26 BEST Things to Do in Highlands, NC

Highlands is a small North Carolina town nestled in the southern Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina. At an altitude of 4,118 feet above sea level, it is recognized as one of the loftiest towns east of the Mississippi River! Situated on a plateau in the southern Appalachian Mountains within the Nantahala National Forest, there are plenty of things to do in Highlands for anyone visiting.

The fantastic village of Highlands, is divided between the Highlands and Cashiers Townships in the counties of Macon and Jackson, respectively and flaunts a friendly, engaging vibe. This mountain town has a charming downtown area with boutique shops, art galleries, and restaurants.

Highlands attracts numerous outdoor enthusiasts, particularly in the summer season when the weather is cooler than in numerous other regions of the southeastern United States. Tourists can relish a diverse assortment of activities like hiking, fishing, golfing, and whitewater rafting.

Highlands is where you can have a private mountain getaway, where enjoying every second is made possible by the elegant luxury that intelligently and flawlessly integrates with nature. In Highlands, you’ll find the height of fun and happiness in this place that is unlike any other.

Best Things to Do in Highlands, NC

Experience the Natural Side of Highlands

Highlands Plateau Greenway.

A great way to explore the natural side of Highlands is with a hike through the Highlands Plateau Greenway. This area is home to over five miles of trails that pass through beautiful nature areas with scenic views and opportunities to spot plant and animal life.

It’s one of the areas known for having the highest variety of plants and wildlife in the United States. As you explore this natural area, you’ll see notable attractions including Sunset Rock and Mirror Lake.

It doesn’t cost anything to hike this trail and you can do so any time of day which makes it a great place to watch the sun come up or watch it go down at the end of the day. The trail is also popular with cyclists, horseback riders and birdwatchers.

Enjoy the Stunning Cullasaja Falls

Cullasaja Falls
  • Address: Highlands (GPS)

Located 8.8 miles west of Highlands on US Highway 64 (also known as Mountain Waters Scenic Highway & Waterfall Byway), along a lovely cliff drive Cullasaja Falls can be seen from the side of the road as it winds through the Cullasaja River Gorge in the Nantahala National Forest.

There is only a tiny pull-off for two or three cars along the road because of the position (on the left if you are heading west from Highlands). When traveling from Franklin to Highlands, it is ideal for parking so that you are facing the pull-off. The distance on US 64 from Franklin to the US 441 crossroads is around 8 miles east.

You need to drive slowly and hunt for a pull-off because there is no signage for the 250-foot waterfall. From the parking area, a short, steep track descends the hill; however, it is not a designated trail. If you aren’t an experienced hiker, it’s best not to hike down. Wintertime, when the leaves are gone, offers the best vistas.

Journey through Cullasaja River Gorge

Cullasaja River Gorge
Cascades on the Cullasaja River in Nantahala Forest

One of the best things to do in Highlands is go for a road trip! There’s no shortage of scenic drives in North Carolina, and in the Highlands region, the Cullasaja River Gorge scenic drive, which travels between the towns of Highlands and Franklin, is one of the more popular ones.

Enjoy stunning scenery consisting of rock cliffs, rapids, waterfalls, forests and hills. For 61 miles through the Nantahala National Forest, you’ll enjoy these views and many places where you can pull over and take pictures and explore the natural wonders.

Visit Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls
  • Address: Highlands Rd, Highlands (GPS)

Although you can see Bridal Veil Falls from the roadway, nothing beats seeing this waterfall up close!  Oh, but wait…it’s located right on the roadway!

This 45-foot-tall waterfall is unique in that you can park your car in the nearby lot and walk behind the falls. The beautiful cascades are a sight to behold any time of year, but in the winter, the waterfall freezes and offers up quite a unique photo op!

Dry Falls

Dry Falls
  • Address: US-64, Highlands (GPS)

Situated about three miles away from Highlands, Dry Falls is another spectacular North Carolina waterfall you can check out in the area. The best part about these falls is they’re easy to get to via a fairly short, paved path.

The waterfall itself is about 80 feet high with waters cascading freely into the Cullasaja River from about 40 feet. A unique feature of this waterfall is you can walk behind it and view the cascading water from a viewing platform. A parking area is located near the trailhead.

Spend Time at Glen Falls

Glen Falls
The beautiful Glenfall cascade
  • Address: Highlands, NC (GPS)
  • Hours: 24Hours

Glen Falls, another stunning waterfall in the area, is one of the best things to do in Highlands. You will be in awe of the area’s natural beauty once you arrive at the falls, accessible through a well-marked trail.

