I’d like to start this post out with an exercise of sorts. I’d like you to envision a beautiful mountain range. Specifically the Smokies, but pretty much any other mountain range will do! Now imagine a quaint little town embedded in the mountains, we’re talking less than 1000 people. Picture the charming Main Street, the winding roads, and good ole southern charm! It’s a pretty picture, right? Well it just so happens that town exists, and its name is Highlands, North Carolina.
Highlands is on the Southwest border of North Carolina, near Georgia and South Carolina. It’s the quintessential small southern town! While you may think there wouldn’t be anything to do there, I’m about to prove you wrong!
One note before we get started: The peak tourist time in Highlands is during the summer. Before you book your trip for winter to avoid the crowds, just know that not everything will be open during that season!
Where To Stay
Old Edwards Inn
While I’m lucky enough to know someone with a home there and don’t have to worry about booking a hotel, this wouldn’t be a finished travel guide without mentioning a place to stay!
Old Edwards Inn offers rooms, suites, and cottages for people staying in Highlands! There’s also a spa, boutiques, and a few different restaurants. While there are other places to stay in Highlands, this is definitely where you want to be!
The view from my parents’ room in Old Edwards. This was taken during the rainy season in April.
Where To Eat
This gourmet restaurant serves American food with an Asian influence! If you want to add a little extra kick to your meal, this is the place to go!
As you might be able to tell from the name, Wolfgang’s offers a great selection of German food along with American and Cajun! It’s a bit on the pricier side, but the food is definitely worth a trip there!
I may be a bit biased here from my love of pasta, but I had to include Paoletti’s Italian Ristorante on this list! They care a lot about the quality of their food and try to offer the freshest selection possible!
Buck’s is hands down the best cafe in Highlands! Their coffee is strong without being too bitter, and it has a great aesthetic. I haven’t had anything from there that I didn’t like!
Even though this isn’t locally owned, it’s still my favorite place to go in Highlands! Kilwin’s is an ice cream and fudge shop on main street, and they have so many great flavors! My personal favorites are cappuccino chip & mint chip, but other great flavors are coconut and maple pecan!
Where To Shop
Bear Mountain Outfitters
Bear Mountain Outfitters is the store in every tourist town that you need to go to. Here you can get the Highlands t-shirt you need before you head home! They also offer some casual wear and hiking gear if you’re going to be spending more time in the mountains!
This store sells luxury fashion, thus making it wayyyyy out of my price point. That being said, it is so FUN to look around there! We’re talking brands like Armani, Versace, Missoni, Diane Von Furstenberg, and more!
This store is filled with all kinds of fun home decor! From wall hangings to candles to pillows, this store has it all! There are a few different home decor stores in town, but this one is the best in my opinion!
This store has no competition in my eyes. Not only does it have a WONDERFUL name, but it’s one of the only stores that doesn’t look like a Lilly Pulitzer explosion. I know many of you love your Lilly, and I respect that, but there’s only so much neon pink and bright turquoise a girl can handle! Annawear has more of a boho-chic style, offering brands like Free People and Joe’s Jeans. I get something from this store every time I visit!
Mustard, jam, and dips, oh my! This store has a ton of great spreads that you need in your life, and you can try most of them out before you buy!
Disclaimer: The owner is a bit rough around the edges, so don’t get turned off by him! He just has a No B.S. attitude, which is definitely understandable if you live in a touristy place!
And many more…
Main Street is covered with a bunch of other fun shops, you just have to take a day to explore! If you have a preppy style, you could easily spend hours here!
As you can probably tell from the name, Reclamations is a place that sells reclaimed goods and antiques. We got some decor for my uncle’s house there, and the place is huge! It’s in a big barn kind of building and it also uses the yard to display their goods. Many of their products are hand made and one of a kind! Last time we were there, they even had a time machine for sale. They wouldn’t let me test it out, but I’m sure it was totally legit!
What To Do
Highlands is the perfect place for anyone who has a love of nature! There are a ton of trails and waterfalls in the area, but these are my favorite!
Nantahala National Park
Technically all of Highlands is in Nantahala National Park, and it’s technically classified as a rain forest (!), but there is a little recreation area in the mountains. There’s a lake that you can swim in, a picnic area, and a couple trails too!
Bust Your Butt Falls
The official name is Quarry Falls, but everyone knows this spot as Bust Your Butt Falls. This waterfall is actually along the side of Highway 64, right by a pull off. It has its nickname because, even though it’s pretty accessible compared to other waterfalls, it’s a bit rocky and slippery. It’s definitely worth the climb down, though – and that’s coming from someone who isn’t very outdoorsy!
Dry Falls is my favorite waterfall in Highlands. It’s super accessible, and there’s even a path you can take to go behind the water! It’s definitely an enchanting experience, and I highly recommend it to anyone going to Highlands!
Tip: This is a very touristy place, so the best time to go is earlier in the morning on some random weekday.
Note: This waterfall also happens to be handicapped friendly! There’s an overlook with an amazing view, which isn’t very common for these areas!
When you go to Highlands, you might want to take the opportunity to visit places nearby!
Asheville, NC (1.5 hours)
Asheville is a lovely, artsy, hipster-y city in North Carolina. The downtown district has a bunch of shops and great places to eat. Another great thing to see in Asheville is Biltmore Estate. It’s this HUGE estate with land covering 8,000 acres. Holy crap, right? Definitely worth seeing!
Great Smoky Mountains National Park (~1.5 hr)
Less than an hour and a half away from Highlands, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a must see! There are a ton of pull offs where you can go hiking and see caves. My favorite part, though, is the very top right by the Appalachian Trail entrance. The views are breathtaking and unparalleled. Plus, you can say you walked some of the Appalachian trail – no one has to know that you only went a few feet and back!
I hope this was a useful guide for you if you plan on going to Highlands soon! I highly recommend you take a trip down there sometime!
If you have any further questions, leave a comment! I may be able to answer them!
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