In a town that's perfected the art of relaxation, dramatic peaks and waterfalls still steal the show.

By Katie Strasberg Rousso
March 10, 2020
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The town of Highlands, North Carolina, is a retreat in every sense of the word. Situated high within the Nantahala National Forest, where North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia meet, this quaint community is getaway distance for the majority of the Southeast. With enchanting inns, five-star spas, and white-tablecloth dining, the outdoors isn’t all this mountain town has to offer–but it’s definitely at the top of the list.

From the best overlooks to our favorite meals, here’s how to spend a long weekend in this quiet corner of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Where to Stay:

While plenty of rustic cabin rentals dot the woods, splurge on a stay at Old Edwards Inn and Spa for a taste of refined mountain charm. Located in the heart of downtown, this mountain refuge delights with crackling fireplaces, inviting porches, and dining options galore. You’d be remiss to checkout without experiencing the property’s heated mineral pool or standout spa treatments.

What to Eat:

Begin your day at Mountain Fresh Grocery where a homemade breakfast sandwich is sure to fuel the day’s adventure. Their stollen bread is legendary, so be sure to grab one for the road. You’ll also find 4th Street Market can come in handy at the start of the day with to-go snacks for the trail.

If you’re not in the mountains come lunch time, sit under the red umbrellas at Bistro on Main for a bite in the warmer months. Connected to the Main Street Inn, which has welcomed visitors for more than 125 years, the restaurant serves everything from local mountain trout to Pimento cheese fritters with a side of live music on weekends. Stop by The Wine Garden for another can’t-miss patio mid-day. Sunshine and stonework mixes with great sips, dips, salads, and sandwiches for a lunch that feels like a destination in its own right.

Dinner options within walking distance of downtown are endless. Bring a picture of your pup with you to The Ugly Dog Public House, and they’ll put it on their photo studded walls while you grab a burger and a local beer. Take things up a notch at Wolfgang’s Restaurant & Wine Bistro where taste of Europe and New Orleans accompany a wine list more than 700 bottles long. Never leave your hotel with dinner at Madison’s Restaurant at Old Edwards Inn and Spa. The indoor dining room serves farm-to-table fare where you can treat yourself to everything from pork saltimbocca to a crispy leg of duck confit.

Where to Hike:

If it’s views you’re looking for, Nantahala National Forest is a gold mine. Beginner and expert hikers can make their way from gushing waterfalls and panoramic peaks on any given day.

Warm up with a trip to one of the closest waterfalls, Dry Falls. An easy start to the day, the short, half-mile stroll will take you to where the Cullasaja River projects over a cliff. A path lets you venture behind the falls without getting wet, hence the name.

Keep things flowing with a trip to Glen Falls. The trailhead is three miles from downtown, and the trip to the multilevel, 640-foot splash and back is just over two miles total. Don’t let the downhill start trick you. Be sure to conserve your energy for the walk back up.

For visitors looking for accessibility, drive to Bridal Veil Falls. The drop is roadside, so you can take in the view from the comfort of your own car. It's the only waterfall in the state that a vehicle can drive under.

Take in the views on Whiteside Mountain, a landmark along the eastern continental divide. The moderate 2-mile loop will take you by cliff edges and sprawling views. Keep your eyes peeled for falcons flying above.

Explore Downtown:

Locally owned storefronts strike a balance between mountain treasures and high-end boutiques on Main Street. Gear up for adventure at Bear Mountain Outfitters. From outdoor appeal and equipment for the trail to casual wear you can sport around town, this local shop has something for everyone. Pop into Rosenthals for an elevated look. A family store that’s been passed down three generations, the shop prides itself on a selection of designer brands and high-end service. Wander into TJ Baily's for classic style. This once men's only store now carries women's clothing too.

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Find a little something for your home at Dutchman’s Designs where you’ll be delighted by colorful décor and handcrafted furnishings. Between shops, be sure to stop into Kilwins for a plethora of confections sure to keep your blood sugar from dropping. Most of their recipes date back to the 1940s, and their turtle fudge are nearly impossible to pass up.