Not a whole lot of effort is required to reach one of the area’s most beautiful waterfalls. Glen falls is only a short drive away from Highlands and the hike to the falls is short and easy!

Flowing on the East Fork Overflow Creek, this waterfall has three cascades and is surrounded by pristine natural beauty. It’s the perfect place to bring the whole family because it’s so easy to get to and is a nice place to spend an afternoon immersed in the great outdoors.

Dig Some Gem Rocks at Jackson Hole Gem Mine

  • Address: 9770 Highlands Rd, Highlands (GPS)
  • Cost of Admission: For ticket information, click here.

You can buy precious gems in many shops almost everywhere but where’s the fun in just entering a shop, picking something out and buying it? At the Jackson Hole Gem Mine, you can mine for your own gems! 

Situated only nine miles away from Highlands this family-run facility features a covered gem mine where you can safely mine for native and enriched stones. Equipment is provided and expert staff is on-hand to ensure your safety and help you through the process if you’ve never mined for gems before.

All ages are welcome, and the on-site shop sells a wide variety of items including locally-made gifts. Before you leave the site, take a breather and enjoy the spectacular views. 

Hike at Whiteside Mountain

Whiteside Mountain
Trail to the summit of Whiteside Mountain
  • Address: North Carolina (GPS)

This great circle, designated a National Recreation Trail, ascends to the summit of Whiteside Mountain, whose breathtaking 700-foot-high sheer cliffs elevate hikers for spectacular vistas.

Climbing to the top of a mountain sounds like a daunting task, especially for anyone not used to hiking but the climb to the top of Whiteside Mountain isn’t so bad. The hike itself is only about two miles long and the trail is easy even for people who don’t do a lot of hiking. On the way to the top, you’ll see cliffs that are said to be the highest in the eastern United States and the Devil’s Courthouse, which is a mesa looking out over the Pisgah National Forest. 

At the top, you’ll be able to get a better look at the spectacular vistas and natural landscape. The trail is open all year round and if you’re traveling with a dog, they can enjoy the trail too as long as they’re kept on a leash at all times. Note that the Whiteside Mountain Recreation Area charges a $3 daily area use fee.

Play Golf at Highlands Country Club

Highlands Country Club
Image by Highlands Country Club / Things to Do in Highlands NC
  • Address: 981 Dillard Rd, Highlands (GPS)
  • Hours: Monday – Sunday: 8:30 am – 5:00 pm

Highlands Country Club is a tale of two nines, though not in the sense that the two sections of the property are located on either side of the North Carolina Route or that the course’s character drastically alters between them. 106.

Donald Ross eventually built both courses. However, the first half (on the clubhouse side) is the one that garners greater historical interest because Bobby Jones was one of the first players to give it a try and hit the ceremonial opening tee shot. Jones’s father, Colonel P. Jones was one of the organization’s original members.

Explore Secret Falls

  • Address: Big Creek Rd, Highlands (GPS)

As you have probably noticed, there are many stunning waterfalls across the Highlands, including Secret Falls. While it can be a little challenging to find, the location’s splendor will completely enthrall you once you get there. It takes less than a mile to get to the top of a mountain trail. 

Once there, you’ll enjoy incredible views of this 50-foot waterfall with cascading waters falling into a fairly large and deep pool at the bottom. On hot days, you can even swim in that pool to cool off before making the hike back to your car.

Shop at Mirror Lake Antiques

Mirror Lake Antiques
  • Address: 215 S 4th St, Highlands (GPS)
  • Hours: Monday – Saturday: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm, Sunday: Closed

While in Highlands, you can find another lovely store like this one. You can buy jewelry from this store’s beautiful assortment of various pieces for yourself or as a gift. You can also browse for a small selection of books and antique clothing there.

This shop’s handy central location is one of its most intriguing and alluring aspects. The proprietors are extremely helpful and friendly. The sale items’ prices are reasonable and suitable for customers with various spending strategies.

Appreciate Artworks at the Carolina Gallery of Fine Art

Carolina Gallery of Fine Art
Image by Carolina Gallery of Fine Art / Things to Do in Highlands NC
  • Address: 417 N 4th St. at corner of Carolina Way, Upper Level, Highlands (GPS)
  • Hours: Monday – Saturday: 11:00 am – 5:00 pm

Even if you’re not a lover of fine art, you’ll appreciate the beautiful pieces on display at the Carolina Gallery of Fine Art. This beautiful gallery features a variety of exhibits including one dedicated to local artists.

As you make your way through the facility, you’ll see paintings, sculptures and a range of multi-media artworks. Friendly and knowledgeable staff is on hand to assist visitors and answer any questions they have about the items they’re looking at.

