Blake Walsh

25 Best Things to Do in Highlands, NC

  • Published 2023/02/06

The town of Highlands is situated in Macon County, North Carolina.

This town lies on a plateau in the southern Appalachian Mountains and promises breathtaking natural beauty.

The sub-tropical cool climate adds to the beauty of the place.

Here, you’ll see different attractions, including a wide array of falls, coffee shops, restaurants, malls, parks, and many more!

If you’re interested in visiting Highlands, North Carolina, here are the 25 best things you can do as a tourist:

Explore the Dry Falls

Dry Falls

J K Laws /

If ‘waterfalls’ is your thing, then a visit to the Dry Falls should be included on your bucket list.

You can follow a paved walkway from the parking lot and reach right beneath the waterfall.

This waterfall is about seventy-five feet in height and offers a breathtaking view.

Tourist hiking the Dry Falls

J K Laws /

The fact that you can walk underneath this waterfall makes this a unique experience.

Although you have to walk a bit through an uneven path, the abundance of natural beauty in the entire path more than makes up for it.

Stunning view of Dry Falls

jo Crebbin /

Enjoy Trekking at the Highlands Plateau Greenway

If you want to discover more of this scenic town, hike through Highlands Plateau Greenway.

Initially, it was a 5-mile trail that opened in 1989, running from Sunset Rock to Mirror Lake.

Presently, it has expanded to over 10 miles of connected natural walking trails passing through some of Highland’s scenic locations and historic sites.

The trail is free and open to the public daily, so you can enjoy the sunrise or gaze at the magnificent sunset in the afternoon.

Get some fresh air, discover plants native to the area, or spot wildlife along the paths.

Explore and have a nature escape while strolling the Highlands Plateau Greenway.

Shop at Mirror Lake Antiques

Mirror Lake Antiques is yet another beautiful shop when you are in the Highlands.

This shop has a beautiful collection of eclectic jewelry that you can buy for yourself or as a souvenir.

They also have a small collection of books and vintage clothing that you can shop for.

One of this shop’s most exciting and attractive features is its convenient central location.

The owners are super friendly and will help you shop around.

The prices of the items on sale are fair and suit shoppers with different budget plans.

Visit Glen Falls

Glen Falls

Michael G Marshall /

Highlands offer yet another breathtakingly beautiful waterfall, which is the Glen Falls.

The trail is well-marked, and you will be in awe of the place’s natural beauty once you reach the falls.

The trip to Glen Falls will be a unique and memorable way to spend a day with your family.

Hiking trail near the Glen Falls

jo Crebbin /

This hike is relatively easy and is not too muddy.

The easy and short drive out of the town towards this fall makes it a favorite among the tourists at Highlands.

Beautiful view of Glen Falls

jo Crebbin /

Catch Wonderful Performances at the Outdoor Concert Series

Spend the weekends for a night of great music at the Outdoor Concert Series.

This free concert event runs from May to October, every Friday and Saturday evening.

Bring your family and friends and head out to the Town Square on Main Street on a Friday or drop by the Kelsey-Hutchinson Park on Pine Street on a Saturday.

Don’t forget to grab your lawn chair or blankets and pack some food and drinks while you enjoy the performances.

See local and regional musicians and bands showcase their talents as crowds jive to the music.

The Highlands Chamber of Commerce and Visit Highlands sponsors the Outdoor Concert Series in promotion of its local tourism.

See Various Exhibits at the Carolina Gallery of Fine Art

Another must-visit stop for art-loving tourists in Highlands is the Carolina Gallery of Fine Art.

You can enjoy an open exhibition of local artists in this gallery.

The gallery is extensive and well-lit, making viewing the exhibits easy.

You can mostly find paintings exhibited here; however, some sculpture and multi-media art can also be seen here.

The staff is super friendly and helpful.

In short, the Carolina Gallery of Fine Art is an art lover’s paradise.

Go Hiking at Osage Overlook

If you are driving by Highlands, park at the Osage Overlook parking area along NC 106/Dillard Road.

