A Winter Escape to Highlands

Ice Skating in Highlands, NC

If you’re looking to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the season – from work, responsibilities, and tackling never-ending to-do lists – then a winter getaway to Highlands, North Carolina, is exactly what you need.

Things To Do In Highlands During The Winter

In Highlands, you can ice-skate on Main Street, snow-tube down Scaly Mountain, and even walk underneath a waterfall! Sure, the temperatures are a little cooler in the winter, but get outside anyway! There’s so much to do, see, and experience in this area – and the winter views around the mountains are phenomenal!


Western North Carolina is home to thousands and thousands of miles of hiking trails – and some of the best winter hikes can be found in Highlands!

  • Whiteside Mountain is a moderate two-mile loop that offers incredible views from the top of the mountain.
  • For those that want a more difficult journey, the Bartram Trail to Osage Overlook is two miles one way that offers spectacular views of Blue Valley to the South and Tessentee Valley to the North.
  • Sunset Rock is located right off of Main Street in Highlands, and it is a moderate 0.7-mile (one way) hike. At the top, you can enjoy gorgeous sunsets from the natural cliff-side amphitheater.
Dry Falls in Highlands, NC
Dry Falls. Photo by Greg Newington and Courtesy of Highlands Chamber of Commerce and Visit Highlands, NC.


Did you know that Highlands is a national waterfall destination? Here are a few that you must check out when you visit.

  • Dry Falls is the waterfall you can walk behind! Flowing from the Cullasaja River through the Nantahala National Forest, Dry Falls flows over an overhanging bluff, allowing visitors to follow the trail behind the waterfall without getting wet.
  • Bridal Veil Falls is an unusual and highly popular 120-foot waterfall. When you visit in the winter, you may see the waterfall frozen at the base!
  • Silver Run Falls is a 30-foot waterfall that pours into a pool, making it a popular destination on warm days. In the winter, it is still a sight to behold!
snow tubing in Highlands
Photo by Greg Newington and Courtesy of Highlands Chamber of Commerce and Visit Highlands, NC.

Snow Tubing

Scaly Mountain Outdoor Center offers excitement in the form of snow tubing! Snow is provided by both mother nature and on-site equipment, so any time the temperature is below 35º, you’re sure to have an absolute blast!

Ice Skating

Highlands offers an ice rink right on Main Street – an easy walk from any of the downtown hotels. You can rent skates for a fun, holiday-themed adventure!

Winter and holiday shopping in Highlands NC
Photo courtesy of Highlands Chamber of Commerce and Visit Highlands, NC.


Quaint shops line both sides of Main Street, and you can find everything from clothing for the whole family to home decor. Check out antique shops to find a one-of-a-kind treasure to take home and remember your trip by!

No matter what type of adventure you are looking for, when you visit Highlands in the winter, you’re sure to find exactly what you need to escape “real life” and immerse yourself in nature and a picturesque, small-town atmosphere.


Header photo by Cynthia Strain and Courtesy of Highlands Chamber of Commerce and Visit Highlands, NC.

Top Smoky Mountain Spots for Spring Wildflowers

Enjoy an extended wildflower season in the Smokies.

As the days lengthen and the weather warms, colorful signs of spring begin to pop up from forest floors and trailside shrubs. Brilliant wildflowers of all shapes, sizes and colors appear across the North Carolina Smoky Mountains in waves from February through late summer, to the delight of gardeners, hikers and adventurers of all ages.

butterfly on a bloom
Butterfly Weed

A fleeting group of flowers known as spring ephemerals — including showy three-petaled trillium, lady slipper orchids, fire pink and columbine — are first on the scene beginning in late February. Bright bee balm, black-eyed susans and jewelweed take over in the summer months, alongside native shrubs such as flame azalea. As summer wanes into August and September, asters and goldenrod prelude the fall foliage display.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park boasts more than 1,500 kinds of flowering plants, earning it the nickname of “Wildflower National Park.” Likewise, the varying elevations and habitats of the Blue Ridge Parkway make it an excellent route for flower-sighting in spring.

Look for seasonal blooms along the edges of trails, roads and rivers, or any sunny open area. To ensure there are plenty of flowers for everyone to enjoy, resist picking any blooms and keep your feet on designated trails. Be sure to bring your camera!

Here are some of the top spots in the Smoky Mountains to see spring wildflowers:

purple flowers
Mountain Bluets

Deep Creek Trail

Located north of Bryson City, this easy trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park leads past two waterfalls in a two-mile out-and-back walk, or hike the whole loop for 4.9 miles and a third waterfall!