Hike to Osage Overlook and Scaly Mountain

Osage Overlook
Things to Do in Highlands NC
  • Address: 4594 Dillard Rd, Highlands (GPS)
  • Hours: 24 hours

From a parking area along Dillard Road near Highlands, you can access one of the area’s top hiking trails that’ll take you to two of its top outdoor attractions, Osage Overlook and the summit of Scaly Mountain.

The trail takes you through a beautiful nature area and to the top of Scaly Mountain where you’ll enjoy incredible views of the landscape below. Being so high up and free of crowds early in the morning and late evening, this is also a great place to watch sunrises and sunsets. 

Watch the Sunset at Sunset Rock and Ravenel Park

The Sunset Rock Highlands NC
The Sunset Rock Highlands NC
  • Address: Sunset Rock- Henderson County, NC 28792 (GPS)

As the name implies, this location provides a breathtaking sunset view. If you want to see the town of Highland and the valley from above, you must go to this park in the evening with a drink in tow and enjoy. The ascent is made up of a graveled path surrounded by lovely flowers, and is a true sight to take in.

This hike offers breathtaking natural splendor and adults and children alike will undoubtedly love it as Sunset Rock is very stunning. The air is a little chilly and breezy up there, make sure to dress up accordingly.

Spend an Afternoon Outdoors at Cliffside Lake Recreation Area

Cliffside Lake Recreation Area
Image by Highlandsinfo.com / Things to Do in Highlands NC
  • Address: 14014 Highlands Rd, Highlands (GPS)

Vacations can be hectic and even stressful if you’re constantly on the move and don’t make time to just relax and enjoy a slower pace. In Highlands, Cliffside Lake Recreation Area is the perfect place to plan a day doing just that!

Find a quiet place to spread out a blanket and just lie in the sun or shade, take a walk on the path that goes around the scenic lake, or enjoy a picnic.

Go Antique Shopping at The Reclamations

The Reclamations
Image by The Reclamations / Things to Do in Highlands NC
  • Address: 99 Cherrywood Dr, Highlands, (GPS)
  • Hours: Monday – Thursday: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm, Sunday: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm

In Highlands, there is an antique shop called The Reclamations and this is the place to go if you enjoy looking through antiques, particularly architectural salvage.

You can browse the store’s massive assortment of repurposed things and wonder at them. This area has a lot to see, including architectural details, cement molds, and lighting fixtures. Give yourself enough time to explore the area and enjoy your visit.

 Admire Works of Art at the Bascom Center for the Visual Arts

The Bascom
Image by The Bascom / Things to Do in Highlands NC
  • Address: 323 Franklin Rd, Highlands (GPS)
  • Hours: Wednesday -Saturday: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm, Sunday – Tuesday: Closed

With a variety of beautiful exhibits, art instruction sessions by professional artists and educational experiences, there’s something for everyone at the Bascom Center for the Visual Arts no matter your age or art experience. As you browse the galleries, you’ll see a variety of artworks including pottery, paintings, ceramics and sculptures.

Even the six acres of property surrounding the building are worth exploring.  On site, you’ll find a gift shop selling art and souvenirs. 

Watch Performances at the Highlands Playhouse

Highlands Playhouse
Image by Mountain Theatre Company at The Highlands Playhouse
  • Address: 362 Oak St, Highlands (GPS)
  • Cost of Admission: For ticket information per event, click here.

Started by a group of local performers back in the 1930s, The Highlands Playhouse is a renowned venue in the area.  This community theater hosts a variety of events, including plays, cabarets, musicals and Broadway shows that are showcased during the summer months.

Be sure to check out their calendar of events next time you are in Highlands. If you happen to be in the area during the off-season, you might be able to catch one of the films that are shown from time to time. 

Look at Local Artworks at Highlands Art Gallery

Highlands Art Gallery
Image by Highlands Art Gallery / Things to Do in Highlands NC
  • Address: 411 N 4th St, Unit 6, Highlands
  • Hours: Monday – Sunday: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm

The Highlands region is home to many artists, and you can view some of their work at the Highlands Art Gallery. On display are a wide variety of artworks by local artists and as you wander through the exhibits, you may even get the chance to see some of the artists hard at work on their newest ventures. You can also find some outstanding deals on the artworks that are for sale and the on-site gift shop sells souvenirs.

