The splendor of Dry Falls was only one of the treasures offered on a whirlwind tour of Highlands.
Well-known for its culinary delights, charming shops, and magnificent mountain views, Highlands attracts visitors from around the country.
Our State Magazine recently coordinated a day tour of Highlands through the Highlands Chamber of Commerce, inviting 24 visitors from around North Carolina to explore the history, art, and nature of one of the most beautiful towns in North Carolina.
The Highlands Playhouse was the first stop on the tour, and included an introduction from the Highlands Historical Society — an active society intent on preserving and promoting the heritage of Highlands.
Historical Society President Ann Sullivan, Past President Wiley Sloan, and Archivist Sue Potts shared entertaining stories of founders Samuel Kelsey and C. C. Hutchinson, and provided details of the early structures currently located within the Historic Village. The Prince House, built in 1877, is the oldest house remaining in Highlands. Other stories included the rugged terrain and difficult travels that the early founders had to endure to reach the Highlands Plateau.
A splendid cabaret performance by performers Rachel Schimenti and Jimmy Lewis followed, entertaining the group with their favorite songs from classic and contemporary musicals. New this fall at the Highlands Playhouse is a winterized building and a 35-foot movie screen showing new movie releases.
The Bascom – A Center for the Visual Arts, was the next stop for a private tour and artist demonstrations. This six-building, six-acre campus features unique and diverse exhibitions, studio art instruction, and other cultural experiences. Featured exhibitions include “American Art Today: Figures,” showcasing prestigious two-dimensional and sculptural works of some 50 artists from throughout the nation, and greenhouse in the Loft Gallery, an installation of lightweight materials such as pipe cleaners, fabric, plastic, and thread weaving throughout the Loft.
After an enlightening morning and with hungry appetites all around, the group enjoyed a gourmet lunch provided by the Old Edwards Inn. German-born Chef Johannes Klapdohr introduced his organic farm-to-table culinary philosophy, describing it as “a carrot that tastes like a real carrot.” All of the menu items are prepared from ingredients grown organically in the Old Edwards Inn garden. Pecan-encrusted chicken, a fall salad with marinated garden vegetables and toasted pecans, butternut squash soup, heirloom tomato and grass-fed buffalo mozzarella salad, steamed potatoes and sautéed garden vegetables were just a few of the buffet menu items. The group finished off their meal with a white chocolate cake with marinated strawberries and whipped icing.
With bellies filled, the group headed just outside of Highlands on U.S. 64 to Dry Falls – a 75 foot waterfall within the Nantahala National Forest. This “walk-behind” waterfall features an upper viewing platform as well as a walkway underneath the falls — allowing visitors to stay “dry,” well, sort of. Dry Falls is easily accessible with a paved parking area, restrooms, and a short paved trail to the falls.
Rounding out the day was a visit to the Highlands Nature Center, including a private walking tour of the Botanical Gardens, filled with nearly 500 species of Southern Appalachia flora, connected by a series of trails and boardwalks. The ambiance and fresh air of the natural surroundings was extraordinary and the stories and backgrounds provided really amazed the group. The trail network in the Botanical Garden is part of the Highlands Plateau Greenway and the North Carolina Birding Trail.
Shopping, dining, and breathtaking views are not the only highlights in Highlands. The generous nature of the community pulling together to embrace the cultural arts, and to preserve their natural surroundings is a rare find for this hidden gem of a destination.
Contributed by Mary Anne Baker