US 64/28 W, Highlands, NC 28741, Phone: 828-526-2112
© Craig Zerbe/stock.adobe.com
Glen Falls is a spectacular set of waterfalls that consist of three separate cascades that plunge through a rocky forest filled with rhododendron bushes and towering hardwoods. The waterfalls flow on the East Fork Overflow Creek, which drops 600 feet in elevation and are accessed by a fantastic hike that is relatively short in length and surrounded by an abundance of natural beauty. Two trailheads lead to the falls – the Chinquapin Mountain Trail and the Glen Falls Trail, and about a quarter of a mile into the hike the waterfalls can be seen through the shrubs.
Glen Falls Road, Highlands, NC 28741
3.Cullasaja River Gorge
The Cullasaja River Gorge is an area of spectacular beauty along the Waterfall Byway between the towns of Franklin and Highlands. The gorge is bisected by the fast-moving Cullasaja River, which features three significant waterfalls that wind through the Nantahala National Forest, including the 120-foot Bridal Veil Falls, the roaring water at Dry Falls and the towering 250-foot high Cullasaja Falls. Part of the trail followed by Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto in 1540, Cullasaja (meaning ‘honey locust place’) Gorge channels the river to the Gulf of Mexico.
Highlands, NC 28741
4. Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls is a picturesque cascade that flows on a tributary of the Cullasaja River in the Nantahala National Forest. The falls cascade over an overhanging bluff and drop 60 feet over a section of the US Highway 64 (Mountain Waters Scenic Byway & NC Waterfall Byway), and due to small volumes of water, people can walk beneath it. The stream tends to dry up during periods of drought and has a moderate or high flow of water during the wet season.
US 64/28 W, Highlands, NC 28741, Phone: 828-526-5841
5.Highlands Biological Station, Nature Center, and Botanical Gardens
© Sandy Sarsfield/stock.adobe.com
The Highlands Biological Station, Nature Center, and Botanical Gardens is a public garden and nature sanctuary that showcases the diverse flora of the southern Appalachians. Open year-round from sunrise to sunset and free of charge, the garden was founded in 1962 as a demonstration garden and has grown into a leading botanical sanctuary with more than 500 species of ferns, shrubs, mosses, wildflowers, shrubs, wetlands, forests, and old-growth plant communities. The garden can be explored on a series of boardwalks and trails that wind through the garden, which also features display collections of Mosses and Liverworts, Plants of the Cherokee, Native Azaleas, Wildflower Meadow, and Butterfly-pollinated species. The garden offers guided tours, and visitors can enjoy picnics in beautiful spots around the garden.
265 N 6th St, Highlands, NC 28741, Phone: 828-526-2623
6.The Bascom: Center for the Visual Arts
© The Bascom: Center for the Visual Arts
The Bascom: Center for the Visual Arts provides an array of stimulating experiences in the visual arts for visitors of all ages. Located on a former horse farm in Highland, the indoor-outdoor visual arts center was established by artists Watson and Louise Bascom in 1983 and features rotating exhibitions of art, ceramics, and sculpture. The dynamic 30,000 square foot three-building center is based on a six-acre property and offers a variety of educational programs for adults and children and art experiences that focus on the synergy of art and nature. The Bunzl Gallery is based on the main floor of the center and features a gift shop, while the Joel Gallery and Loft Gallery occupy the second floor, and an Education Gallery and classrooms can be found on the lower level of the center.
323 Franklin Rd, Highlands, NC 28741, Phone: 828-526-4949
© Highlands Playhouse
The Highlands Playhouse is an intimate, long-running community playhouse and theater that produces a variety of theatrical plays, cabarets, Broadway musicals in summer, and other year-round film events. Established by a troupe of actors in the mid-1930s in the Highlands School auditorium, the Highlands Playhouse is one of the country’s oldest professional summer stock theaters. Today, the theatre presents three to four plays each summer and offers budding drama students a platform to work alongside professional mentors. The Playhouse Theater offers educational Summer Camps for children and includes the magical experience of writing and performing a play, and the performance space becomes a movie theatre for first-run films in the off-season.
362 Oak St, Highlands, NC 28741, Phone: 828-526-2695
Whiteside Mountain is a large mountain in Jackson County that boasts the highest cliffs in Eastern North America. The mountain also features the Devil's Courthouse, a rugged mesa overlooking the Pisgah National Forest that offers spectacular panoramic views from its peak that can be reached by a moderately strenuous half-mile hiking trail. The Whiteside Mountain National Recreation Trail is a 1.9-mile loop trail that is rated as moderate and primarily used for hiking, walking, nature trips, and birding. Accessible year-round, the trail features beautiful wildflowers, and dogs are allowed but must be kept on leash.
