An annual getaway to the mountains is a beloved tradition for our family, dating back to our first fall in North Carolina. These trips have looked different over the years, from low-budget affairs in our first few years to extended-family (on both sides!) meet-ups and now, adventures with kids in tow. Our trips often center around Asheville, though we’ve visited other mountain towns like Boone and Blowing Rock, too.
This year, we booked our trip in February, a few weeks before the coronavirus appeared on the scene. I am so grateful that we were still able to take this trip even with all the intervening uncertainty, and wanted to share a few photos and details with y’all today!
2020 is John’s 10-year anniversary with his company (wow!) and one of the rewards is a few extra days of vacation in their tenth year. Because of this, we opted to take off both Thursday and Friday instead of just Friday. And with an extra day, we opted to go an extra hour southwest of Asheville, to the lovely town of Highlands.
John and I had been to Highlands once before, in the winter of 2012. We very kindly got to stay one night at the glorious Old Edwards Inn on a press trip for my work, and cobbled together the rest of the trip on a meager budget. Our big dinner out consisted of $2 cheese slices at the pizza shop around the corner and a free Dove bar apiece back at the Inn :)
What I LOVE about the mountains, though, is that you can have a magical trip on a big or small budget. From that visit to this one, the things we loved stayed very much the same – gorgeous waterfall hikes, breathtaking views, lovely fall leaves, and charming downtown shops. Even the best food is often not very expensive! (See: White Duck Taco, where we stopped for lunch to break up the drive!)
The winding drive into Highlands along the Cullasaja River sets the tone, especially when the leaves are as brilliant as they were in our October 22-25 visit. We arrived on a perfectly sunny day and had all the windows open, pulling in the crisp fall air!
We stopped at Dry Falls on our way in – it’s an easy stair step down from the parking lot that pays off in a big way with a walking path behind the falls. The falls were roaring when we visited and the mist was floating in the air!
Where to stay in Highlands, NC:
Every detail was attended to, from the snacks left as a treat to the comfy bed, storybook bunks for the kids, heated floors in the bathroom, and cozy screened porch where we ate breakfast most days.
It was so fun to page through the guest book and read about all of the anniversaries, birthdays, girls’ trips, and family weekends that have been celebrated in this special place!
Our kids made themselves right at home :)
One other major selling point: a 20-minute walk through the woods takes you directly from the cottage to downtown (!!!). We walked this path multiple times in the morning and late afternoon, often with one parent accompanying the kids and the other taking the car into town. (Splitting up allowed us to either continue on to the day’s adventure after eating breakfast, or travel back to the cottage after a post-sunset dinner without a moonlight walk through the woods!)
What to do in Highlands, NC:
Though it was a bit rainy while we were there, we didn’t let that stop us from getting outside and exploring the beautiful mountain scenery! We hiked Glen Falls and to the top of Sunset Rock. Glen Falls is pretty much straight down and then straight back up via a set of staircases – round trip, it took us about 2.5 hours.
Sunset Rock was about 45 minutes up and 30 minutes down. Most other groups brought bottles of wine and snacks to enjoy at the top – we’ll do that next time!
We also panned for gold at Jackson Hole Gem Mine, a must for our little rock lover :) The sluice is outdoors and there was only one other family there for part of our visit, so we found it to be highly pandemic-friendly.
Where to Eat in Highlands, NC:
Our meals were the only aspect of our trip where we would have made different decisions had we been sans-kids or not embroiled in a pandemic. As it was, we mostly opted to bring takeout back to our cottage. We sampled salads from Four65 (yum!), ate on the patio at Ugly Dog Pub (yum!), picked up breakfast from Calders Coffee (yum!), grabbed sandwiches from Highlands Deli (eh), and had multiple meals from Mountain Fresh Grocery (breakfast sandwiches and muffins, pizza, and picks from the prepared meals cases – all yum!). Had we been visiting under different conditions, I would have loved to have eaten at Four65, Madison’s/The Wine Garden, Paoletti’s, and/or the Log Cabin! We also eyed the Blue Bike Cafe for breakfast but couldn’t squeeze it in.
All in all, we had a fantastic weekend away and feel so grateful we were able to do it in this crazy year. From the brilliant leaves to the waterfalls to the hikes to the cottage, we loved it all and hope to be back! :)