Whether you’re drawn to the nearby national forests, the surprising variety of cultural arts, or the tasty restaurants available, Highlands, North Carolina, is a picturesque mountain town. The locals are ready to show you an amazing time as you explore Dry Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, golf at the Highlands Country Club, and luxuriate at the Old Edwards Inn.
Located just 90 to 120 minutes from Asheville (depending on the route you take), Highlands is only a stone’s throw from both South Carolina and Georgia, in the far western portion of the state.
Not only do you get incredible views here, but you’ll also get away from the city environment of Asheville and get to feel the pristine mountain air as you explore all that Highlands, NC, has to offer. Are you planning a trip? Here are some of the Highlands activities and attractions that we found were at the top of many visitors’ lists!
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Highlands hosts a number of exciting events throughout the year, and structuring your plan so that you can visit during a festival or concert series just adds to your enjoyment of the Highlands atmosphere. Here are just a few of the options you have available for fun Highlands events.
Check Out Saturdays on Pine or Friday Night Live Concerts
On the weekends, Highlands is alive with the sound of music. On Fridays from May to October, you’re likely to hear the twang of a banjo or a mandolin coming from the Friday Night Live series, held at Highlands Town Square. These great acts tend to be people who play traditional mountain music, but as always, every band has their own twist.
Saturdays on Pine is held at Kelsey-Hutchinson Founders Park and features a wide range of acts, from rock to blues to beach music, all with the theme of being a fun experience for all. You can bring your own picnic or pick up a restaurant takeout meal and set up some chairs to listen to the sounds – it’s a simple and fun way to get out and about in Highlands.
Embrace Your Inner Car Lover at the Highlands Motoring Festival
Classic car enthusiasts rejoice when the four-day Highlands Motoring Festival comes to Highlands, NC. From a series of driving tours to a Main Street parade and car shows, you’ll find that classic cars are everywhere in early June when the festival comes to town.
Classic cars are labors of love, as owners work painstakingly to keep them in excellent working order and pristinely detailed. Social events bring together these aficionados to swap stories and share tales of cars gone by. If your classic car is a pleasure to drive, you’ll love how it handles on the driving tours through the Highlands mountains.
While entering into some of the specialty events comes with a price, the main car shows are free and open to the public, so if you simply have an appreciation and interest in classic cars, you too can tour the scene and appreciate the mint-condition style of these impressive cars.
Enjoy the Tunes at the Bear Shadow Festival
Highlands Festivals, Inc. brings big names to each year’s springtime Bear Shadow Festival. This music festival offers multiple days of multiple stages, offering everything you’re looking for in an independent, comfortable music setting with camping opportunities.
While you’re enjoying your tunes and mountain views, you’ll also be contributing to environmental conservation and preservation in the Highlands Plateau through donations that the festival makes to local organizations, including the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust and the Highlands Biological Station. While the air is often cool and crisp in April in Highlands, you’ll be able to bundle into your most cozy flannel while you groove to the beautiful music.
Celebrate at the Independence Day Festival
If you’re bringing your family to Highlands for the 4th, never fear – there’s plenty of patriotic fun to be had in town! Start the day with the water rocket launches in Town Ball Field on Hickory Street, then meet locals and visitors alike for a hot dog lunch.
There will be traditional field games like tug-of-war and a sack race to bring back memories of fun in the sun, as well as displays of a real firetruck and helicopter. An outdoor concert by the Diamond River Band and a 9 pm fireworks display round out the festivities, helping everyone appreciate the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.
Highlands has attracted an impressive variety of artistic attractions, but visiting families will be glad to discover that the nearby outdoors and wildlife viewing opportunities are more than enough to engage visitors of all ages.
Explore Flora and Fauna at Highlands Biological Station
The Highlands Biological Station is really a fascinating project: part satellite campus for Western Carolina University, part natural history museum, part botanical garden, and all fascinating! The station recognizes the unique animals and plants that live in this part of the Appalachian Mountains and protects them while making this area a place for scientific research, increasing what we know about animals.
The botanical garden is a great place to visit while you’re in Highlands, and the station’s Nature Center hosts a variety of lectures, folklore events, and live animal experiences that you and your family will love.
It also hosts many groups and WCU students who use this space as a way to gain a really hands-on form of learning – if you’re working with a class trip that will bring you to the Highlands area, arranging a guided tour is entirely possible. Learn just how unique some of the species in this area are and why conservation is so important!
Location: 265 N 6th Street, Highlands
Take in a Performance at Highlands Performing Arts Center
The Highlands Performing Arts Center is an incredible place to visit, bringing national performing arts while also hosting local community theater organizations, all with a commitment to excellence and accessibility to the local community and visitors alike.
You’ll find excellent musical performances, screenings of high-profile art films, the acting and singing of the Mountain Theatre Company, touring dance companies, comic actors, and even live visual art demonstrations – there are simply so many performances available each year that you have to check what’s coming up to really know what’s in store.
