Founded in 1875, Highlands, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, has long been a destination for rest and relaxation. One visit and you’ll understand why Southern Living magazine selected Highlands as a “Top 5 Small Town Getaway.”
At 4,118 feet, this quaint town is one of the highest in elevation east of the Mississippi River. Summer is “high season” here, but during the winter months, you can enjoy all the beauty of the area, including some uniquely cold weather opportunities.
Anchor your trip by staying at the Old Edwards Inn and Spa, a luxury resort known for its outdoor heated mineral pools, where European-style elegance meets the mountain lifestyle. Choose from graciously appointed guest rooms, suites, cottages and private estates.
Because Old Edwards features its own spa, there’s no better place to relax after your outings and adventures. Indulge spirit and body with a soothing river stone massage, a classic French facial, pedicure or other spa treatment. Then, curl up by the fire in a fluffy robe (some accommodations have their own fireplace), or dress for a memorable dinner at one of the inn’s farm-to-table restaurants.
Get acquainted with Highlands’ picture-perfect downtown by taking the Highlands Heritage Trail self-guided walking tour, which offers a three-block walk or a 20-block (3 1/2 miles) walk with a total of 51 historic locations. Pick up a map at the Highlands Chamber.
After you’ve gotten a feel for the area, it’s time for some shopping. There are several blocks filled with boutiques featuring apparel, books, crafts and gifts, jewelry, wine and gourmet items, as well as antiques shops and art galleries.
Not to be missed is The Bascom, an art center with free admission that is open year-round, featuring changing exhibitions, instructional programs and events. The magic begins as you enter the six-acre campus through a picturesque covered bridge.
Families and couples alike will enjoy taking a spin at the Highlands Ice Rink. Just $5 includes admission and skate rental. After you hit the ice (hopefully, not literally!), finish your outing with a cup of hot chocolate.
The town offers many dining options to choose from with the majority open year-round. Enjoy lunch or dinner at Wild Thyme Gourmet, which features a tantalizing menu that includes a number of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options, as well as an impressive wine list. For a regional taste, try the pan-seared mountain trout.
Dine at Cyprus one evening for exciting international cuisine from award-winning chefs. While there, check out the intriguing array of cocktails, sake and draft beer.
Enjoy of a pint at the Ugly Dog Public House, or sample different vintages in a tasting at the Highlands Wine Shoppe.
A stop at Kilwin’s Chocolates & Ice Cream is a must. Fudge lovers will swoon over the numerous hand-crafted flavors, not to mention decadent caramel apples, pecan pralines and ice cream, plus coffee and espresso drinks.
Hiking and waterfalls are a major appeal of visiting the Highlands area. Many trails can be hiked year-round, although some may close during inclement weather for safety reasons. For a spectacular view, the Whiteside Mountain hike is a great choice. Want to watch the sun sink into the horizon over Highlands? Drive or hike to Sunset Rock, starting near the Highlands Nature Center on Horse Cove Road.
One of the South’s most popular waterfalls, Bridal Veil Falls is less than three miles from town, located along U.S. 64 West. The 120-foot drop is stunning any time of year but especially during cold weather when the falls can transform into a giant ice column.
Dry Falls is unique for two reasons: You can see it from the roadside observation deck, and if the weather’s good, you can actually walk behind it.
Satisfy your spirit for adventure by ziplining through the forest canopy at Highlands Aerial Park. They also offer nature trails and a fire pit deck.
Diamonds, emeralds, rubies and sapphires are all mined in North Carolina. Kids love trying their hand at unearthing gemstones, so head over to the nearby town of Franklin to find several gemstone mining operations open year-round.
Just about 12 miles from downtown Highlands, along scenic Highway 64, is the inviting little town of Cashiers. You’ll want to venture here for more browsing and shopping in the variety of boutiques, antique shops and home furnishings studios.
While you’re walking about town, don’t miss the Village Green, a 12-acre park with outdoor sculptures, tranquil gardens, walking paths and boardwalks over wetlands. Afterward, stop at Whiteside Brewing Co. for Bavarian-style beers, hearty burgers and paninis.
A few miles south of Cashiers, you’ll find the smallest post office in the United States. It’s worth the drive to snap a photo at this tiny but historic site.
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