A Place for All Seasons
From fly fishing to waterfall hunting, Highlands and Cashiers, North Carolina, keep outdoor enthusiasts busy year-round.
Like water being wrung from a towel, the twisting mountain road to Highlands, North Carolina, seems to rinse all worries and troubles away. As travelers drive along a picturesque incline, they can catch glimpses of cascading waterfalls, as well as die-hard cyclists making the ascent until, as if out of nowhere, the tiny mountain town comes into view at an elevation of 4,118 feet.
High Hampton Inn
Highlands is just as its 1875 founders, Samuel Truman Kelsey and Clinton Carter Hutchinson, likely imagined: a booming trading outpost tucked into a corner of the state where the commercial crossroads of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina meet. But unlike the industrial hub and tuberculosis sanatorium that once was planned for the area, contemporary Highlands and nearby Cashiers are all about lavish second homes for the affluent and year-round adventure for outdoorsy travelers.
Summer highs of 79 degrees and winter lows of 43 make this destination an easy choice for visitors wanting to delight in the area’s fresh-air offerings. In fact, it’s difficult to be idle with so many diversions at hand. Venture out onto one of the dozens of hiking trails across the Highlands and Cashiers area for views of the southern Appalachians’ endless shadowy peaks. From 10-minute amblings to full-day treks, the area has something for everyone. Access to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the country, is less than an hour’s drive away. A good starting point is Highland Hiker (highlandhiker.com), a small retail chain with locations in Highlands and Cashiers where visitors can pick up gear and maps.
Old Edwards Inn and Spa
Dubbed “The Land of Waterfalls,” the area’s close proximity to the Eastern Continental Divide—where the water flows either toward the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean—translates into a multitude of gushing waterfalls and deep lagoons. More than a dozen can be accessed by road or on foot, including Upper Whitewater Falls, which cascades 411 feet in the Jocassee Gorge area.
Anchor your stay at either Old Edwards Inn and Spa (oldedwardsinn.com), a posh abode sprawled across several blocks of downtown Highlands, or at High Hampton Inn (highhamptoninn.com) in Cashiers, a family-style, all-inclusive resort open each year spring through fall.
Old Edwards Inn is known for its award-winning spa and restaurant, doting service and historic aesthetic. The inn delights year-round, but is especially enjoyable in the fall and winter when you can warm yourself beside a cozy in-room fireplace following a day spent hiking through the area’s glorious foliage or skiing at nearby Sapphire Valley Ski Area.
Within the 1,400-acre High Hampton estate, families—many who have made this resort part of their summer travel plans for decades—take llama-accompanied hikes along onsite trails, play golf on the 18-hole course, join the kids’ day camp, and paddle across the private lake where Rock Mountain, a majestic peak towering over the inn, is reflected in the glassy water.
The llamas, which are raised at a nearby farm and often double as golf caddies, sometimes join the evening party on the lawn where, after a full day of activities, families come together for snacks and cocktails.
High Hampton Inn
The resort is also a great starting point for the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail (flyfishingtrail.com), a series of 15 fly fishing locales where brook, brown and rainbow trout abound in chilly creeks and streams. A fishing license is required once off the property, but it’s not necessary on High Hampton’s private lake, where lessons are offered by AB’s Fly Fishing Guide Service (abfish.org).
Often referred to as the “Yosemite of the South,” Cashiers is a draw for rock climbers who come to conquer steep cliffs such as Whiteside Mountain, which has the highest sheer face in the Appalachian mountain chain. Said to be one of the oldest mountains in the world, Whiteside is between Highlands and Cashiers and overlooks the Nantahala National Forest, topping out at 4,930 feet.
A two-mile loop trail takes hikers to the summit, but climbers head for the 1,000-foot vertical cliff along the mountain’s south side. Fox Mountain Guides and Climbing School (foxmountainguides.com) is one option for guided trips for beginners, as well as advanced climbers.
Back at the inn, a massage, a hearty meal and a good night’s sleep will provide fuel for more exploits the following day.
No matter what time of year you choose to visit the Highlands/Cashiers area, there is something to do at every level of activity and adventure.
- Allegiant Airlines flies direct to Asheville Regional Airport out of Orlando Sanford International Airport. From Asheville, it’s a 70-minute drive to Highlands/Cashiers.
- High season for this part of North Carolina is summer and fall, which means that you can usually get a better deal on hotel rates during the spring and winter months.
- If you plan to do some hiking, be sure to pack shoes that are comfortable and suitable for walking the trails. Another consideration: insect spray. The gnats can be bothersome.
- From mid-December through February, the Sapphire Valley Ski Area in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Cashiers makes its own snow. skisapphirevalley.com
- Remember to bring your golf clubs; there are numerous top- notch public and private courses in the Highlands/Cashiers area.