Family Fun on the Plateau

04 Apr 2024

Opportunities for adventure are endless


The Highlands-Cashiers Plateau is a unique and beautiful place for families to stay and explore. The area is well known for its natural beauty, boasting waterfalls and hiking trails at every turn, including Whiteside Mountain, Gorges State Park, Whitewater Falls, Panthertown Valley, Silver Run Falls and many more. But that’s just the beginning. Read on to learn about some surprising hidden gems for family fun in and around our lovely mountains.

The Village Green is one of Cashiers’ biggest treasures. Executive Director Ashlie Mitchell says that “ exploring our 13+ acre park. They can ride their trikes and bikes on the trails, discover critters in our wetlands, and take in nature among the birds on our newly rebuilt Boardwalk.”  There are also beautiful gardens with native, seasonal plantings, and 8 towering sculptures scattered throughout the grounds, as well as a covered pavilion with picnic tables and charcoal grills. Younger children love Village Play, a castle-inspired play area with swings, monkey bars, forts, poles, and balance challenges.   One of the newest additions to the Green is Storywalk, an interactive trail experience where families can “read along and move along” with a children’s story book.

All the events hosted by The Village Green are designed to be family-friendly, ranging from 4th of July fireworks to the Village Nature Series, to the Wednesday Farmer’s Market. The Calendar of Events can be found on their website (, but a fan favorite is Groovin’ on the Green, held every Friday night at 6 beginning on May 24th. The crowd-pleasing bands always play familiar tunes that are sure to get everyone dancing out on the lawn. There are food and beverage vendors, and every concert features “Kids Zones” where the kids can run around and throw balls, play tag, and enjoy the open space.

Not to be left out, Highlands offers its own kid-friendly live music. Families can take in free outdoor concerts every Friday and Saturday evening beginning May 17th through October 12th. Mark your calendars for “Friday Night Live” at the Town Square on Main Street or “Saturdays on Pine” held at Kelsey-Hutchinson Founders Park where you can hear local and regional musicians perform all season long.

Another amazing way for families to explore nature together is through Bigelow’s Botanical Excursions ( Adam Bigelow, a botanist and horticulturist, leads slow walks in the woods, teaching about native plants and wildflowers and telling stories about indigenous folk ways. His goal is to reconnect people with nature, and to educate them about plants and their connection to us. “Almost anyone can do these walks,” he says.  “We’ll wander in the woods for 2 hours, and at the end of the walk, we’re only 20 minutes from where we parked.”

Bigelow combats what he calls “plant blindness” by awakening people’s desire to explore and see the beauty and significance of the abundant plant life in the area.  He gears his talks to the ages and interests of the participants, noting that younger kids are quickly fascinated and awestruck by what they see, and teens particularly enjoy learning about poisonous plants and exploding seed pods. Bigelow’s walks take place on Fridays from March to October, with morning and afternoon options. He is also available for private group walks at a location of the group’s choosing. He recommends joining his email list ( to learn about the location of the weekly walks, as well as other presentations and workshops.

The Highlands Biological Station is a must-see for families. It features a research and teaching lab, a nature center and natural history museum, and a 12-acre garden with trails and boardwalks, including a bog with carnivorous plants!  The Nature Center is an interactive experience that features an exploration room for younger kids with labeled specimens and a microscope, an x-ray machine for examining birds and reptiles, a fluorescent rock exhibit, and a reading corner. Holly Theobald, Lead Education Specialist, says she’s seen children tell stories and make movies on their phones after examining a pair of butterfly wings. Another section of the Nature Center features live snakes, turtles, salamanders, toads, crawfish, and snails.  There is also a gift shop and a large exhibit room filled with Cherokee artifacts and history, local geology, and a display about the forest canopy.  On Tuesday nights, visitors can enjoy fun programs like Going Batty, Salamander Meander, and Amazing Moths.

From June through August, the Nature Center offers 4-day nature day camps for children ages 5-13.  Kids participate in nature hikes, “discovery voyages” where the children pick a topic and explore the garden looking for examples, water quality testing, and soil analysis, as well as making crafts and playing games.  Camps fill up fast, so register as early as possible.  Go to their website ( and sign up for their e-newsletter for updates on programming.

The Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, known as PARI, is another amazing site filled with intriguing history and exhibits. Located in the Pisgah National Forest, the site was first used by NASA in 1963 to communicate with satellites and manned space flights over the East coast, then by the Department of Defense from 1981 to 1995, initially to intercept Russian satellite communications during the Cold War. In 1998, it became a research and education facility. It is a certified Dark Sky Park due to its low light pollution. Laura Galloway, in charge of Press Relations, says that “sometimes it’s so dark, it’s scary.” But this makes for exceptional viewing of the Milky Way, meteor showers, and other nighttime sky phenomena.

PARI offers guided gallery tours where people can touch space shuttle artifacts and other objects that have been to space, as well as meteorites that have fallen to earth, and view an extensive collection of rocks and minerals.  Visitors can also explore the campus on foot, take a guided outdoor site and history tour on a shuttle van, and participate in evening optical viewings with a PARI astronomer.  Upcoming events can be found on their website ( and include solar eclipse and meteor shower viewings and Space Day. They also offer one and two-week overnight camps throughout the summer where kids can plan a mission to another planet, learn the research process used by professionals in space science, and explore lunar and Martian geography. The camps are extremely popular, so campers should be registered by early May.

Whitewater Equestrian Center’s trail riding expeditions ( gets rave reviews from visitors. Guides are praised for their focus on safety and how kind and informative they are. Their guided trail rides provide stunning 360-degree views of mountain ranges and lakes, and guests can even ride on the Cherokee Footpath, which has been traveled by the likes of American pioneer Daniel Boone. Guides make the rides fun and educational by focusing on local Native American history. One guest recalls how a guide, who had “walked the entire trail with a young girl, holding onto her horse,” pointed out the different kinds of native mosses, describing how indigenous peoples used them.

Brookings Anglers ( offers everything you need for a fly-fishing adventure.  Families can schedule half or full-day guided trips, but long-time guide Marc Laurin says that a half day is best for families with younger kids. He also suggests choosing the option to fish in private waters because families will have room to spread out and enjoy well-managed waters—and likely catch bigger-than-average fish. To make the most of a trip, children need to be able to safely wade in and out of water, so 8 years old is a good minimum guideline.  All gear and instruction are provided, as well as lunch if guests book a full day of fishing. Brookings also offers float trips and fishing school. Laurin advises booking 1-2 months in advance if possible.

Signal Ridge Marina ( offers pontoon boat rentals for a leisurely day exploring Lake Glenville and its many beautiful coves and waterfalls. They also rent tritoons, which go up to 30 mph and are a good choice for larger groups who want a little more excitement, as well as canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards. Rentals are available on an hourly or daily basis, and dogs are welcome to join the boating party.      

The Highlands Pool Complex is the place to go for swimming. The locker rooms are well-appointed, and the entrance fee is nominal.  It has a shallow wading area for small children, and an extremely popular pool slide for the more adventurous and confident swimmers.  The Highlands Dog Park, as well as Harris Lake Park are located nearby, offering something for everyone – including furry family members. For more details, go to

Other fun spots include The Pines Recreation Area on Lake Glenville, which offers a beautiful sandy beach and swimming area, and Earthshine Lodge, home of the beloved llama hike.  For delicious refreshment, Slabtown Pizza and Crossroads Custard are family favorites.

Village Green Director Ashlie Mitchell sums it up: “I genuinely can't think of a weekend where something isn't going on, and if there isn't...then that's a good signal to just enjoy the outdoors and nature that our village is nestled within!”

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