Graveyard Fields

A favorite stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 418.8, the loop trail at Graveyard Fields takes hikers past waterfalls, through open meadows and along wooded paths. Visit in May or June for a peek at pinkshell, flame azalea or mountain laurel.

Oconaluftee River Trail

trillium blooms

This easy 1.5-mile (one way) trail begins at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and leads along the river to the outskirts of Cherokee, N.C. It’s a favorite for jogging, biking and walking pets (and one of only two Great Smoky Mountains National Park trails that allows both bikes and pets).

Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest

A 2-mile loop trail offers a breathtaking view of this virgin forest cove, which is a great place to spot trillium, crested iris, dutchman’s breeches and violets in spring. Take a break from your flower search to look up into the canopy of the forest’s centuries-old trees.

Discover Handmade Craft in the NC Smokies

Carmen Haynes/Pine Needles and Things in Brasstown

The Smoky Mountains are home and inspiration to hundreds of artists. Across Western North Carolina visitors can find handmade crafts at a number of studios and galleries, and now the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area is connecting visitors to these cultural resources through a network of craft trails.

The initiative is called the Blue Ridge Craft Trails, a series of curated driving trails throughout the region featuring 200 craft sites. Travelers can use craft trail itineraries for tips to round out their craft-hunting experiences with nearby foods, breweries, wineries, music, outdoor activities, and scenic views.

Handmade Craft in the Smoky Mountains

The Craft Trails highlight artists across a wide variety of mediums including ceramic arts, weaving, glass blowing, jewelry making, bead work, and fabric arts. All crafts featured are handmade by artists who live in Western North Carolina.

Travel Along the Blue Ridge Craft Trails

Weaving at John C. Campbell Folk School
Photo courtesy of John C. Campbell Folk School.

Information on the Craft Trails can be found on the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area’s website. It includes filters to help you explore the craft mediums that interest you the most, or you can see all of the craft opportunities in a given region or town. New towns and experiences are being added to the trails system and by 2021 it will connect 25 counties that make up Western North Carolina.

Here are some curated itineraries to get you started.

About the Blue Ridge Heritage Area

The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, designated by Congress in November 2003, works to protect, preserve, interpret, and develop the unique natural, historical, and cultural resources of Western North Carolina for the benefit of present and future generations. National Heritage Areas  encourage residents, non-profit groups, government agencies, and private partners to work together in planning and implementing programs that preserve and celebrate America’s defining landscapes.

Look here for other arts and crafts adventures in the Smoky Mountains.

Featured image: Joe Waldroup Woodworks in Hayesville.

Top image: Carmen Haynes at Pine Needles and Things in Brasstown.

The Friendliest Stop Along the Appalachian Trail – Be a Lazy Hiker Awhile!

Although Franklin sparkles with its gems, I was impressed to see the way this town cares for the dirty and grungy (and I mean that in the best possible way!). You see, Franklin sits just 10 miles off the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail that hundreds hike through from Maine to Georgia each year. It was the first town designated as an A.T. Community, and hikers are treated with admiration and respect at the local shops, churches, and restaurants, and the town even offers a shuttle service from the trail into town.
The vibes that the A.T. adds to this town make it so unique. Downtown offers Rockin Rollie Pollie’s eatery and Lazy Hiker Brewery where stories are swapped with thru-hikers about what’s going on in ‘civilization’ and what’s going on along the trail. I enjoyed my own short hike intersecting with the A.T. at Wayah Bald Lookout Tower. I took the advice of others and went at sunset for a 360-degree view of pristine mountains and lakes from the top of a restored fire-tower that was originally built by the CCC in 1937.


You may have heard whisperings. Smoky Mountain Modern has just burst onto the mountain home scene in the Bryson City, NC area. The team is made up of veteran Bryson City residential industry MVPs, and they’re offering opportunities to visit, build, and purchase all in the unique mountain modern style, where every home is one that will take your breath away.

Start with a Smoky Mountain Modern visit and stay at a modern-chic rental that provides all the comforts and style of an urban destination enveloped in nature. Book a Woodland-loft, clustered grouping around a central firepit or book a stand-alone property with panoramic views, quartz countertops, and leather furniture. Now that the mountain modern relationship has begun, you’ll likely want to take the relationship to the next level by building or purchasing in Smoky Mountain Modern’s distinctive mountain modern community with a luxury clubhouse, workout room, a community swimming pool and firepits.