You can easily spot the trail and hike up to the top of Scaly Mountain.

The trek is beautiful by itself.

The scene of the surroundings from the top is breathtakingly beautiful.

Also, the road here is quite scenic, and the overlook is stunning.

Visit Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls

Photo Rebel /

Another falls in Highlands is the Bridal Veil Falls, visible from the highway.

The waterfall is tall, about 120 feet in height.

A unique feature is that the falls sometimes display a beautiful rainbow in the afternoon light.

This creates a very picturesque scene.

Front view of the Veil Falls

Steve Heap /

The falls freeze during the winter, and that is another photo-worthy scene.

You can even walk behind this waterfall.

The waterfall has a good parking place, so you can drive here and enjoy a quiet time with family and friends.

Get Amazed by Classic Cars at the Highlands Motoring Festival

If you’re a fan of classic cars, you can’t afford to miss the annual Highlands Motoring Festival.

This four-day auto event happens in June and offers fun and incredible attractions car enthusiasts would enjoy.

The events are free and open to the public, but you can register and purchase tickets for the driving tours and evening events at the website.

See over 80 classic car models at Kelsey Hutchinson Park for the public car show, or feast on vintage pre-and post-World War classic automobiles at the High Octane Car Show.

Likewise, you can bring your family for a Movie Night in the Park.

You might be one of the lucky drivers to join the “One Lap of The Mountains” driving tours and enjoy the Highlands sceneries.

Other events at the Highlands Motoring Festival include the fundraising gala, charity auction, and social gathering with featured guest celebrities to grace the occasion.

Have a Picnic at Cliffside Lake Recreation Area

When you are in Highland, you should visit the Cliffside Recreation Area.

The walk around the lake is very relaxing and promises to fill you with happiness.

The trail around the lake is thoroughly enjoyable.

This is an excellent place to organize small picnics with friends and family.

Shop at Reclamations

The Reclamations is an antique store located in Highlands.

If you like to explore antiques, especially architectural salvages, this is the right place.

The store has a vast collection of reclaimed articles and items to look around and marvel at.

There’s a lot to see here, from lighting fixtures to architectural pieces, cement molds, etc.

Make sure you give yourself adequate time to look around and make the most of your visit.

Enjoy Fine Dining at Madison’s Restaurant and Wine Garden

Exterior view of Madison's Restaurant and Wine Garden

Warren LeMay from Cincinnati, OH, United States, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Madison’s Restaurant and Wine Garden, located on Main Street at Old Edwards Inn, is one of the superb dining spots you can find in town.

The restaurant offers freshly made and carefully prepared breakfast, lunch, and dinners created by Executive Chef Chris Huerta and his team.

You’ll have a great gastronomic experience while enjoying the restaurant’s rustic ambiance and elegant classic decor, along with lovely views of the Wine Garden by the window; otherwise, you can dine al fresco by the waterfalls.

Have a bowl of cereal, oatmeal, pastry, or a breakfast parfait; likewise, traditional breakfasts like Breakfast Grit Bowl, Homemade Buttermilk Biscuits, and Breakfast Wrap are equally delicious.

Try their Farmers, Garden, or Cheese Omelets, all served with Country White and Sour Wheat Toast, then add some sides and morning beverages like coffee, tea, juice, Mimosa, or Tito’s Bloody Mary.

For lunch, start with delectable appetizers like the Selection Of Artisan Cheese, the Selection Of Artisan Charcuterie and Cheese, or the Soup Of The Day.

Get plates of healthy Southern Garden Salads like Seasonal, Kale and Romaine Caesar, and Madison’s Chicken varieties.

You’ll also enjoy the taste of filling sandwiches like burgers, wraps, and melt, plus Southern Delights and Classics, including Southern Fish And Chips, Shrimp and Sapelo Island Clam Linguini, and the Pan-Fried Calves Liver.

