Highlands, NC, nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, offers a plethora of kid-friendly activities that make it an ideal summer destination for families. From outdoor adventures in scenic parks to interactive educational experiences, there's something to captivate every child's imagination. Parents and children alike can enjoy hiking, picnicking, and exploring the natural beauty of the area, as well as participating in seasonal festivals and community events. A summer spent in Highlands promises an unforgettable time filled with fun and learning for kids of all ages.

Happy Hiking

Stop by Highland Hiker to pick up a book of good day hikes. You’ll find several trails that are child-friendly! 

The Highlands Biological Station/Nature Center is a great place for young ones. With easy walking trails that offer views of the lake and creeks, it is also a wonderful place to learn about and see native plants, vegetation and meet live animals. Kids love their Kids Hike Highlands Challenge which awards the collection of all four stamps along the trails with a prize! You can pick up the map at the Nature Center or at our Welcome Center. 

Nature Center- Kids

After your visit to the Nature Center, carefully walk across the street and up a short trail to experience Ravenel Park and Sunset Rock. Though it’s a favorite spot for sunsets, it’s spectacular any time of day. 

The Highlands Plateau Greenway offers easy, in-town access to a system of walking and hiking trails that connect historic sites and natural settings. A great trail to check out on the Greenway is The Highlands Rec Park Trail. To see all trails on the Highlands Plateau Greenway, click here.

Read2Me Story Walk at The Bascom is connected to the Greenway trails and is a great way to engage kids while walking in the outdoors. 

Looking to experience a family-friendly waterfall? Dry Falls and Glen Falls fit the bill. One of the area’s most popular destinations, Dry Falls offers the unique experience of walking behind its rushing, 75-foot cascade. An out-and-back hike, Glen Falls offers multiple viewing points along its 700-foot, one-mile decent. But be sure to conserve energy for the hike back!

Kid-Friendly Excursions

Located between Highlands and Scaly Mountain, Highlands Aerial Park is a thrilling way to spend the day. Kid-friendly activities abound, including ziplines, nature trails, a challenge course and a giant swing.

Highlands Aerial Park

Highland Excursion offers eco-tours in the Highlands area, and all are kid friendly. A great one to check out is their Private Gem Mine Tour, which showcases sites along the Cullasaja Gorge and Jackson Hole Gem Mine

Highlands Outpost in Scaly Mountain is the perfect place to spend the day with kids. The Outpost is a go-to spot in the winter for outdoor activities, but in the summer, the Outpost has activities to keep kids entertained all day. The Scaly Mountain Screamer, an alpine coaster that is over 3800 feet long, is a thrilling experience for everyone. Wind through the Appalachian Mountains at your own speed while enjoying beautiful views. The Extreme Tubing Slide is open in the summer for more thrills and excitement. For a slower pace, check out the Gem Mine or Trout Fishing.


Sapphire Valley Resort's Fairfield Lake and Beach is perfect for a day on the water. Rent kayaks, canoes, paddle boards or even a fishing pole (fishing license required) and explore the 55+ acre lake. The lake also has a boathouse, dock, swimming beach, and snack and cold drinks available for purchase.

On the weekends, May through October, attend an outdoor concert on Friday and Saturday night. Saturdays on Pine concerts in Kelsey-Hutchinson Founders Park are perfect for enjoying music with the whole family. There's also corn hole and giant Jenga to entertain kids. 

Music in Town SquareMusic in Park

Arrowmont Stables, located an hour from Highlands in Cullowhee, North Carolina offers horseback riding, lessons, and more. To learn more, click here.

Swim year-round at the Highlands Pool Complex! Enjoy a covered pool with dedicated times for adult, lap, and all-ages swimming as well as water aerobics. It’s great for rainy weather, too!

For Rainy Days

Highlands is in a temperate rainforest and receives more than 80 inches of wet stuff each year, but don’t worry! Highlands offers plenty of experiences for rainy days. 