The theater makes a special point to make the arts accessible to locals and to children and youth, so there are sometimes opportunities for special pricing for these groups.
Location: 507 Chestnut Street, Highlands
Hike to Local Waterfalls
If you find yourself driving along US Highway 64 near Highlands, you’ll be on the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway, and you’ll soon realize why it gets the name. While many of the waterfalls in this area are a short hike from the road, some are literally visible from where you’re driving along and enjoying the scenery!
Both Dry Falls and Bridal Veil Falls are well known for being so large that you can often walk behind them, though, of course, keep an eye out on the slippery rocks. Other falls like Silver Run Falls and Secret Falls offer swimming holes in addition to the majestic views.
There are even falls like Quarry Falls and the Cashiers Sliding Rock that are gently sloped enough that you can slip across them like a natural waterslide. It’s a bit less predictable than the water-park version, but for those who like a little adventure, they’re a memorable way to beat the summer heat.
Try Something New at the Bascom Center for Visual Arts
The Bascom, as it is affectionately known in Highlands, is an amazing cultural resource for the Highlands community. It offers about 10 exhibitions a year, many of which can be seen with a guided tour if requested in advance.
One of the centerpieces of their program, however, is that they offer a lot of classes and workshops, letting long-time residents learn over time and allowing visitors to take intensives that teach or expand on a skill in the arts. You can even sign up for some open-studio time to advance your craft using their excellent facilities.
They also offer online and in-person experiences for families and are a participant in the Kids Hike Highlands Passport Program, a fun scavenger hunt along the Highlands Plateau Greenway. No matter your particular interest in the Visual Arts, definitely check out the Bascom before your trip and factor it in as either a great rainy-day activity or a prime destination.
Location: 323 Franklin Road, Highlands
Get Some R&R at the Old Edwards Inn Spa
At the stately Old Edwards Inn, a beautiful European-style spa awaits you, offering a serene space full of wood, stone, and calm color palettes. They feature multiple lengths of massages, with therapies that come from many different parts of the world, all attuned to the needs you express as you book your treatments.
There are also plenty of nail, hair, facial, and make-up treatments. Your skin will feel so pampered and happy after a time spent recharging and rejuvenating at the spa. When you finish your treatments, stop by the Spa Boutique to take home some additional skincare products for yourself or as thoughtful gifts for those you care about.
Location: 445 Main Street, Highlands
When a small town becomes a celebrated golf community, it’s not entirely surprising that high-quality restaurants follow in its wake. However, in addition to some great special occasion dining, Highlands has lovely casual dining for visitors as well. Find what fits your needs here.
Experience Excellence at Wolfgang’s Restaurant and Wine Bistro
A consistent favorite among suggestions of what the best restaurant in Highlands might be, Wolfgang’s Restaurant and Wine Bistro is helmed by a world-traveling chef Wolfgang Green, whose diverse experience brings delicious and flavorful consistency to the menu.
His restaurant is known for being a beautiful and pleasant place to celebrate a great occasion. From the savory-sweet starter of pecan-crusted shrimp with spicy orange molasses dipping sauce to a flavorful bowl of onion soup with baked gruyere cheese, you’ll find many of the dishes to be rich and comforting.
Choose from multiple salads with housemade dressings and then dive into a local mountain trout fillet or a sampler platter of Bavarian sausages, and there are excellent quality steaks grilled to perfection after being aged in-house.
Because Wolfgang Green spent time in New Orleans, you may notice a slight Cajun flair to some of the dishes, including the seafood, and you’ll love the extensive dessert menu as well to finish off your special evening with a sweet treat.
Location: 474 Main Street, Highlands.
Experience the Best of Italy at Ristorante Paoletti
Ristorante Paoletti has built its reputation on having an excellent culinary staff, using top-notch quality when it comes to ingredients and recipes that trace their heritage back decades, all perfected using the principles behind Italian cooking.
You’ll find incredible Maine mussels sautéed in white wine with herbs, crisp calamari fried and served with lemon and marinara, and exquisite salads like the roasted beet and orange salad with pistachios and goat cheese topped with a red wine vinaigrette.
The pasta and main course menus, as well as the dishes made with seafood, all offer you elegant and delicious twists on classics: try the spiced Cervena elk rib chop in a port wine and cassis reduction or the baked tube pasta full of toasted walnuts and smoked provolone-parmesan cheese.
Even the sides are prepared with care, including the roasted mushrooms and the combination of white cannellini beans and truffled asparagus. For anyone who is a fan of the Italian flavor palate, you’ll find many options that will thrill your taste buds while impressing you with the general fine dining atmosphere.
Location: 440 Main Street, Highlands
Everything Tastes Better By a Waterfall at Madison’s
If you’ve opted to stay at the historic Old Edwards Inn, you’ll find that the on-site restaurant, Madison’s Restaurant and Wine Garden, is in a league of its own. Their wine garden offers al fresco dining and has its own waterfall!
