Hiking in the Highlands, North Carolina
The Highlands and the surrounding areas in North Carolina (Cashiers, Brevard) have always been one of my favorite places in the U.S. Growing up with unbearably hot and sticky summers in Southern Louisiana, my family almost always escaped to the cool reprieve of the Appalachian Mountains during the three month school break. Mom chose the Highlands location for its beauty and refinement. She appreciated the finer things in life, my mother. The Highlands area is the more “upscale” portion of Appalachia. Just south of The Great Smokey Mountains National Park, you can experience both the natural beauty of remote wilderness and the comfort and convenience of idyllic towns with fantastic restaurants.
Summer Trips to the Highlands
My siblings went to summer camp in North Carolina every year- the boys Mondamin and the girls Hollymont – (I did a week of Girl Scout camp- it didn’t stick…), so Mom would rent a house in the area for a month or so to hang out between dropping them off and retrieving them. One year we were on Lake Glenville, another Lake Toxaway, always with a boat and dock so we could explore the lakes and many waterfalls. One time we traded a lake for a stream; I liked that one the most. Mom would drag me with her each summer, kicking and screaming (well, that’s a bit dramatic, but I was fairly reluctant as a teenager. It was so unbearable to be away from my friends and miss all those parties!).
One of the thoughts I had last weekend when we returned to the Highlands was: I wish I had appreciated my summers in North Carolina’s mountains more. I wish I hadn’t taken that time to relax and commune with nature for granted. Why was I so worried about missing out on silly teenage antics at home? That’s when you want to hop into a time machine and go back and shake yourself. Oh well… hindsight…
At least now I can appreciate the opportunity to be with people I love in such a beautiful place. Our recent trip to the Highlands, which is near the borders of Georgia and South Carolina, was nostalgic, and I do value, in retrospect, the time I spent there growing up. Thanks Mom and Dad.
Great Hikes near the Highlands and Cashiers
There are so many wonderful trails in the Highlands-Cashiers area ranging from very easy to moderately strenuous. We saw a variety of hikers on the trails: older folks, families with children and babies, athletic types, not-so-athletic types, lots of friendly canines…. Point being, there is something for everyone there. We combined moderate with strenuous, but focused on trails with outstanding views and waterfalls.
On the first day, we completed the easy two mile Whiteside Mountain loop for stellar views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. Gluttons for punishment, we chose a strenuous (but gorgeous) trek next, past the Whitewater Falls (the highest waterfalls east of the Rockies). Read more about these hikes, including my injury-sustaining mishaps and being reported by the police, from my last post.
On day two, we started at Glen Falls, hiking a mile down and back (two miles round trip) the moderate trail for a total of 430 feet elevation change. Meandering downward through beautiful hardwoods and pines, we stopped at several lookouts along the way to catch a glimpse of soft, cascading falls.
I think it was the most pleasant hike of the weekend, requiring the perfect amount of effort (not too much, but got that heart rate up).
After a delicious lunch overlooking a lake at On the Verandah, we drove to Sunset Rock for a panoramic photo op. Driving past well-known Bridal Veil Falls, we continued to Dry Falls, our last stop before packing up to head back home. This isn’t really considered a “hike” – as there is a short walkway down to the falls from the parking lot. It is one of the more spectacular falls in the area. The path continues under and behind the falls, providing a unique perspective. Watch your cameras; you’ll get a tad bit wet. It was neat returning to Dry Falls as an adult. I remembered it from almost 18 years ago, but it seemed more impressive to me now. I was also extremely excited to practice capturing the water’s movement by experimenting with shutter speeds. Photo-geek.
Which do you prefer? Fast shutter speed….
Great eats in the Highlands and Cashiers
There are some astounding restaurants in the Highlands and Chashiers. If you know me, or if you’ve read even two of my blog posts, you know that I am quite the food lover. Fresh, unique, tasty, interesting cuisine is a very important component in my life.
We arrived late to the Highlands on Friday night. Luckily Paoletti’s, a divinely delicious (and extremely popular) Italian joint was open past 9 PM and they were able to seat us. (They were the only restaurant in town open past 9 PM, so make sure you eat on the earlier side here!) Dad and Lee raved about their fresh fish (especially the local trout), but Alan and I have a hard time going to a great Italian restaurant and not ordering hearty, fresh pasta dishes. My cannelloni was somehow simultaneously rich and light, with crepes instead of pasta, filled with veal, ricotta and spinach. The roasted tomato, eggplant and (fried!) goat cheese cake salad was out of this world.
For lunches, we staked-out scenic outdoor settings at Cornucopia (in Cashiers) and On the Verandah. In between hikes, I felt no guilt going for comfort and sustenance by way of a pimento cheese and bacon burger (with onion rings!) at Cornucopia. On Sunday, On the Verandah served a beautiful brunch buffet medley of salads and meats.
On Saturday night, we dined at the cozy, chef-owned Lakeside Restaurant. This place is a treasure. Not only is the food superb, but the chef comes out of the kitchen periodically and greets each and every table in the small restaurant. Talk about customer service. You can tell he loves what he does, and it shows in his culinary creations. Even though mussels are a fairly common appetizer, the mussels sofritto, with chorizo, cilantro and jalapeño, were likely the best I’ve ever had. Of course I had to try the seasonal pumpkin duck soup, which was such fall deliciousness. I opted for a Chilean white fish with wild mushroom ravioli for the main course.
The great thing about all of these restaurants is that while they are upscale and offer the most amazing quality food, the ambiance is mountain-casual. Some come a bit dolled up, but we felt comfortable in jeans (at night) and hiking clothes (during the day).
Considering that it’s only a five hour drive from Nashville to the Highlands, I hope that we’ll have more weekend visits in our future!
Have you been to the Highlands? What are some nice weekend getaways near you?