Highlands, NC 28741
9.Highlands Plateau Greenway
The Highlands Plateau Greenway is a five-mile network of walking trails that connect pristine natural areas and historical sites in and around Highlands. The Greenway straddles the Eastern Continental Divide and is comprised of a temperate rain forest that is home to the highest diversity of fauna and flora in North America. The greenway is surrounded by forests of firs, hickories, pines, and oaks, along with old-growth rhododendron and mountain laurel, and offers a wealth of recreational opportunities ranging from hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding to geocaching, backpacking and bird and wildlife watching.
Highlands, NC 28741, Phone: 828-526-2385
, Michigan beaches
© Kilwins Highlands
Kilwins Highlands is an old-fashioned confectionery chain that specializes in handmade chocolates, sweets, and ice-cream, along with delectable gift baskets for every occasion. Opened in 1995 by Ashley Clark, the confectionary store has grown into a popular franchise chain that offers sweet treats for every taste. Located on Main Street in Town Square, the bright and airy shop is filled with mouthwatering goodies of all kinds from chocolate, toffee and caramel, to Mackinac Island fudge, caramel corn, and brittle, and old-fashioned toffee apples. Customized gift baskets can be ordered for special occasions, and the store is open seven days a week.
341 Main St, Highlands, NC 28741, Phone: 828-526-3788
© Ristorante Paoletti
Ristorante Paoletti is a locally-owned European-inspired restaurant that serves refined Italian fare and fine wines in an elegant, relaxed setting. Established over 35 years ago, the restaurant focuses on using fresh, locally-sourced ingredients to prepare authentic Italian dishes from scratch, including fresh seafood, prime grass-fed meats and chicken, organic salads and vegetables, and handmade pasta. A separate full-service bar offers an extensive list of beverages and libations, ranging from local and imported craft and draft beers, award-winning wines from Italy and around the world, handcrafted cocktails made with high-end spirits, and freshly brewed Italian coffee. Ristorante Paoletti is open seasonally for dinner, seven nights a week.
440 Main St, Highlands, NC 28741, Phone: 828-526-4906
12.Wild Thyme Gourmet
Wild Thyme Gourmet is a stylish, contemporary restaurant that serves upscale Asian-influenced American cuisine in an elegant, laid-back setting with a full-service bar and outdoor patio with umbrellas. Owned by Dindu Lama and located on Main Street, the 15-year-old restaurant is tucked into a quaint courtyard lined with gourmet delis and fashion boutiques and adds to the plaza’s charm. Patrons can sip cocktails under a leafy canopy of trees and tuck into delectable Asian-inspired dishes of warm sesame chicken salad, open-faced goat cheese sandwiches topped with walnuts and figs, wild mushroom soup, and the signature grilled salmon and applewood-smoked bacon BLT sandwich. The cuisine is accompanied by a selection of casual wines, craft beers, and handcrafted cocktails, and the restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, seven days a week.
343 Main St # D, Highlands, NC 28741, Phone: 828-526-4035
13.Colonial Pines Inn-Bed and Breakfast
© Colonial Pines Inn-Bed and Breakfast
The Colonial Pines Inn-Bed and Breakfast is a charming getaway half a mile from the Main Street in Highlands that offers an elegant and refined country-style escape. Established over half a century ago, the family-owned and operated guesthouse is perched on a beautiful hillside property, and features well-appointed guest rooms and suites with en-suite bathrooms, knotty pines finishes and comfortable country-chic décor. A delicious homemade breakfast is served every morning that includes homemade preserves packed with local blueberries and raspberries and freshly brewed coffee. Activities in the area include shopping, dining, and cultural events in Highlands, hiking on one of the several trails in the area and visiting the local waterfalls.
541 Hickory St, Highlands, NC 28741, Phone: 828-526-2060
12 Best Things to Do in Highlands, NC
- Dry Falls, Photo: jonbilous/stock.adobe.com
- Glen Falls, Photo: Craig Zerbe/stock.adobe.com
- Cullasaja River Gorge, Photo: lightphoto2/stock.adobe.com
- Bridal Veil Falls, Photo: Bruce/stock.adobe.com
- Highlands Biological Station, Nature Center, and Botanical Gardens, Photo: Sandy Sarsfield/stock.adobe.com
- The Bascom: Center for the Visual Arts, Photo: The Bascom: Center for the Visual Arts
- Highlands Playhouse, Photo: Highlands Playhouse
- Whiteside Mountain, Photo: steheap/stock.adobe.com
- Highlands Plateau Greenway, Photo: shidzuochan/stock.adobe.com
- Kilwins Highlands, Photo: Kilwins Highlands
- Ristorante Paoletti, Photo: Ristorante Paoletti
- Wild Thyme Gourmet, Photo: davit85/stock.adobe.com
- Colonial Pines Inn-Bed and Breakfast, Photo: Colonial Pines Inn-Bed and Breakfast
- Cover Photo: jonbilous/stock.adobe.com