The village of Cashiers (population around 150) evolved as a favored tourist destination from the late 1800s into the early 1900s, when travelers were desperate to find some respite from the mosquitoes and heat of the lowlands. The same promise of cool forests pulled Peter Kipp to the area as a young man, and he brought an unusual animal with him—a trained bird of prey.
Kipp, of Curtis Wright Outfitters, has been practicing the ancient art of falconry for over 30 years. He's one of the few licensed falconers in the country who give inexperienced bird lovers the chance to commune with hawks. Having a raptor fly from a branch to perch on your hand has the potential to change the way you view birds, even those just flitting around your backyard. "Falconry is about grace and instinct," Kipp says. "Everything in nature is connected, and you can really feel that when you're in these mountains."
If hanging out with hawks sounds intimidating, you can opt to explore the base of Rock Mountain—with llamas—at the High Hampton Resort. In season, the pack animals lead hikes every Thursday and Saturday. High Hampton's 1,400 acres include a lakefront rock face that turns rose at sunset, and the resort features unexpected amenities like a kennel for canine friends eager to explore nearby Nantahala National Forest.
High Hampton has cottages available for rent, but the true heart of the property is a chestnut-bark-covered lodge, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Now in its 96th year, it hosts guests who have been returning here for decades, some for generations. During that time, little has changed. The floors creak. Most of the rooms don't have air-conditioning. There's no in-room television or phone, no Wi-Fi beyond the lobby. This level of refined rustic isn't for everyone, but repeat guests who refer to the resort as "adult summer camp" and "our second home" wouldn't have it any other way.
This woodsy charm extends into downtown Cashiers, where many of the board-and-batten buildings bear placards from the Cashiers Historical Society. Located in what was once a general store, Cornucopia Restaurant is now a popular eatery with a lunch menu including a smoked trout dip and the Purple Onion Burger with Gorgonzola cheese. Relax and enjoy the meal, because the days are never rushed in Cashiers.
The area has a number of impressive waterfalls, including Whitewater Falls, the highest cascade east of the Rocky Mountains. Silver Run Falls, with its swimming hole and picnic-worthy rocks, is one of the closest to town and is accessed via an easy 100-yard trail. If you're interested in a longer walk, the crew at Highland Hiker recommend Whiteside Mountain, a 2.2-mile loop that offers long-range views of South Carolina and Georgia.
Betty Held, front desk clerk at High Hampton Resort, says it's common for guests to book next year's stay before leaving. Almost everyone tells her it's hard to go home. Held can understand why. Like many visitors who spend their days with smartphones and tablets in hand, she was also attached to her cell phone before moving to Cashiers. Now, she sometimes even forgets to carry it. Held witnesses this transition—from a dependence on electronics to a connection with nature—in nearly every guest she serves. "People here come to escape the pressure of their busy lives," she says. "As soon as they arrive, they finally start to exhale."