Other great people to assist you in any of your real estate needs are: Bryson City  Re/Max Awenasa Realty and Diane Jones-Good Life Real Estate all downtown.

Sylva/Dillsboro: Western Carolina Properties with offices in Dillsboro right across from the tracks where the train stops and one in Cullowhee near Western Carolina University.

Re/Max Awenasa in downtown Sylva is convenient while your shopping and dining.

Franklin: Re/Max Elite Realty office is just as you turn into Hwy 441 Business. Sheila Myers of Keller William is right off Hwy 441 at Hwy 28/64 intersection. And Classic Properties is right off 441 Business as you leave downtown. Sunset Ridge Motorcoach Resort may have that luxury lot with a view you’ve been hoping for.

Providence Builders and Jeff Johnson Timber Frames off Hwy 441 So can build the right cabin or vacation home for you, and Homestar Mortgage is downtown for your convenience

Murphy: Carolina Mountain Homes has been (in business for 30 years), and Appalachian Mountain & Lake Properties are both located on Hwy 64 West of town.

Hayesville: Sonja Silvers Realty Group is right in the historic square around breweries, restaurants and shopping.



Folkmoot! “World” Performers come to the Smoky Mountains of NC

FOLKMOOT is comprised of international groups that participate each year and keep us in touch with the identity of their part of the world today. In addition we are being entertained and educated by the exciting dancing and music provided. More than 185 folk groups from over 95 different countries have shared their heritage with Folkmoot enthusiasts. Groups and entertainers from Russia, Israel, India, Mexico have visit our mountain region sharing their world with us.

Join us July 18-28 for the 36th edition of North Carolina’s Official International Folk Festival!

Folkmoot 2019 includes shows in Waynesville, Clyde, Canton, Lake Junaluska, Cherokee, Asheville, Hendersonville, and Hickory.

Along with our legacy festival, we are introducing several new events, including the Mootenanny, Cherokee World Games and Folkmalt! Check it out at: folkmoot.org

Spotlight on a WNC Glassblower: David Goldhagen

Watch colorful contemporary sculptures emerge as artist David Goldhagen uses ancient techniques in the fascinating craft of glassblowing. Connect with David at his Goldhagen Art Glass Studio in Hayesville, NC. David’s studio is just one of the many places to visit on the new Blue Ridge Craft Trails. Catch one of Davd’s Hot Summer Nights music events outside with Lake Chatuge in the background.

TOURS/Consierge/Guides: Carolina Bound Adventures, Cataloochee Valley Tours, Alarka Expeditions

CAROLINA BOUND ADVENTURES is a concierge vacation planning service in the Bryson City area. They are passionate about creating a memorable adventure for everyone, from the first time visitor to the experienced traveler. With their expertise and familiarity in the area, they help you create an unforgettable family vacation experience. Different adventure packages are available, ranging from day-long to week-long adventures, plan, stay, play, groceries stocked for you, bookings, waterfalls, biking, hiking, rafting, train & brewery trips…too much to name. Their team will use their area expertise to guide your way by making reservations for you or even offering fully guided Adventures. Get Started on Your Adventure on carolinaboundadventures.com.

Join CATALOOCHEE VALLEY TOURS on a guided Eco-tour to one of the best kept secrets in the Great Smoky Mountains — Cataloochee Valley!  See the elk on their guided Evening Elk Eco-Tour or a Sunrise Elk Eco-Tour, offered year round weather permitting.  In June you can journey to their “secret” location to witness the magic of the Synchronous & Blue Ghost Fireflies on a Firefly Night Walk. Travel back in time to one of the most beautiful and remote parts of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Cataloochee Valley…where the big elk roam and the black bears play!  You will be transported luxuriously in an eco-friendly Cadillac Escalade Hybrid over the rugged, winding mountain road once called the “Cataloochee Turnpike.”  Their tour is named  in Forbes 5 Great American Wildlife Adventures, Fodor’s Travel 10 Best Safaris in the US, and featured in Southern Living and Lux Life Magazines. Reserve your spot on cataloocheevalleytours.com

ALARKA EXPEDITIONS – Wild Your World!  Let them tailor your trip down the Little Tennessee River that caters to your unique preferences, offering endless opportunities to expand your knowledge of the riverine wilds of southern Appalachia for groups, couples and individuals. Tailor walks and hikes to your specific interests, including birds, botanicals or the fascinating cultural history in our wild mountains. They also offer backyard phenology workshops and art and literature sessions and excursions. You may agree with the 18th century botanist and artist, William Bartram, describing this area as “one of the most charming mountain landscapes perhaps anywhere to be seen.”  Make your tailored-designed expedition in the Nantahala National Forest and the Cowee National Historic District with the conservationist and educators of alarkaexpeditions.com. 

