Deep in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains lies a hidden gem that is slowly but surely being discovered by nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers. Scaly Mountain in the Highlands of Western North Carolina has it all, and it is quickly becoming a national vacation destination. Here are the can’t-miss experiences waiting there for you.
Highlands Aerial Park
This family adventure park is perched 3,400 feet in the air atop High Holly Mountain. Being an ecologically inspired attraction, it naturally focuses on the surrounding lush forest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Expect to find creeks, waterfalls, peaks, knolls, and deep gorges from your aerial view.
But this is no laid-back nature tour! They will have you flying through the air on one (or all) of 8 ziplines, soaring 250 feet off the ground over the course of 1,550 feet. The Full Mountain Zipline Tour takes about 1 ½ to 2 hours to complete, but you can opt for other packages with fewer ziplines. Those who may not love heights will be comforted by the knowledgeable guides who help you along the way.
For a full day of adventure, you can add on various other experiences, like the Giant Mountain Swing, a Duo Tree Climb, or a slow-paced, guide-driven Utility Terrain Vehicle (UTV) tour. Explore more natural beauty along the Free Hidden Falls Nature Trail to High Holly Creek, featuring a suspended bridge, observation platform, and a hidden waterfall.
More heart-stopping adventure is a just short distance away at Highlands Outpost, formerly the Scaly Mountain Outdoor Center. Grab a tube and fly down the mountain, rent skates to glide across the outdoor ice rink, or don a pair of skis and swish your way down the slopes. No worries, beginners, you can practice for as long as you’d like on the bunny hill!
But the real highlight of Highlands Outpost is The Screamer, the longest mountain coaster in North Carolina. The 3,800-foot outdoor course takes you careening down the mountain, powered only by gravity. Riders are challenged by 360-degree turns, all while soaking in the beautiful scenery of the Great Smoky Mountains. But be warned, the name “The Screamer” is well deserved!
Getting Back to Nature
But for many, adventure comes in the form of exploring these beautiful mountains on foot or mountain bike. For you, we have 2 recommendations that will both challenge and inspire you.
Scaly Mountain Trail
Explore a 3.7-mile, out-and-back trail that takes about 2 ¼ hours to complete. It is a moderately challenging trek, but hikers are rewarded with outstanding views from the summit. In addition to hiking, this trail is ideal for birding and rock climbing for those with experience.
Insider Tip: Some of the Scaly Mountain Trail includes hiking in a creek bed, so be prepared with waterproof shoes.
Middle Creek Falls Loop
This is a great choice for hikers looking for a truly natural experience. While only 1.1 miles long, this loop trail isn’t as pristine as some other trails. It tends to be uneven and rocky, and bushes and brambles encroach upon the trail frequently. The slope can be steep and slippery, and sometimes the marked path is difficult to follow.
However, because of this, chances are good you’ll have this path all to yourself as you interact with the wild. At the end, you’ll be treated to a breathtaking waterfall and wading pool, a perfect place to reflect upon how the most difficult challenges often lead to the greatest reward.
Cool Digs and Good Eats
A trip to someplace as cool as Scaly Mountain deserves an equally cool place to rest and replenish. The Fire Mountain Inns, Cabins, and Treehouses answers that call brilliantly and then some! Book a room at the inn, your own luxurious private cabin, or – our fave – an intimate treehouse at the highest point of Fire Mountain, over 4,000 feet up. While it boasts a 3-star rating, Fire Mountain maintains the feel of a chic mountain resort totally in balance with nature.
Relax at the Air Spa or lounge on a viewing deck levitating out over infinity pools with cascading waterfalls and fire features. You have several options for dining, including the ultra-modern Fire and Water restaurant or the more relaxed, industrial-influenced Kitchen Café. They produce their own produce onsite and bake their breads in their own kitchens, and they rely on nearby neighbors for their dairy and meat products.