Mountain Adventures and Recreation

Since its earliest days, Highlands has promoted itself as a healthy escape from the stresses of the rest of the world.  Dr. Mary Lapham’s pioneering medical work here in Highlands during that latter part of the 1800s was predicated upon this nugget of wisdom, “Get up and get busy!”  It’s clear that this tiny community has taken the Good Doctor’s advice to heart.

You’ll find an abundance of activities that’ll ensure that you’re following in this cherished Highlands tradition.


The natural setting of our mountains makes golf a grand experience. Tee off with mountain views as a backdrop. Nearby public courses offer nine-hole executive golf courses with traditional par 3 and 4 holes and driving range. Sky Valley Resort and Sapphire National Golf Club are public courses located nearby.



If you want to try something a little less traditional, this game combines two sports, soccer and golf, for the whole family or group of adventurous friends. Sapphire Valley Resort



Soar from the top of the mountain across the valley for astounding views at Highlands Aerial Park in Scaly Mountain, rated by TripAdvisor as one of the Top Ten Outdoor Attractions in North Carolina. With eight zip lines to choose from, glide from canopy to canopy with your harness and helmet buckled tight and the Appalachian Trail in sight. Trained guides will accompany you along your journey through the trees. We recommend calling ahead to schedule a reservation. For more information, call (828) 414-2360 or visit



For breathtaking views of the Nantahala National Forest, take a backcountry, adventure excursion with Highland Excursion.  Spanning approximately 250,000 acres, complete with waterfalls, rivers and mountain views as well as historic buildings, the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau’s natural beauty and history are well-suited for the avid hiker and the modest explorer alike. We recommend dedicating three to four hours to tour. Your four-legged hiking buddy is welcomed, too!  For more information, call (864) 373-4022 or email



If your passion is tennis, visit the Highlands Recreation Center at 600 North Fourth Street and reserve a court. Of course, you can play pickleball there, too – Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.



After chasing waterfalls and watching the streams flow through the mountain, you can dive in for fitness at the Highlands Pool Complex at the Highlands Recreation Center, 600 North Fourth Street. Since the pool is heated and enclosed, it can be enjoyed year-round. Public swim, lap swim, water aerobics, a monthly dive-in movie, and pool parties are all available. Fees range from daily to annual.



The Highlands Recreation Park offers an entire suite of fitness classes – Heart Healthy Exercise, Yoga, Personal Training and Martial Arts.




For a flavor of the Southern Appalachians you won’t find anywhere else, book an excursion on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, based in Bryson City. Trips range from three-and-a-half hours to a full day of fun and adventure. For information, call (828) 8724681 or go to



The Chatooga River can be enjoyed for kayaking and whitewater rafting. Of course, some people enjoy swimming in its little pools and sunning on the occasional patches of sandy shore.  Naturally there’s fly fishing along streams throughout this corner of Macon County. Check with the pros at Brookings and The Highland Hiker for deep insight.



The Whitewater Equestrian Center in Sapphire offers guided rides through backwoods logging trails and the historic Cherokee Footpath. The horses (some of them the legendary Gypsy Vaner) are gentle and wise. For information, call (828) 966-9646 or visit




Got a need for speed? Try tubing at Scaly Mountain Outdoor Center.  Snow’s provided by mother nature and on-site equipment during colder months, and the fun continues into warmer weather as well. Slopes can accommodate young and mature tubers.  For information, call (828) 526-3737 or visit



November through March, you can embark on an ice adventure. As stars glisten in the sky and children’s laughter sings, the ice-skating rink at Kelsey-Hutchinson Founders Park comes alive. If barreling across the rink isn’t your scene, grab a cup of hot chocolate or coffee, and stay toasty as you watch the activity on the ice. It’s like something from a Currier & Ives print, and its heaps of fun whether you’re on the ice or just watching. 

After snowfall, grab your sleds, winter boots and beanies, and head out for a local sledding tradition. Lined with snow-capped trees, Hickory Street transforms into a slope for sliding, gliding and memory-making with the ones you love. For a bit of trivia, that stretch of Hickory Street has been known to generations of Highlands School students (and local adults who still maintain a piece of their childhood) as Monkey Hill.  

If sledding only whets your appetite for snow, slopes, and speed, visit Ski Sapphire Valley in nearby Sapphire for snow skiing.  This resort consists of a 1,600-foot Main Run with a vertical drop of 200 feet, complete with a state-of-the art quad-lift, a Learning Center Slope and a multiple lane, 300-foot snow tubing run. For information, call (828) 743-7663 or visit



Macon County is dotted with pockets of rubies and sapphires. Try your luck panning for gemstones at the family-owned Jackson Hole Trading Post & Gem Mine. Give the tray a shimmy, and watch the sand sift away, leaving an array of enriched and native gems. Experts will help you identify your findings, and, if you happen to be dazzled by one gem in particular, gemstone cutting and jewelry setting services are available onsite. The indoor site makes for the perfect family activity, rain or shine. For more information, call (828) 524-5850 or visit



Highlands Recreation Center has a Skateboard Park of half-pipes and ramps. Also, your Mother was right – Wear a Helmet!



If it’s been raining for a while (Highlands, is a rain forest) and you have a herd of children who’ve been homebound for a bit, you’ll want to remember The Factory in Franklin. It’s loaded with a VR Room, acres of arcade games, mini golf, an indoor carousel, and bumper cars. If the sun’s shining, you and the kids can ride go-karts. For more information, call (828) 349-8888 or visit

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