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Highlands, North Carolina
The town of Highlands as seen from Sunset Rock.
The town of Highlands as seen from Sunset Rock.
Official seal of Highlands, North Carolina
Nickname(s): "Elevation 4118"
Location of Highlands, North Carolina
Location of Highlands, North Carolina
Country United States
State North Carolina
Counties Macon, Jackson
Townships Highlands, Cashiers
 • Total 6.2 sq mi (16.0 km2)
 • Land 6.1 sq mi (15.7 km2)
 • Water 0.1 sq mi (0.3 km2)
Elevation 4,118 ft (1,255 m)
Population (2010)
 • Total 924
 • Density 149.0/sq mi (57.75/km2)
Time zone Eastern (EST) (UTC-5)
 • Summer (DST) EDT (UTC-4)
ZIP code 28741
Area code(s) 828
FIPS code 37-31360
GNIS feature ID 1012061
Website [1]

Highlands is an incorporated town in Macon County in the U.S. state of North Carolina. Located on a plateau in the southern Appalachian Mountains, within the Nantahala National Forest, it lies mostly in southeastern Macon County and slightly in southwestern Jackson County, in the Highlands and Cashiers Townships, respectively. The permanent population was 924 at the 2010 census. The population can swell up to 20,000 during spring to fall.


Highlands was founded in 1875 after its two founders, Samuel Truman Kelsey and Clinton Carter Hutchinson, drew lines from Chicago to Savannah and from New Orleans to New York City. They felt that the place where these lines met would eventually become a great trading center and commercial crossroads. Highlands was named for its lofty elevation.

In the 1930s the town became a golfing mecca when Bobby Jones of Atlanta and some of his well-heeled golfing buddies founded the Highlands Country Club. Today that club is one of seven successful residential country club communities in the area. The Highlands Country Club is south of Highlands on Dillard Road (North Carolina Highway 106).


Highlands is located at 35°3′15″N 83°12′8″W / 35.05417°N 83.20222°W / 35.05417; -83.20222 (35.054129, -83.202351).

According to the United States Census Bureau, the community has a total area of 6.2 square miles (16 km2), of which 6.1 square miles (16 km2) is land and 0.1 square miles (0.26 km2), or 1.94%, is water.

The official average elevation within town limits is 4,118 feet (1,255 m), making it one of the highest incorporated municipalities east of the Mississippi River. The annual rainfall approaches 100 inches (2,500 mm) due to the orographic lifting effect of storms coming from the lower elevations. This rainfall, coupled with abundant sunshine, creates a lush and verdant microclimate which appeals to botanists.


Highlands has a subtropical highland climate (Köppen Cfb), with much cooler weather than the rest of the American South. This cooling is caused by its altitude. Astride the Eastern Continental Divide, at just over 4,100 ft (1,200 m), the town's elevation contributes to its relatively cool summers and abundant rainfall, averaging 87.57 inches (2,224 mm) per year. Average snowfall is only 13 inches (33 cm), largely due to the fact that Highlands is further south and east in the Appalachian Mountains. In 2013 Highlands received 106 inches of rainfall. Areas of similar elevation on the northwest side of Appalachian region, such as Banner Elk, are not as protected from periodic blasts of Arctic air and receive more substantial snowfall. Regardless, Highlands is one of the very rare locations at this latitude that has an average high of 78 °F or 26 °C in July, far lower than the rest of the American South.

Climate data for Highlands, North Carolina
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 70
Average high °F (°C) 42
Average low °F (°C) 23
Record low °F (°C) −19
Precipitation inches (mm) 7.35
Snowfall inches (cm) 3.6
Source: The Weather Channel (temps, precip), Weatherbase (snow)


Harris Lake Highlands
Harris Lake in Highlands during fall


The nature and hiking trails around Highlands are popular with backpackers, and there is at least one outfitter store in town. As Highlands is in such a mountainous area, there are many scenic places to hike. With Highlands being home to various waterfalls, many hiking trails lead to these falls.


Fishing is available in Highlands, at Harris Lake, Cliffside Lake Recreation Area and other in-town and surrounding-area lakes. Cliffside Lake, in particular, is stocked with Rainbow, Brown and Brook Trout. Some fishing areas near Highlands are public and others are private fishing grounds. There are also several rivers, including the Cullasaja River that begins in town, and the Chattooga River to the southeast.


Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls is a 45-foot (14 m) waterfall located in the Nantahala National Forest, northwest of Highlands. With a short curve of roadway located behind the falls, it has the distinction of being the only waterfall in the state that one can drive a vehicle behind. Bridal Veil Falls flows on a tributary of the Cullasaja River through the Nantahala National Forest. The falls flows over an overhanging bluff that allows visitors to walk behind the falls and remain dry when the waterflow is low. During periods of drought, the stream may nearly dry up, though visitors will get wet if the waterflow is moderate or high. Bridal Veil Falls is located on the side of U.S. Highway 64 2.3 miles (3.7 km) northwest of town. Highway 64 originally used the curve of roadway behind the falls exclusively so that all traffic went behind them; however, this caused problems with icing of the roadway during freezing weather, and it was re-routed around the front of the falls since. There is a parking area on the side of the road, where visitors can park and view the falls as well. In 2003, a massive boulder slid off the left side of the falls, blocking that side of the drive-under completely. However, in July 2007, that boulder was removed by a local developer.

