Highlands is a small mountain town in Macon and Jackson counties in the Mountains region of North Carolina on a plateau in the southern Appalachian mountains, within the Nantahala National Forest. It lies mostly in southeastern Macon and slightly in southwestern Jackson counties.
Legend has it that the founders of the Town, Samuel Truman Kelsey and Clinton Carter Hutchinson, drew two lines on a map, one between Chicago and Savannah and the other between Baltimore and New Orleans, and decided that this location would be a future crossroads of commerce at an elevation of 4118 feet on Main Street. Kelsey promoted Highlands on the basis of its healthy air and excellent potential for orchards and gardens. Because of its cool climate and scenic beauty, it quickly became a popular location for historic inns and churches, golf courses, seasonal homes, and a unique and thriving downtown business area.
While many small towns are trying to stimulate commerce, Highlands is in the enviable position of needing to manage its high rate of growth. The downtown is successful because of its quaint shops and restaurants, clean environment, and rustic atmosphere that is not overstated. For many people, the downtown serves as a focus for social interaction, and the town has strived in its general layout and streetscape to invite people to mingle and window shop.
There is no airport in Highlands. The closest airport is Macon County Airport (1A5) in Franklin, NC. The closest airport with commercial airline services is Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) which requires about an hour and a half drive. Many visitors also use Atlanta Hartsfield Airport(ATL) but this requires about a two-hour drive to get into Highlands.
The drive into Highlands is beautiful and scenic but visitors should be prepared for narrow, winding roads. Many of the main roads coming into Highlands have steep drop offs, such as the Nantahala Gorge on Highway 64. The curves coming up the mountain can be hard on the toughest stomach, so be prepared to pull over at some of the many pull-offs to ease your stomach and take some pictures of the breath-taking views. Many of the best snapshots of the mountains can be obtained from the side of the road. A less scenic, but with fewer curves, drive on Buck Creek road from Franklin may be easier on the stomach!
No buses operate in Highlands.
If you're staying close to Main Street, walking is the easiest way to get around. Because there is no taxi service, walking or riding a bicycle will provide a picturesque way of navigating around town. But bike riders should be wary: the roads are narrow and blind curves make for a very potentially dangerous situation. Only ride bikes in town, and avoid taking them on the highway. Drive your own car when going outside of the city.