a quintessential all-american summer family vacation doesn’t have to include the beach. if mountains, waterfalls, lakes and small-town charm are more up your alley, the highlands-cashiers area of north carolina is the perfect destination. located in the southwest corner of north carolina (nearly at the borders of georgia and south carolina), this plateau in the blue ridge mountains offers the ideal balance of the great outdoors, luxury accommodations and quaint (but sophisticated) shops and restaurants.
the towns of cashiers and highlands are about 10 miles apart (which ends up being about a 20-minute drive). both are equal in charm, with highlands having more of a small-town feel, right down to an authentic main street. another 20-minutes northeast of cashiers is lake toxaway.
located just outside of cashiers, this historic property created a lot of buzz when it reopened a few years ago after a full renovation by the owners of the amazing blackberry farm. guests who stay here also have access to the club along with breakfast and dinner included. we recommend one of the cottages for families. activities range from racquet sports (a big deal here), an amazing pool, water sports (canoeing, stand-up paddle boarding), playgrounds and a kid’s club (available for children ages 5-12 on fridays and saturdays).
the most iconic property in highlands is this 5-star luxury resort that’s perfect for both families and couples. the sprawling property is located just behind main street. the lodge and falls cottages have larger suites (including 2-bedrooms) that work well for families. the residences have 3-4 bedrooms with a full kitchen and a washer and dryer. for those traveling with a large group or multiple families, the 10-bedroom fairview home is your spot! they know how to make children feel pampered — with complimentary milk & cookies waiting in your room upon arrival. the fabulous concierge team can arrange everything from movies on the lawn and babysitting services to picnics for hikes.
a destination for everything you could ever want on a family vacation. nestled along lake toxaway, guests can enjoy every water sport imaginable, as well as access to the neighboring country club facilities (also ask about a temporary guest membership to the club). along the property are beautiful home rentals and spa facilities.
rent a house
beautifully designed by whitney mcgregor, the halsted house is a gem that’s located between cashiers and highlands. it makes for a peaceful family getaway with a breathtaking view off the screened-in porch.
a must for lunch or dinner whether or not you’re staying at old edwards inn. they offer a children’s menu and the staff is super-accommodating for picky eaters! during the summer, we love to dine outside in the wine garden, with a lovely view of a waterfall.
a go-to for stocking up on groceries if you’re renting a house. they also have a pizzeria and grill for takeout. the breakfast sandwiches are perfect fuel before a morning hike, the gourmet sandwiches make an easy on-the-go lunch and the prepared dinners often sell out — so get there early or order online!
in cashiers, this place is known for some of the best barbeque in the south. go here for lunch after you work up an appetite post-hike. then, cross the street to whiteside brewing company for a refreshing local craft beer — while the little ones play on the lawn.
ideal for a casual lunch or dinner. this is a local institution with outposts in highlands and cashiers.
the best fine dining on main street in highlands — and perfect for date night.
another favorite romantic spot, situated on lake sequoyah with amazing views. before dinner, stop by hummingbird lounge for live music and hand-crafted cocktails. after, stop by highlands tavern for a good old-fashioned local pub experience.
a special bakery for those (little and big) with a sweet tooth. they have hands-down the best baked goods, with donuts you’ll be dreaming about.
add to your list: cornucopia (for cozy brunch in cashiers), the library kitchen & bar (between cashiers and lake toxaway), blue bike café (for breakfast in highlands), bucks coffee (in cashiers) and the ruffed grouse tavern (an english pub connected to the highlander mountain house)
a big draw to the area are the gorgeous hiking trails. whiteside mountain is a 1.5 mile loop with incredible views. sunset rock is an easy and family friendly trail that is popular for hiking, birding and mountain biking. dry falls is located just outside of town in highlands and has a nice walking path to see the waterfalls. secret falls is a 50-foot waterfall on big creek that has a serene pool for cooling off. silver run falls is a short walk that’s close to cashiers (and there’s a secret waterfall just above it!).
aside from the mountains, the area is equally known for it’s amazing golf. the resorts offer access to different clubs for guests (old edwards club, the club at high hampton and lake toxaway country club).
rent a boat
guests who stay at the greystone inn can reserve their beautiful wooden boat, miss lucy, for the afternoon and sunset cocktails. there other boat rentals on lake toxaway for water skiing and tubing with the family.
take a day trip to the buzzy city of asheville (about 1.5 hours away). check out the orchard sessions, a series of live music events during the summer at old edwards inn & spa. for the family who loves to create memories with experiences, book a private rainforest eco tour through highland excursion to discover secret mountain spots and waterfalls while riding in an open-air adventure vehicle.
family-friendly traveling tips
- the hotels listed in our travel guide offer cribs and pack-n-plays, rollaways, highchairs and booster chairs — just arrange through the concierge.
- the closest airport is in asheville (about 90 minutes away) or Atlanta (just under 3 hours away). we definitely recommend renting a car!
- even during the summer, the mornings and evenings are a bit cooler. pack sweaters for layering! also, don’t forget to pack everyone's rain jackets for an unexpected afternoon shower. fun fact: the highlands area is a temperate rainforest (one of the few in north america).
- prepare to unplug for a bit! there is wifi, but cell service can be spotty in the mountains. enjoy it!
arbiter travel co. is a full-service boutique luxury travel consultancy led by lauren tulp cichocki. as a mom of two, she specializes in family travel and curating the best vacation. lauren and her team of agents can assist with everything you need for your visit to the mountains — from accommodations to restaurants and activities.