The town of Highlands was supposed to become a hub of commerce in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, had its founders had their way. In 1875, two developers in Kansas drew two lines–one between New York and New Orleans, the other from Chicago to Savannah. Where the lines crossed, they believed would become a crossroads of trade.
They failed to take into account the rugged mountain terrain where “X” marked the spot that would make such a commercial hub difficult to create, and it never came to pass. However, their concept was sound enough, since the commercial metropolis of Atlanta grew up just 120 miles to the south.
A Resort Community Instead
At more than 4,000 feet on the highest crest of the Western North Carolina plateau in the Southern Appalachian mountains, the town of Highlands evolved into a thriving resort community instead. Attracting a blend of Southerners and Northerners, tradesmen and laborers, planters and professionals, the town has served as a cultural center for well-known artists, musicians, actors, authors, photographers, scholars, and scientists who have thrived in its natural setting.
Surrounded by Nature
Highlands is rich in natural scenic beauty, and opportunities for outdoor recreation abound on the Cullasaja River and the nearby Lake Sequoyah. Visitors and residents alike enjoy the waterfalls, hiking, fishing, National Forest walks, and Greenway trails, as well as the four excellent golf courses in the area.
The Highlands Nature Center is a program of the Highlands Biological Station, an inter-institutional center of the University of North Carolina. HBS also includes the Biological Laboratory, whose major focus is graduate education and research, and a Botanical Garden. The Nature Center features a variety of exhibits for children of all ages, including live animals and interactive displays. During the summer, it offers special events, daily programs, and a series of nature day camps. The Botanical Garden features numerous interpretive nature trails. Admission to the nature center is free; and programs are generally free or at minimal cost.
Steeped in Culture
For theater lovers, there is professional summer stock theater at the Highlands Playhouse from June through October, and Highlands/Cashiers Players presents productions year-round at the Martin-Lipscomb Performing Art Center.
The Bascom Center for the Visual Arts offers classes and exhibitions on a six-building, six-acre campus. A wooden covered bridge greets visitors; a rebuilt barn serves as the pottery studio; and a new central building, which houses the galleries and a gift shop, is a brilliant architectural blend of old and new, with wood from older buildings used to create a new one.
The Highlands Historical Society has preserved the Highlands Historic Village which comprises the House-Boynton-Trapier-Wright Home, also known as “the Prince House”, which is the oldest existing house in Highlands; the Highlands Historical Museum and Archives, and Bug Hill Cottage, once part of a tuberculosis treatment center.
The Highlands Heritage Trail offers a suggested itinerary for visiting the many heritage sites in the Highlands area.
Festivals & Events
The Annual Chili Cook Off in March puts some heat into the fading days of winter. In summer, the community celebrates Independence Day with traditional Fireworks. The Highlands Motoring Festival is also held in July.
The Highlands Cashiers Chamber Music Festival has long been a highlight of summer, with performances throughout July and August.
The Annual Highlands Culinary Weekend in November is a popular early winter festival, with food, wine tastings, cooking classes and demonstrations–everything for the discerning food lover!
The town’s Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony is held the Saturday after Thanksgiving, with its annual Christmas Parade the first Saturday in December..
Highlands is located between Franklin and Cashiers on US Highway 64.