For dinner, you can order soups, salads, and starters to stir up your appetite; follow through with Large Plate specials like Braised Short Rib Pasta, Pecan-Crusted Sunburst Trout, or grilled and sautéd à la carte entrées that will perfectly satisfy your palate.

Top off your meals with indulging desserts like Pavlova or Decadence Cake from Madison’s Restaurant and Wine Garden.

Have a Relaxing Stay at Skyline Lodge

After all the outdoor activities, you’ll look forward to relaxing at a comfortable downtown accommodation.

Skyline Lodge is tucked away in the rural Blue Ridge Mountain area and offers guests an ideal place to unwind and have a memorable vacation.

The lodge was opened in 2021 and had 39 guest rooms and a suite, all designed with cozy wooden interiors and mid-century modern-style decor and furniture.

You’ll love the breathtaking panoramic nature views around the lodge and also have quick access to several hiking trails, natural locations, and destinations around town.

The lodge is also home to Oak Steakhouse, famous for the finest Certified Angus Beef steaks; you’ll also love other options on the menu like Venison Wellington, Sunburst Farms Trout, and delicious desserts like Chocolate Cake and house-made sorbets, and much more.

You can also enjoy some drinks at the Skyline Lodge Bar, open daily from early afternoon until evening.

See the Majestic Secret Falls

The entire Highlands has many beautiful waterfalls, one of which is the Secret Falls.

Although it is a bit tricky to locate the place, you will be mesmerized by the site’s beauty once you reach it.

Walking less than a mile on a mountain trail to reach the top would be best.

You will encounter two streams that require fording.

These streams become smaller during the monsoons, and the trail often becomes muddy.

The medium-intensity hike is worth every bit, as the view of the waterfalls in the woods is stunning.

See Artwork at The Bascom: A Center for the Visual Arts

If you’re now tired of seeing waterfalls, you can pay a visit to The Bascom.

This art center is high on the plateau and offers something for visitors of all ages.

The center hosts exhibitions, studio art instructions, and other cultural experiences.

You can expect to learn ceramics, pottery, and other such art forms from qualified instructors here.

You can also shop around for souvenirs.

The building and the vast grounds are also gorgeous and worth visiting and marveling at.

Witness Live Performances at Highlands Playhouse

If you are interested in performing arts, visit the Highlands Playhouse.

It features annual live performances in summer for the crowds.

You can watch movies here.

The staff here are friendly and will give you a very informative tour of the theater.

You can also learn about the history of the Playhouse theater.

When you are around Highlands, watch a play at the Playhouse with a glass of wine.

See Various Plants at Highlands Biological Station

Organic field in Highlands Biological Station

Praisaeng /

As a nature lover, another place to visit in Highlands is the Highlands Biological Station.

This nature center has a palette of natural attractions, including a botanical garden.

There are about 450 species of flowers, ferns, and trees.

Pitcher plant in Highlands Biological Station

Michael Sundberg /

The boardwalk along the meadows is beautiful and a good enjoyable family experience.

You can also see stuffed animals and information about them in the visitor’s area.

Another major attraction here is the cute Lilly pond.

Be prepared to enjoy two to three pleasant hours in the afternoon in this beautiful place.

Closeup of a flower at Highlands Biological Station

Matthew Timothy Bradley, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Have Fun at Jackson Hole Gem Mine

Located 9 miles from Highlands and 9 miles from Franklin, the family-owned Jackson Hole Gem Mine is another popular tourist destination.

It is near the Cullasaja Falls and the Dry Falls.

This is an experience that kids and adults will enjoy.

There are several priced options available for you to enjoy alone or with friends and family.

You can also enjoy a breathtaking view of the Cullasaja River from this property.

Wander around Highlands Art Gallery

If you are an art lover and have about an hour to spare, pay a visit to the Highlands Art Gallery.

You can explore artwork by local artists.

You also have the option to buy some of the displayed art pieces.

All in all, it is an excellent experience to spend some time marveling at the artistic creations of the local artisans of the Highlands.