Head to The Bascom to enjoy art exhibits, classes and an indoor play area. Register kids for a private lesson where they can try out clay, drawing, mixed media art or painting. They even have “Take & Make” art lessons on their website that kids can do from home or the Mr. Bill vs. The Box, which is an online art studio where he creates something from surprise materials from a box. For more kid-friendly activities at The Bascom, click here

Hudson Library is a wonderful place for little ones to play or learn. The library offers a children’s playroom, educational computers and tablets. On Thursdays, the library offers Family Story time and the Kids Zone, a summer learning program with new themes and things to learn each time. Stay up to date on events and activities at Hudson Library here.

Check out what's happening at the Highlands Performing Arts Center on a rainy day. Attend a play by Mountain Theatre Company, or see what movie is playing in the theatre.

The Nature Center at the Biological Station is another great way to spend a summer rainy day. During the summer, the Nature Center is open Monday-Saturday from 10am-5pm and free. For kid-friendly events or more information about the nature center, click here.

Spend a rainy day exploring the Highlands Historic Village and the town’s oldest home, the Elizabeth Wright Prince House. Enjoy learning about Highlands’ history through its exhibits and archives! For more information, click here.

The small, white Highlands Historical Society Building.

Visit the Jackson Hole Trading Post & Gem Mine, the self proclaimed, "#1 activity to do in Highlands in the rain". It is a unique experience where kids can find treasures to brighten any rainy day. To learn more about the Jackson Hole Gem Mine, click here.

Fun Factory in Franklin offers a variety of fun and games including Virtual Reality games, arcade games, go karts, laser tag and more. To learn more, click here

Playgrounds & Green Spaces

Enjoying a beautiful day in Highlands is easy!

The Highlands Civic Center is home to a playground and an outdoor skate park, so bring your wheels. There is a covered pavilion with picnic tables for an outdoor picnic after spending time at the playground, skate park, or swimming pool. 

Kelsey-Hutchinson Founders Park is a beautiful place to enjoy a to-go meal from a nearby restaurant. Picnic tables dot the green space, and public restrooms are available. During the warmer months, spend your Saturday checking out the Highlands Market in the morning and return in the evening to take in an Outdoor Concert Series show. Located in the heart of town, there’s usually something happening in this park. 

Cliffside Lake Recreation Area is just four miles from Highlands and is a great place to spend time with family outdoors. Swim, fish, hike, picnic and enjoy spending time in the great outdoors. For more information on Cliffside Lake, click here.

Close to town, Harris Lake Park is a lovely spot for a picnic, fishing and to watch its resident ducks play.

Harris Lake

Family-Friendly Dining 

Check out some of these delicious kid-friendly spots to eat in Highlands! 

Four65 has wood-fired pizzas and a kid-friendly menu. 

Highlands Burrito is quick and offers fantastic options for little ones. 

The Secret Garden and Fressers Courtyard Café & Catering have kid-friendly options and are located adjacent to Kelsey-Hutchinson Founders Park, making it easy to enjoy your meal outside.

Highlands Smokehouse is a barbecue restaurant with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. 

Blue Bike Cafe is great breakfast spot with kids items and indoor and outdoor seating. 

Highlands Pizza Place is just what it says it is and more; they also offer sandwiches and salads. 

Offering “elevated pub food,” The Ugly Dog Public House is fun for the whole family. The kids will surely like the pictures of pups on its walls – or the real deal on its patio. On Wednesday nights stop in to enjoy live bluegrass! 

The Hideaway at the High Dive is a great spot during the day to bring kids and grab a casual bite to eat. The Hideaway has a covered dining section with picnic tables and corn hole.

Looking for a healthy snack? Whole Life Market and Nectar Juice Bar offers delicious smoothies, juices, acai bowls and other healthy options. For a sweet treat, stop by Kilwin's, Fiesta Ice Cream or Edelweiss

Ice Cream Kids

Other family-friendly dining options in Highlands include:

Los Vaqueros Mexican Restaurant
Rainforest Bar & Grill
Mountain Fresh Grocery


Family Shopping

Shopping along and near Main Street in Highlands is a must-do. Check out these stores when shopping with or for the family. Highlands Kids, located on Main Street offers baby and children’s clothing and toys. Find outdoor attire and more at Highland Hiker or Bear Mountain Outfitters.