Hit the Road: An outdoor adventure to Highlands, NC

Take a hike to one of Highlands' many waterfalls. | Photo by @taylorledford25

We’re kicking off our summer road trip seriesHit the Road — with an outdoor adventure-themed trip to Highlands, NC. With the Nantahala National Forest and waterfalls, this mountain retreat is a great destination for experienced adventurers + novice nature seekers alike. 

Before you start packing your bags, here’s everything you need to know about the area + our insider recommendations.

Drive time: ~3.5 hours

Est. population: 1,030

Avg. high in June: 75°

🥾 Things to do

Highland Hiker, 561 Main St.

Pick up a day hike guide and gear from this family-owned business to hit some of the local trails. Highland Hiker also provides guided fly fishing with local anglers + float trips. 

Highlands Aerial Park, 9625 Dillard Rd.

Highlands Aerial Park has something for everyone, even the scaredy cats. On this 96-acre property, you can sign up for zip-line tours through the mountaintops, challenge courses, a giant mountain swing, or guided AV tours.  

Highlands Outpost, 7420 Dillard Rd.

This adventure park is open daily and requires no reservations. You can ride the Scaly Mountain Screamer or go down the extreme tubing slide if you’re looking for an adrenaline rush. Looking for something more relaxing? You can also gem mine or go trout fishing. 

🍽️ Fuel up after hiking

Wolfgang’s Restaurant and Wine Bistro, 474 Main St. 

Looking for an upscale spot to dine? Named the “Best Place for Dinner in Highlands” by Southern Living Magazine, Chef Wolfgang Green has been delighting restaurant-goers for 26 years.

The Ugly Dog Public House, 294 S. 4th St.

After a long day out hiking, take the edge off with classic pub food + drinks. Stopping by on a Wednesday? Cozy up in the tavern to listen to live bluegrass music. 

The Chocolate Heaven Co., 2254 Dillard Rd. 

If the name itself hasn’t sold you, stop by for a dessert that is described as “if fudge and brownies had a sweet, little baby.” You can also add your own toppings + additions to this gluten-free treat. 

🏕️ Cozy campsites + cabins

Cliffside Lake Recreation Area + Van Hook Glade Campground, 14014 Highlands Rd.

This campground offers secluded camping, swimming, fishing, hiking + more. Located four miles outside of Highlands, you can camp beside the tranquil Cullasaja River. 

Rockwood Lodge, 445 Main St.

Atop of one of the highest peaks in Highlands, this family-owned mountain retreat is surrounded by nature + panoramic views. This stay combines rustic ambiance with modern-day comfort.

Dog-friendly Cottage, half mile from town.

Bringing the pups with you on this vacation? This dog-friendly cottage is less than a mile away from the center of Highlands and is perfect for a family getaway. Plus, there’s a fireplace + outdoor fire pit to cozy up next to.