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Waterfalls! Waterfalls! Waterfalls! Any Western NC Getaway to Highlands NC includes some wonderful outdoor activities including easily accessible waterfalls. Here’s your comprehensive guide to the best things to the best things to do in Highlands NC.

At an elevation of over 4,000 feet, the summer temperature makes it a popular summer destination for those looking to escape the oppressive summer heat. It is a perfect destination for leaf-peeping in the fall. And in the winter you can enjoy winter hikes and frozen waterfalls. There are so many things to do in Highlands, NC! Read on to find out more.

How Highlands came to be founded is clever. Two developers in Kansas drew two lines on a map — New York to New Orleans and Chicago to Savannah. The point where they intersected would become commercially valuable and, in 1875, founded Highlands NC on that spot.

While Highlands may never have become the commercial hub they predicted, visitors from Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and others have long known that Highlands is the perfect Western NC destination.

Dry Veil Falls in Highlands, NC
Dry Veil Falls – photo by Frances Gunn

Things to do in Highlands NC

Chase Waterfalls

US Highway 64/28 West has some of the most easily accessible waterfalls in North Carolina, including some visible right from the road! Here are some sure to become your favorites and those that involve less than .3 mile walking each way. Driving them in order out of town, they would be viewed in the following order:

Bridal Veil Falls in Highlands NC

Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil is the only waterfall in North Carolina you can drive behind in your car. The road behind the falls has been closed for a while due to safety concerns, but you can still park your car and see the falls from the comfort of your vehicle. Of course, you may want to get out of the car and see it up close. About 2.7 miles from Highlands along 64W towards Franklin. 

Dry Falls in Highlands NC
You can walk behind Dry Falls.

Dry Falls

Located on Hwy 64, this one is one not to be missed. This 75-ft tall waterfall is located roadside along US Highway 64. There is a large parking area. One of the best features is the ability to walk behind it. One of the best features is the ability to walk behind it. About 3.6 miles from Highlands along 64W towards Franklin. 

Bust Your Butt Falls (Quarry Falls) in Highlands NC

Bust Your Butt (Quarry) Falls

Located on Hwy 64, this one is not as easy to access or see from the road. You’ll need to pull over and park along the highway, cross over and climb over the rail. In the summer, this spot is popular as kids can play in it. It might be best to stop at these falls on your way back since they’re found on the opposite side of the road. About 6.8 miles from Highlands along 64W towards Franklin.

Cullasaja Falls in Highlands NC
You’ll have to climb down some rocks to get a better view during the summer – this is the view from near the road.

Cullasaja Falls

This 200-ft tall fall can be seen right off the highway, but you’ll want to pull over and get an up-close look. This one is located on the other side of the road, so it might be best to find a turning point and see it as you’re driving back towards Highlands. About 9.1 miles from Highlands along 64W towards Franklin.

Also, consider visiting the waterfalls in and the nearby town of Cashiers, NC.

View of valley from Sunset Rock on Whiteside Mountain in Highland NC
Photo by Kristie Georgis

Watch the Sunset from Sunset Rock on Whiteside Mountain

Take Main Street to the Nature Center – about ½ mile east of town. Walk approximately ½ mile to the top to sit on granite slabs at the top known as Sunset Rock. You can see the paths of the Highlands Botanical Gardens nearby, though they close at sunset. It is the perfect spot to pass the evening on a clear day.

PRO TIP: Spend the late afternoon at the Highlands Botanical Gardens, including enjoying a picnic there before wandering up the trails to watch the sunset from Sunset Rock for a magical afternoon.

cars and stores along Main Street in Highlands NC
Lots of parking along Main Street!

Shop Along Main Street

Fans of walkable downtowns, and incredibly cute Main Streets, will delight in exploring Highland’s Main Street. Find unique gourmet condiments from Appalachian Harvest. Bear Mountain Outfitters provides clothing for the entire family. The Southern Way features American-made clothing and accessories, mostly made in the Southeast. Stroll along and window shop galleries and eateries as well.

view of mountains along Highway 64 in Highlands NC
Photo by James Morden

Enjoy so much in the Nantahala National Forest

Fans of communing with nature will be happy to be surrounded by the Nantahala National Forest. Whether you choose to hike, see waterfalls, enjoy camping, ride horses or mountain bike along trails, fish, or view nature view, you can see and do so much in Nantahala National Forest from Highlands. 