You can also see artisans at work at the pottery studio here.

It is a memorable experience to see something built from scratch into a beautiful piece of art.

The art pieces here are reasonably priced.

You can shop for souvenirs here too.

In fact, the entire building is a piece of art by itself.

It is made from an Amish barn from Pennsylvania.

Take Some Pictures of the Lower Satulah Falls

Another paradise for those who love waterfalls is Lower Satulah Falls.

The trail is uphill the entire way and a bit challenging.

However, it is totally worth it and thoroughly enjoyable.

Since Lower Satulah Falls is private property, it is advised to carry binoculars or telephoto lenses for a more memorable and enriching experience.

Go Swimming at Highlands Civic Center

Visit the Highlands Civic Center in town, especially if you love swimming.

This Civic Center has a six-lane Olympic size heated pool.

You can also socialize around the pool.

The charges are pretty pocket-friendly, and the whole family can swim by paying a nominal fee for a day.

Have a Glass of Wine at Highlands Wine Shoppe

After many hikes and treks, head to the Highlands Wine Shop for a good wipe glass when you feel thirsty.

This shop is open weekly and serves some of the finest qualities of wine.

You can enjoy your wine with chocolate, cheese, and many other things.

The outdoor seating is beautiful.

The free WiFi helps you stay connected.

You can do it in peace here if you have something to finish.

The selection of wines here is superb, and the staff is friendly.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Pay a Visit to Cullasaja River Gorge

Cullasaja River Gorge

Colin D. Young /

The major attraction of the Cullasaja River Gorge is the magnificent drive through Rt.1.

If you drive from Highlands to Franklin, you cannot afford to miss this breathtaking drive and an even more beautiful place.

You get to see rock cliffs, waterfalls, rushing rapids, and the deep gorge of this place.

View of Cullasaja River Gorge

JayL /

The Cullasaja River Gorge is one of the most beautiful gorges you may ever see.

You can even walk around in some places, but please be careful when near the rocks and the waterfalls.

The Cullasaja River Gorge offers lovely natural beauty, enough opportunities for family fun, and lots of photoshoots.

Winter view of Cullasaja River Gorge

MarkVanDykePhotography /

Pay a Visit to Cullasaja Falls

Cullasaja Falls

Steve Heap /

Cullasaja Falls is another very popular waterfall loved by tourists and locals alike.

This waterfall is situated at the Cullasaja River Gorge and offers a beautiful sight.

There are guardrails; you can take their support and walk up to the river.

Spectacular view of Cullasaja Falls

Colin D. Young /

It is indeed a wonderful experience.

However, be aware that the parking is less.

So, please try to avoid visiting on holidays.

Tourists love this waterfall and visit this place often, experiencing the site’s natural beauty.

View of Cullasaja Falls

Ruth Peterkin /

Climb the Whiteside Mountain

Whiteside Mountain

Sean Pavone /

If you want to do some hiking, do visit Whiteside Mountain.

It is about 2 miles, round trip.

This hike is relatively easy and is worth it.

The long-range view is stunning.

You can climb and reach the top in about half an hour and enjoy the breathtaking view of nature.

View from Whiteside Mountain

Chadarat Saibhut /

Although some of the descent is steep, those areas are covered by stairs.

So, traveling up and down won’t be an issue.

You can thoroughly enjoy your hike up and down in addition to the place’s natural beauty.

After finishing the hike, you may also carry a picnic lunch or enjoy a meal at the Dillard House and reward yourself.

A man enjoying the view from Whiteside Mountain

Steve Heap /

Final Thoughts

Highlands has a host of stunning nature and scenic locations.

If you’re looking for travel adventures or want a nature escapade, you’ll surely enjoy your stay in this town.

There are also plenty of shops, restaurants, galleries, and entertainment venues you can enjoy with the family.

Go waterfall hopping, join the local celebrations, eat at the town’s famous restaurants, and get immersed in all that nature has to offer.

And most of all, enjoy the best things to do in Highlands, North Carolina.

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