Nothing is more romantic than a mountain getaway in the early spring! You can snuggle up in a warm blanket by the fire or get outside in the fresh air without the crowds (and the bugs). You and your loved one will have the place to yourself.
To celebrate our wedding anniversary recently, Dan and I took a weekend getaway to the Blue Ridge Mountains in western North Carolina. We spent time in two charming towns, only ten miles apart, Cashiers and Highlands. Southern Living Magazine lists Highlands as one of the top “Five Best Small Town Getaways.” Both towns sit regally on a 4,000 foot plateau within the Nantahala National Forest, and both are upscale, cosmopolitan communities, known for stunning scenery, waterfalls, great hiking trails, and as art and music centers.
Our drive to the mountains took about 3½ hours. We stopped first for lunch at Cornucopia in Cashiers, on Hwy 107 South, a favorite spot that locals and tourists enjoy, not only for the food, but the open-air, covered patio. Cornucopia closes for the season in November and reopens in March. Another excellent dining choice in Cashiers is The Orchard Restaurant, situated in a 100-year-old farmhouse, featuring an extensive menu of fresh, seasonal fare. After lunch, we stopped by the popular Cashiers Farmers Market on Hwy 64. Not only is it picturesque but offers a great selection of groceries, fresh produce, cheeses, cider, gifts, and scrumptious desserts. We also enjoyed browsing through A Jones Company, a boutique offering unique gifts and home accessories.
On Hwy. 64 near Sapphire, we checked into the Black Bear Lodge, featuring two-room suites with living room, bedroom and full kitchen, in a quiet, rural setting. There are an abundance of choices in the area for every taste and budget. If you prefer to stay in town, check out Old Edwards Inn and Spa or 200 Main, in Highlands – both considered “rustic-chic,” right in the middle of shops, art galleries and great restaurants.
On the way to Highlands, we stopped at Reclamations – an upscale salvage yard where you can find antique, recycled, repurposed treasures that will be unique additions to your home. The array of vintage materials is stunning, and you could spend a couple hours here scouring for that perfect piece. Later in downtown Highlands, we spent time shopping and looking in the art galleries along Main Street. We had a bite to eat on the outside patio at Wild Thyme Gourmet, which offers
“American cuisine with an Asian influence.” Southern Accents magazine designated Wild Thyme Gourmet as the restaurant with “the best sandwiches in Highlands.”
Some of the best hiking trails and scenic overlooks are found in the Highlands-Cashiers area. Dan and I hiked one of the most popular trails, the moderate, two-mile loop trail to the top of Whiteside Mountain, six miles from Highlands, along the eastern continental divide. Take the loop clock-wise for a less difficult incline. At the summit, you enjoy spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Dogs are welcome on the trail. There is a $2 per vehicle parking fee. If you are just looking for an easy stroll with great views, take the Sunset Rock Trail at the Highland’s Nature Center on Main Street for a ½ mile walk to the best spot to enjoy the sunset over the mountains while sitting in the natural granite amphitheater at the top of the trail.
What is more romantic and beautiful than a walk to a waterfall? There are more than 16 waterfalls listed in the area! One of the most spectacular is Whitewater Falls, the highest waterfall in the Eastern United States – although there seems to be a running dispute for that honor with Georgia’s Amicalola Falls! The upper falls are in North Carolina, cascading 411 feet. They meet the lower falls in South Carolina. There is a scenic overlook of the upper falls about a half mile walk from the parking lot. From the overlook, Dan and I walked down 153 stairs to the lower viewing area. (Remember you have to walk back up, but it is so worth it!). To get to Whitewater Falls, take Hwy 64 to Cashiers and then NC 107 South. Turn left on Wigington Rd., and left on Hwy 130, which becomes Hwy 281. Dry Falls is another stunning waterfall, on the Cullasaja River, located on Hwy 64 between Highlands and Franklin. You can take an easy stroll down to the falls, which are 75 feet high, and actually walk behind the falls.
The Highlands-Cashiers area is a popular spot for fly fishing, camping, birding and viewing wildflowers. Over 160 species of birds make the area their home during different times of the year. There are over 1,600 species of flowering plants in the Blue Ridge Mountains with something blooming from March through September. If you prefer more cultural pursuits, check out the Highlands and Cashiers calendar of events for art, pottery, food and wine, and music festivals, scheduled throughout the year.