There’s also a relaxed and stately dining room for days when you’re more in the mood to dine indoors. Menus stretch from breakfasts like avocado toast and farmers’ omelets to delicious Southern staples for lunch like a chicken salad sandwich and a mountain trout melt.
For dinner, enjoy everything from grilled octopus and orange-maple-glazed duck breast to excellent seafood and top-notch steaks, all served with as many local and high-quality ingredients as can be procured. While the restaurant is primarily American, the menu shows global influences and is sure to delight a diverse group for dinner!
Location: 445 Main Street, Highlands
Come, Sit, and Stay at The Ugly Dog Pub
Everything doesn’t have to be fine dining in Highlands (though you totally can eat your way through some truly impressive fine dining here!). Taste the elevated pub food at the amusingly named Ugly Dog Pub in downtown Highlands, and you’ll be glad you opted for a casual lunch or late-night bite.
From the jalapeño macaroni bites to the fried green tomatoes, you’ll find comfort food done right here, with flatbread pizzas, sandwiches, burgers, and hot dogs all making the menu approachable and tasty.
The cozy feel of the pub makes you want to order one of the regional beers they have on tap, but if you’re in the mood for a cocktail, they craft their own signature drinks, including the Gin Blossom, with gin, elderflower liqueur, and sparkling wine, or their Mezcal Margarita that has a hint of jalapeño! With locations in Highlands as well as Cashiers nearby, you’re never too far from a flavorful evening here.
Location: 294 S 4th Street, Highlands
Eat Truly Traditional Pizza at Four65 Woodfire Bistro + Bar
Main Street of Highlands is a great place to get a bite to eat, and when you want a crowd-pleasing but ultra-authentic pizza experience, try the wood-fired delicacies of Four65.
Their modern interior and breezy patio both offer great spots from which to eat a great cast-iron-cooked sandwich or one of their traditional pies, which start with San Marzano tomato sauce and then get topped with excellent cheeses, herbs, garlic oil, and meats – whenever possible, Four65 sources locally and sometimes from their own gardens!
Location: 465 Main Street Box 2130, Highlands.
As a charming small town and also a destination for many tourism events and attractions, Highlands comes equipped with fun and varied shopping options. You’ll find everything from clothing to gifts to housewares, and, of course, there are spots to get the gear you need to explore the Great Outdoors.
Remember Your Highlands Experience at Mountain Heritage Gift Shop
When walking through downtown Highlands, take a moment to find a gift for someone you love or a memento of the fun you’re having. This shop has been a staple of Main Street for many years, and the proprietor knows her inventory inside and out, helping you find something for even the hard-to-shop-for people on your list.
Their collections include wildlife (a very important part of the Highlands community) decorative vessels, candles, and seasonal décor. While you’ll find some Highlands-focused items, imagine a collection of giftable items that embody the spirit of Highlands, and that’s what you’re likely to find at Mountain Heritage Gift Shop. Happy shopping!
Location: 371 Main Street, Highlands
Shop the Styles at Vivace
This upscale women’s boutique has the luxury fabrics, stylish silhouettes, and accenting accessories you need to put together the perfect outfit for a day on the links, a night on the town, and everything in between.
Whether you just stop in for a beautiful pair of glamorous sunglasses or you really need to get some breezy looks to make your Highlands vacation perfect, it’s well worth stopping in at Vivace. They make the experience of shopping fun, too!
Reviewers mention how helpful the staff are, making it possible to bring your girlfriends and make an afternoon of trying on outfits until you find exactly the high-end style that you will love for years to come.
Location: 230 S 4th Street, Highlands
Prepare for Adventure at Bear Mountain Outfitters
Every town with this many great hiking and camping opportunities nearby needs some kind of outdoor clothing store, and Highlands is lucky enough to have the excellent Bear Mountain Outfitters right on Main Street.
The primary part of the store is clothing, from excellent waterproof footwear to moisture-wicking and light fabric clothing to make your adventures as comfortable as possible. Knowledgeable staff will be able to hear your adventure goals and direct you to clothing that will last a long time and help you accomplish your goals.
They also carry gear like hydration bottles and packs, watches, and clothing with Highlands NC on it, a great souvenir of your trip and your adventures.
Location: 302 Main Street, Highlands
Find Everything Your Kitchen Needs at The Dry Sink
You never know what kind of items you might find when you stop by the specialty kitchen store on Main Street in Highlands, The Dry Sink. It’s a paradise of kitchen cookware, appliances, and gadgets.
In reality, it’s even more than a kitchen store, with candles, glassware, bath and body items, and greeting cards – imagine if being a perfect hostess could happen all in one store! Knowing that Highlands gets a lot of visitors, they offer shipping for your purchases, but if you find something you’re intrigued to try, you can take it back to your vacation rental and work on a new cooking challenge as part of your trip – it’s all part of the fun here in Highlands.
Location: 450 Main Street, Highlands