Some places we see in our dreams and think, “They can’t really exist.” Highlands, N.C. is one of those places for me. From the gorgeous town with historical churches to the mountains and waterfalls, the beauty of this place took my breath away, and not just because it’s 4,118 feet above sea level. I felt like I had seen this place in my dreams but it was real and amazing.
I first became aware of Highlands through Facebook postings by Marie Edwards, the mother of a high school classmate. Travel is in Marie’s blood. She walked coast to coast across England, spent summers in Iceland with her grandsons and completed a 500-mile pilgrimage across France and Spain alone. Highlands and the southwest North Carolina mountains are also in her blood. Her family once owned property from the historical Episcopal Church to the Highlands Nature Center. Harris Lake, Leonard Road, Smallwood Avenue and Gibson Street are all part of Marie’s family history.
Marie’s family was one of the earliest settlers in the southwestern North Carolina town and their presence is felt throughout. The family-owned property from the historical Episcopal Church to the Highlands Nature Center and came to the town every summer. A dozen or so of her relatives are buried on the side of a hill with the mountain overlooking their final resting places. The now busy downtown Highlands streets were once empty after 5 p.m. and Marie’s children learned to ride bikes there. She watched the Mountain Fresh Grocery grow from a supermarket into one of the most popular eateries in town.
Marie built a home in Highlands in 1984 after the family’s property was sold and later built a croft that includes another bedroom, kitchenette and full bath. We spent two days enjoying Marie’s beautiful home as her guest and visiting the towns and waterfalls.
The drive from Franklin on U.S. 64 is steep and scary if you are not used to driving mountain roads. But on the way you will see Dry Falls, a 65-foot waterfall that you can actually walk behind. The National Park Service constructed a walkway that is wheelchair accessible so that anyone can see the beautiful waterfall. Dry Falls is something you must see if you love nature. Also, on U.S. 64 is Bridal Veil Falls, a 45-foot waterfall that you can drive a car behind. Before you get to town you will pass by Lake Sequoyah. It’s just one of the beautiful waterways in the town that also features Harris Lake.
We cooked most of our meals in the gorgeous kitchen at Marie’s house and ate most of our meals out on the back porch. The birds, crickets and other wildlife serenaded us during the evening meals and in the early morning as I was writing. You won’t find any fast-food franchises in Highlands except for a Subway but wonderful local eateries like Madison’s and On the Veranda. We enjoyed lunch at Mountain Fresh Grocery then picked up some wonderful pastries.
I have a heart for small towns so I loved strolling down Main Street and visiting the shops. Many of the buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. I loved the garden surrounding the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation. The church was established in 1879 and the original chapel was built in 1896.
Since I write about saving money, I recommend you rent a house while visiting the Highlands so you can eat most of your meals there. We enjoyed the convenience of staying at Marie’s house. It truly felt like a home away from home. You can learn more about her home here.