Swim at the Highlands Civic Center

Highlands Civic Center
Image by The Town of Highlands
  • Address: 600 N 4th St Ste. 1, Highlands (GPS)
  • Hours: Monday – Friday: 8:00 am – 9:30 pm, Saturday: 10:00 am – 9:30 pm
    Sunday: 1:00 pm – 5:30 pm

When in the area, visit the Highlands Civic Center, especially if you enjoy swimming. The heated pool at this civic center features six lanes and is Olympic size.

Additionally, you can mingle by the pool. The costs are reasonable, and for a small sum each day, the entire family can enjoy swimming.

Dine at Highlands Wine Shop

Highlands Wine Shop
Image by Highlands Wine Shoppes / Things to Do in Highlands NC
  • Address: Highlands Wine Shoppe- 269 Oak St, Highlands (GPS)
  • Hours: Tuesday -Saturday: 11:00 am – 6:00 pm, Sunday: 2:00 pm – 6:00 pm
    Monday: Closed

Whether you just want to purchase some wine to take with you or you want to sit down and enjoy some good food and drink, a stop at the Highlands Wine Shop is a must for wine lovers. Some of the finest wines around are for sale here and knowledgeable staff members are on hand to help you choose the right one for you.

Take a seat in the cozy lounge and enjoy some delicious wine with chocolate, cheese and other snacks. On nice days, head outdoors where you’ll find beautiful outdoor seating and enjoy your drinks and snacks with a view.

Attend the Outdoor Concert Series

One of the best things to do in Highlands in summer is attend an outdoor concert! From May to October, Highlands hosts the Outdoor Concert Series with free concerts every Friday and Saturday night at various locations around the town.

This is a great way to check out local and regional musicians and relax with good entertainment. It’s a good idea to take a chair or blanket and some drinks and snacks with you to sit and enjoy the show.

Catch some Thrills on a Zipline

Highland Aerial Park

One of the best things to do in Highlands with the family is zipline across the sky! If you’re looking for something to do in the Highlands area that’s more on the adventurous side, head to Highland Aerial Park and soar through the air high above the landscape on a zipline.

Don’t worry if you’re afraid of heights or have never ziplined before because there’s even a course better suited to more nervous flyers and novices. 

If you want to go all out and get the authentic ziplining experience, the premium one has eight lines that soar up to 250 feet off the ground and are up to 1500 feet long. As you zip through the forest canopy, keep your eyes wide open so you can check out the views of distant mountains and stunning natural scenes. 

See Various Plants at Highlands Biological Station

 Highlands Biological Station

If you’re a nature lover and love to learn about the flora and fauna of the places you visit, you’ll love the Highlands Biological Station. Started in 1962 as a small demonstration garden, it has since grown into a large facility that’s home to hundreds of plants that are native to the southern Appalachian region. 

As you walk along the boardwalks, you’ll see a pretty pond, colorful flowers, trees, shrubs, mosses, a meadow and wetlands. In the information center, there are animal exhibits highlighting the wildlife of the region.

Overall, this is a great place to spend a few hours and the facility is open all year round from dusk until dawn.  Guided tours are available.

Cast a Line in the Chattooga River

Chattooga River

Fishing is popular in Highlands, and that’s mainly because it’s done on the renowned Chattooga River, which is known for its amazing fishing opportunities. Whether you choose to do some shoreline fishing or fly fishing, you’ll have the chance to reel in a variety of species including rainbow trout, brown trout and wild brook trout.

As you relax on the banks of the river waiting for the fish to bite, you’ll enjoy beautiful scenery. Be sure to acquire the proper fishing license before casting your line and get familiar with local regulations.

Dine out at the Primary Restaurant and Bar

Primary Restaurant and Bar

Picnics in natural surroundings are a popular thing with visitors to Highlands but sometimes you just want to sit down to a hot meal that someone else prepares for you and Primary Restaurant and Bar is one of the town’s best restaurants where you can do just that!

The menu features a variety of delicious options for lunch and dinner including salads, burgers, sandwiches, seafood dishes and specialty house items. On the extensive beverage menu, you’ll find a selection of wines, cocktails and beers to go along with your meal.

best Things to Do in Highlands Map


Hopefully you enjoy a view of these things to do in Highlands on your trip. For more travel around the area, see below.

About Natasha

Natasha moved to North Carolina for college years ago (but she's not trying to age herself here). Her days were spent reading a book on the beach and enjoying a cold glass of sweet tea in between classes at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Upon graduation, she met her partner, Cameron, and they traveled the world together crossing 85 countries and seven continents. After, many years of international travel they settled down a bit and launched Lost in the Carolinas to share their experiences about and travel tips on South Carolina and North Carolina.

2 thoughts on “26 BEST Things to Do in Highlands, NC”

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