Ferncrest Winery Awards

FernCrest Winery is in the Snowbird Mountains above the Western Carolina Regional Airport, where we planted a small vineyard of Chardonel, Vidal Blanc and Cynthiana grape vines in 2010. We began making wine from them in 2013.  Both the 2013 Chardonel and 2013 Vidal Blanc won Gold medals at the Wine Maker’s Magazine’s International Amateur Competition in 2014.

We began making wine commercially in 2014. Our Vidal Blanc (Royal White) won a Gold medal and our Chardonel (Southern Lady White) and Cynthiana (Mountain Wood Red) won Silver medals at the 2016 Asheville Wine and Food Festival. Our Vidal Blanc won another Gold and our Chardonel won Silver at the NC State Fair 2016. Our newest Vidal Blanc and Cynthiana won Silver and Chardonel won Bronze at the NC State Fair 2018. Our blackberry/blueberry (all hand-picked in Western NC) wine (Black Lady) won a bronze medal at the 2017 North Carolina State Fair.

FernCrest Winery has been blessed that all wines submitted for judging have been awarded medals.

FernCrest Winery Tasting Room is open in downtown Andrews. Wine tastings, bottles and wine by the glass. Local cheeses, local jams and wine merchandise

1060 Main StreetAndrews, NC 28901

(828) 321-1600 



Elevated Mountain Distillery Awards

Congratulations to Elevated Mountain Distilling Co of Maggie Valley  on beating out some of the best spirits in the world in three categories at the 2018 Cigar & Spirits Magazine’s World Spirits Competition.

2nd Place Vodka – Hurricane Creek

3rd Place American Blended Whiskeys – Purchase Knob Oak Reserve

1st Place Infused Whiskey – Raymond Fairchild Root Beer White Lightning

They are happy to give tours to show you how they make your favorite spirits, then treat you to a tasting! Morning and early afternoon tours are the best times to see the still in operation. Small batch quality and flavor create a sublime experience that ONLY comes from a craft distillery. Stop by to visit, you might even catch a night of live music. Call: 828-944-0766, 3732 Soco Road.


FONTANA VILLAGE RESORT – Worlds Away from Everyday Noise, Stress & Obligation

Guests who stay at Fontana Village Resort see the world differently because they find inspiration in unexpected places. From mountain biking and hiking trails, to time spent out on the lake, adventures and activities are united not by what makes them the same, but by the remarkable things that make them different. For those who crave fresh air, a quiet atmosphere, authenticity and destination immersion, Fontana Village is where you can explore the outside inside you amidst the best of the Smoky Mountains and all its natural beauty. Whether you want to curl up by the fire with a good book or have the forest waiting right outside your door, the best Nantahala mountain lodge, cabins, and campgrounds are here for you. Great place for groups, weddings and families.

Choose your adventure and set out in the morning sun, on the water, or under a canopy of stars. No matter how you need to step away from the daily grind, Fontana Village is there to help. Enjoy some of the best camping, canoeing, hiking, mountain biking, mini golf, disc golf, pools, and exploring for any Great Smoky Mountain vacation. The marina with all its equipment rentals, pontoon shuttle service for hikers and trout fishermen is at the southern boundary of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

Fun comes with the territory!

Seasonal activities include:

  • Campfires and Marshmallow Roasts
  • Live Music
  • Kids Arts and Crafts
  • Field games and Relays
  • Evening Softball Games
  • Guided Nature Hikes
  • Outdoor Movies
  • Talent Shows
  • Karaoke
  • Smoky Mountain Square Dancing
  • And so much more

Multi-tainment Centers in Cherokee & Murphy

The UltraStar Multi-tainment Centers feature “One stop, non-stop entertainment.” Guests experience adventure, competition, entertainment and relaxation all conveniently located under one roof. The Multi-tainment Center features state-of-the-art digital bowling, dining, sports lounge, live entertainment and arcade gaming as well as corporate and private event facilities.  

It is located in both Cherokee and Murphy, NC. For more information on the new UltraStar Multi-tainment Centers visit UltraStarNC.com Follow UltraStar Multi-tainment Center on Facebook at UltraStarNC, Twitter @UltraStarNC and Instagram: UltraStarNC. For Cherokee location call 828-497-8818. For Murphy location call 828-422-5306.”