A Brief History

The town of Highlands was founded in 1875 by two developers living in Kansas. What evolved was a health and summer resort at more than 4,000 feet on the highest crest of the Western North Carolina plateau in the southern Appalachian mountains. This settlement, the highest incorporated town east of the Rockies, provided common ground for both northern and southern pioneers after the Civil War. By 1883, nearly 300 immigrants from the eastern states were calling Highlands home.

Very little changed until the late 1920s, when the Cullasaja River was dammed, forming Lake Sequoyah, Highlands’ largest body of water, to provide hydroelectric power. A spectacular scenic road to Franklin was carved into the rock walls of the Cullasaja Gorge. The muddy roads in and out of town were reinforced with crushed stone.

The demographic mixture of Highlands has been remarkably unique. 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.

Highlands is a town too cosmopolitan to be provincial, too broadly-based to be singular in attitude and perspective, highly enamored of its natural surroundings, and just isolated and small enough to be anxious about the benefits and setbacks of growth and development.

Popular Recreational Activities

At an elevation of approximately 4,000 feet with mountaintops rising to 4,600, Highlands is a special destination to go birding. More than 160 species of birds use this beautiful ecosystem regularly for breeding, wintering, and spring and fall migration.

To start your birding adventure, head to the:

  • Highlands Nature Center
  • Botanical Garden
  • Sunset Rock Trail

Moreover, Highlands has multiple trails where you can hike and reach summits to be delighted by the impressive view of the mountains.

If you prefer to be close to the water, explore rivers such as the Nantahala, Tuckasegee, Cullasaja, Chattooga, White Water, and creeks in Panthertown Valley, where you can learn how to read water and spot fish. Enjoy a picnic lunch or camp the night with the whole family while being mesmerized by the beautiful habitat that surrounds the area.

Shopping is a unique experience, as stores have remained locally owned and chain stores have not invaded the town. Embrace Highlands’ majestic mountain location, numerous activities, comfortable accommodations, unique retail shops and extraordinary cuisine. This is a wonderful community that is not too large yet not too small.

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