Orographic lifting effect

Highlands, North Carolina

Highlands is an incorporated town in Jackson and Macon counties 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 Macon County. The population was 909 at the 2000 census. The population swells to 10,000-15,000 during the season from spring to fall.


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

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. That particular "Highlands Country Club" is south of Highlands on North Carolina Route 106, known to locals as the "Dillard Road."


Highlands is located at (35.054129, -83.202351).

According to the United States Census Bureau, the community has a total area of 6.2 square miles (16.0 km²), of which, 6.1 square miles (15.7 km²) of it is land and 0.1 square miles (0.3 km²) of it (1.94%) is water.

The town's official elevation is , making it one of the highest altitude as well as the coolest (during the summer months) of all towns in the southern United States. The annual rainfall approaches due to the orographic lifting effect of storms coming from the lower elevations to the west. This rainfall and, counterintuitively, the abundant sunshine, create a lush and verdant microclimate which delights botanists.


Monthly normal and record high and low temperatures
Mon. Avg.
Avg. Rec.

Jan 42 °F 23 °F 33 °F 70 °F -19 °F
Feb 46 °F 25 °F 36 °F 73 °F -9 °F
Mar 54 °F 31 °F 43 °F 78 °F -1 °F
Apr 62 °F 38 °F 50 °F 83 °F 13 °F
May 69 °F 46 °F 58 °F 86 °F 28 °F
Jun 75 °F 53 °F 64 °F 91 °F 35 °F
Jul 78 °F 57 °F 68 °F 93 °F 43 °F
Aug 76 °F 56 °F 66 °F 91 °F 43 °F
Sep 71 °F 51 °F 61 °F 89 °F 30 °F
Oct 62 °F 40 °F 51 °F 82 °F 20 °F
Nov 52 °F 32 °F 42 °F 77 °F -3 °F
Dec 44 °F 26 °F 35 °F 72 °F -11 °F

Highlands owes its cooler weather to the fact that it straddles the Eastern Continental Divide, giving it a much higher elevation above mean sea level at just over . The climate is what attracts the tourists. Highlands averages 87.57 inches of precipitation per year. The average snowfall is only 6 inches. This is due to the fact that it is further south and east in the Appalachians Mountains. Areas of similar elevation on the northwest side of Appalachian region, such as Banner Elk North Carolina, receive more substantial snowfall. Regardless, Highlands is one of the very rare locations at this latitude that has an average high of 78 in July.



Tourism in Highlands is mostly seasonal (generally March through November), with the community drawing Southerners from the oppressive heat and humidity of their flat-land Florida, Georgia, South Carolina. Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana summers. Highlands's hottest month of the year is July which averages at 78 degrees, and the July average overnight low is 57 degrees. .

The town is dotted with many antique dealers, a well-known auction house, restaurants (six of which have received awards from Wine Spectator), shops, inns, as well as several buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. There are four theaters: The Highlands Playhouse (founded in 1938), the Instant Theatre Company (founded in 1981), the Highlands Community Players (founded in 1995), and the Martin-Lipscomb Performing Arts Center , which hosts touring groups.

Public services

Cable television services for the city of Highlands are contracted to Northland Cable TV or Highlands Cable Group. Verizon South DSL is available as well as all satellite radio and television. There is one public K-12 School in the town, "Highlands School," as well as a public library in the town, known as the Hudson Library.



Many people love to experience the spectacular trails that Highlands has to offer. As Highlands is in such a mountainous area, there are many ideal places to hike. With Highlands being home to various waterfalls, many hiking trails lead to a waterfall; Glen Falls is an example, with its beautiful scenery alongside the roaring falls.


One other great activity to try is the local fishing. Harris Lake is a good spot for in town fishing. Be sure to stay off of the private fishing grounds.

There are also several rivers including the Cullasaja and the Chattooga.


Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls is a 45-foot (20.1 m) waterfall located in the Nantahala National Forest, northwest of Highlands, North Carolina. 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 under. 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. To avoid this, stay in your vehicle and drive behind the falls. Bridal Veil Falls is located on the side of U.S. Highway 64 2.3 miles (3.7 km) north of Highlands, North Carolina. 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 Hwy. 64 has been 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 a waterfall in Southwestern North Carolina. The waterfall 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 (.3 km). The height of the falls is given as 200 ft (61 m) in Kevin Adams' book, North Carolina Waterfalls and 250 ft (77.1 m) by NCWaterfalls.com. 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) if 137 ft (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 of 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 (20.1 m) waterfall located in the Nantahala National Forest, northwest of Highlands, North Carolina. Dry Falls flows on the Cullasaja River through the Nantahala National Forest. It is part of a series of waterfalls on a 8.7-mile (14 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, North Carolina. 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 the summer of 2008 the Forest Service is making improvements to the parking area. The public areas will be closed during this renovation.

Quarry Falls

Quarry Falls is a small waterfall (or perhaps large rapid in high water) located beside US Hwy. 64 west of Highlands, North Carolina. It is best known for the large, deep pool at the bottom and is a popular place for swimming during warm weather.

Other Waterfalls


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/sq mi (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
* Scaly Mountain, North Carolina
* Macon County, North Carolina
* Franklin, North Carolina

In Georgia

* Sky Valley, Georgia
* Dillard, Georgia
* Rabun Gap, Georgia
* Mountain City, Georgia
* Clayton, Georgia

Further reading

  • 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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