Cullasaja Falls

Cullasaja Falls is located on the Cullasaja River in the Nantahala National Forest and is part of the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway. Cullasaja comes from a Cherokee word meaning "honey locust place". The falls is the last major waterfall on the Cullasaja River. The falls is a long cascade over the course of 0.2 miles (0.32 km). The height of the falls is given as 200 feet (61 m) in Kevin Adams' book, North Carolina Waterfalls and 250 feet (76 m) by However, Google Earth gives a height (based on the elevation of the water at the top of the falls and the elevation of the plunge pool at the bottom of the falls) of 137 feet (42 m). It is easy to catch a glimpse of the falls as you drive by; however, getting a better view of the falls is not easy. The falls are located beside a series of blind curves on Highway 64 with sheer rock cliffs above and below the road. There is only one small pull-off near the falls, but walking on the road puts visitors in danger of being hit by a passing vehicle.

Dry Falls

Dry Falls, also known as Upper Cullasaja Falls, is a 65-foot (20 m) waterfall in the Nantahala National Forest, northwest of Highlands on the Cullasaja River. It is part of a series of waterfalls on an 8.7-mile (14.0 km) stretch of the river that eventually ends with Cullasaja Falls. Dry Falls flows over an overhanging bluff that allows visitors to walk up under the falls and remain relatively dry when the waterflow is low, hence its name. Visitors will get wet if the waterflow is high. The falls has been called Dry Falls for a long time, but has also gone by a few other names, including High Falls, Pitcher Falls, and Cullasaja Falls. Dry Falls is located on the side of U.S. Highway 64 3.1 miles (5.0 km) north of Highlands. There is a parking area on the side of the road, where visitors can park before walking the short path with stairs to the falls. During 2008-2009 the Forest Service made improvements to the parking area, which included renovation and expansion and the addition of bathroom facilities. A new walkway and overlook were also constructed adjacent to the parking area.

Quarry Falls

Quarry Falls (aka Bust Your Butt Falls) is a small waterfall located beside US Highway 64 west of Highlands. It is best known for the large, deep pool at the bottom and is a popular place for swimming during warm weather.

Other waterfalls

  • Glen Falls
  • Lower Cullasaja Falls
  • Quarry Falls
  • Silver Run Falls
  • Whitewater Falls
    • Upper Whitewater Falls
    • Lower Whitewater Falls


Historical population
Census Pop.
1880 82
1900 233
1910 249 6.9%
1920 267 7.2%
1930 443 65.9%
1940 569 28.4%
1950 515 −9.5%
1960 597 15.9%
1970 583 −2.3%
1980 653 12.0%
1990 948 45.2%
2000 909 −4.1%
2010 924 1.7%
Est. 2015 937 1.4%
U.S. Decennial Census

As of the census of 2000, there were 909 people, 445 households, and 253 families residing in the town. The population density was 150.0 people per square mile (57.9/km²). There were 1,713 housing units at an average density of 282.7 per square mile (109.1/km²). The racial makeup of the town was 98.46% White, 0.11% Asian, 0.88% from other races, and 0.55% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.97% of the population.

There were 445 households out of which 18.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 48.8% were married couples living together, 6.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 43.1% were non-families. 36.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 15.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.04 and the average family size was 2.66.

In the town, the population was spread out with 16.4% under the age of 18, 5.4% from 18 to 24, 19.9% from 25 to 44, 33.4% from 45 to 64, and 24.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 51 years. For every 100 females there were 91.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 84.5 males.

The median income for a household in the town was $33,750, and the median income for a family was $46,875. Males had a median income of $31,964 versus $20,662 for females. The per capita income for the town was $24,120. About 4.2% of families and 7.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 2.2% of those under age 18 and 13.5% of those age 65 or over.

Nearby towns

In North Carolina
In Georgia
  • Good Reading Material, Mostly Bound and New: The Hudson Library, 1884-1994 by Randolph P. Shaffner
Publisher: Hudson Library of Highlands, North Carolina (1994)
ISBN 0-9640078-3-5 A written history of the town library.
  • Heart of the Blue Ridge Highlands, North Carolina by Randolph P. Shaffner
Publisher: Faraway Publishing (2004)
ISBN 0-9710130-3-9 A written history of the town of Highlands, NC from its foundation to the publication of this book.
  • Highlands by Randolph P. Shaffner
Publisher: Arcadia Publishing, Images of America series (2008)
ISBN 0-7385-5403-0 A pictorial history of the town of Highlands, NC before and after its founding, from 1820-1930.
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