Plants at Highlands Biological Station in NC
Photo courtesy of Highlands Biological Station Facebook Page

Highlands Biological Station, Nature Center, and Botanical Gardens

265 N. 6th Street, Highlands

Open from sunrise to sunset; the free botanical gardens can be accessed by following the Nature Center’s gravel road. The Gardens will be to the left. They feature over 500 species of wildflowers and plants native to the southern Appalachians. Enjoy the trails, workshops, or pack some food to eat a picnic by the lake!

art exhibits at The Bascom: A Center for the Visual Arts in Highlands NC
Photo courtesy of The Bascom Facebook Page

The Bascom: A Center for the Visual Arts

323 Franklin Rd, Highlands

No matter your preferred medium, The Bascom is sure to offer some for every taste. Ceramics are where they excel. The Dave Drake Studio Barn provides classes for adults and children to harness creativity and talent. Free guided tours can be scheduled in advance.

Shadow of the Bear from Rhodes Big View Overlook in Highlands NC
Photo by Owen Carson

Watch the Shadow of the Bear

Five miles east of town along US Highway 64, visitors will find the Rhodes Big View Overlook. If you time your visit to Highlands, NC correctly (from mid-October through early November and mid-February to early March), you’ll be rewarded with a fabulous phenomenon. On sunny days, between 5:30-6:15 pm, the mountain’s shadow as the sun sets creates what looks like a bear. 

HOT TIP: This is most popular in October during leaf-peeping season. If you can return in late February or during the week to avoid the crowds.

Golf

If you’ve been dreaming of golfing at 4,000 ft with beautiful mountain views all around, then Highlands’ many private golf courses will fulfill your wildest fantasies. 

Shrimp and grits at Old Edwards Inn Wine Bar in Highlands NC
Shrimp and grits – The Wine Bar at Old Edwards Spa and Inn

Where to Eat in Highlands NC

The Wine Garden at Old Edwards Spa and Inn – When the weather is nice (or just right under the outdoor heaters), sit in the beautiful wine garden and enjoy a quick bite with a southern flair. Try the shrimp and grits!

Wolfgang’s Restaurant & Wine Bistro – A little taste of New Orleans cuisine in the heart of Western North Carolina! Fans of wine won’t get bored with over 700 to choose from.

The Ugly Dog Public House – The spot for pub fare. If you bring a photo of your puppy, they’ll even put it up on their wall! 

Booking.com

Where to Stay in Highlands NC

Old Edwards Spa and Inn – If you’re looking for luxury in the Western NC mountains, then Old Edwards Spa and Inn is the place for you! Enjoy world-class cuisine. Pamper yourself in their European spa. Or enjoy a round of golf on the Tom Jackson-designed course. Old Edwards’ romantic setting makes the perfect setting for your Western NC getaway.

200 Main Street – If you’re looking for a more rustic setting, consider Old Edwards’ sister property, 200 Main Street. Popular with families, 200 Main Street offers its guests access to some of the same amenities. While the cozy rooms make it tempting to stay in, don’t miss out on exploring the rest of the area!

Or how about this cute downtown AirBnB across the street from the Old Edwards Spa and Inn? Perfectly located and with a Superhost! If this is your first AirBnB rental, don’t forget to claim your $65 discount.   

200 Main Street Hotel balconies with flowers in Highlands NC

Highlands NC Getaway Thoughts

Like so many of the cute towns on my Western NC getaway, Highlands NC blew me away. Between the natural beauty surrounding Highlands and the attractive, walkable downtown area, Highlands makes for a great getaway. Its location near the South Carolina and Georgia border makes it easily accessible for visitors from our neighbor states. Don’t miss this elevated (pun intended!) Western NC town!

Looking for more things to do in Western North Carolina? Check these posts:

Happy travels,
Annick, The Common Traveler

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Looking for the Best Things to Do in Highlands NC? Click here now for the complete travel guide by The Common Traveler, including easily accessible waterfalls! Some of the most popular waterfalls in NC are found right here -- Bridal Veil and Dry Falls but there are so many more. Twice a year, see a natural phenomenon that Forbes says shouldn't be missed - Shadow of the Bear. Don't miss this charming Western NC mountain town!