photograph by Tim Robison

There’s a reason people come to Highlands during the summer: It’s cool. At more than 4,000 feet, this mountain town has summer temperatures averaging 76 degrees, a welcome respite from the hot, muggy dog days of lower elevations.

Since it was established in 1875, Highlands has welcomed the weary to relax and rejuvenate in nature. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, wealthy businessmen made the town their summer escape (some still do), and a hillside nearby was home to one of the state’s first tuberculosis sanatoriums, where fresh air was considered the best medicine. Nowadays, cool temperatures and natural beauty are still major draws, but downtown, people can rejuvenate in other ways, too: luxurious lodging and spa treatments, fine dining and shopping, hiking and golf. Surrounded by forests, rivers, and waterfalls, and far from chain restaurants and big-box stores, travelers and summertime residents take a break from the demands of everyday life, just as they’ve done for nearly 150 years.


The Ugly Dog Public House. This local hub has the casual community vibe of a traditional pub — weekly trivia, live music — with the elevated menu of a fine-dining restaurant: upscale sandwiches, salads, and chef specials; craft cocktails, fine wine, and regional beer; and a Bloody Mary bar for Sunday brunch.

294 South Fourth Street, Highlands, NC 28741
(828) 526-8364 or



Madison’s. At the Old Edwards Inn’s in-house restaurant, Chef Chris Huerta’s food — like the mustard-crusted pork — is as artistic as it is delicious. Many of the ingredients come straight from the resort’s gardens and greenhouses. Take a seat overlooking Highlands’ quaint downtown streets or the restaurant’s wine garden and prepare for a masterpiece.

445 Main Street, Highlands, NC 28741
(828) 787-2525 or




Highland Wine Shoppe. Pour a sample (or a glass) from the self-serve wine station and shop from more than 800 wines (including some that are rare or hard to find) in a fourth-generation Highlander’s historic family home.

269 Oak Street, Highlands, NC 28741
(828) 526-4080 or





Wolfgang’s Restaurant & Wine Bistro. For 25 years, Chef Wolfgang Green has served dishes inspired by New Orleans and his native Germany — like the pork chop with cornbread stuffing and succotash — alongside more than 1,000 wines.

474 Main Street, Highlands, NC 28741
(828) 526-3807 or






Mountain Fresh Grocery & Wine Market. Pick up artisanal cheeses, olive oils and vinegars, meat from the butchery, or treats from the bakery, or sit down to enjoy a brie, bacon, and fig sandwich, red margherita pizza, and chicken tenders with hand-cut fries.

521 Main Street, Highlands, NC 28741
(828) 526-2400 or





Dry Falls. Just a few miles from town, the Cullasaja River tumbles 75 feet over a cliff. A short hike from the trail’s parking lot will bring you to the base of the falls, where you can walk underneath the overhang while staying (mostly) dry.






Highland Hiker. 
The town’s local outfitter has been in business for more than 40 years, and boasts three locations on Main Street alone. At their flagship store — a historic Joe Webb log cabin — Christopher and Hilary Wilkes offer hiking tips, guided fly-fishing excursions, and even international trips in addition to outdoor gear.

601 Main Street, Highlands, NC 28741
(828) 526-5298 or



Old Edwards Inn & Spa. 
Once the home of Highlands’ first boardinghouse, this luxurious hotel in the heart of downtown has received plenty of international accolades. With a spa, restaurant, golf course, shops, group fitness classes, and three pools, it’s easy to see why.

445 Main Street, Highlands, NC 28741
(866) 526-8008 or






This story was published on

Katie King is the assistant editor at Our State.