Long a refuge for Southerners looking to escape the heat, the Cashiers (pronounced CASH-erz) plateau is the sort of place generations of families return to year after year.
In addition to attracting repeat summer vacationers, second homebuyers and retirees, the North Carolina mountain town is an increasingly popular year-round getaway that's also a perfect spot to get away from crowds during the pandemic, especially if you're looking for winter serenity. The region's many waterfalls are arguably more magnificent frozen, and there are plenty of rental properties to cozy up in — which offer lower prices in the popular summertime spot's "secret season." Cashiers' year-round population is only around 200, but swells to more than 25,000 during its peak season of May-October.
What to do:
Cashiers' most popular hike is Whiteside Mountain, a moderate 2-mile loop located off Highway 64 about 4.6 miles west of town. Panoramic views can be seen from various vantage points along the trail, which takes about an hour to hike. Condé Nast Traveler — which named Whiteside among the country's top 26 fall hikes — recommends keeping an eye out for the peregrine falcons that nest among the cliffs.
The Cashiers area is known for its waterfalls, and they are just as spectacular in the winter. Bridal Veil Falls, shown in the movie "The Last of the Mohicans," is located just off the highway and is the easiest to reach. Silver Run Falls is a flat, easy hike located about 4 miles from Cashiers, and Whitewater Falls — the highest waterfall east of the Rockies — can be viewed from an upper overlook accessed via a paved trail, or from a lower overlook reached by 154 wooden stairs.
Gear up for your hiking adventures or get trail recommendations at Highland Hiker, an outfitter with locations in Cashiers and nearby Highlands. With advance notice, the store also offers guided fly fishing expeditions in the area, which is renowned for the year-round activity.
Or, book a trail ride at Arrowmont Stables, which offers horseback riding daily for most of the year, aside from mid-January through mid-February.
Skiing and snow tubing are perfect activities for social distancing, and Sapphire Valley is a great family-oriented resort ideal for small children and first-timers. Target opening day this year is Dec. 12, though the resort won't be offering winter runs on its Vordach Zip Line Experience, which is closed for upgrades.
Cashiers' Village Green Park hosts 80 events a year on its 13.2 acres, located in the heart of town at the intersection of Highway 64 and Highway 107. While many events have gone virtual due to the pandemic, the park will still boast twinkling lights and festive decor from Thanksgiving weekend through New Year's Day.
Consider making it an annual tradition to drive up to the mountains and pick out a Christmas tree from one of several farms in the area dedicated to growing them, such as Tom Sawyer Christmas Tree Farm. Make it a day trip or stay the night somewhere with a fireplace. Just be sure to tie your tree down tight for the winding road back to Chattanooga.
Where to stay:
A search on Airbnb.com or VRBO.com will yield dozens of short-term rental properties in the area, and Sapphire Valley Resort offers direct vacation rentals in a variety of breathtaking settings.
Family owned and operated since 1995, Laurelwood Inn is a mainstay for those looking for traditional lodging. Located within walking distance of the shops and restaurants downtown, the quaint mountain lodge offers rooms, suites and an on-site cabin with full kitchens, gas fireplaces and whirlpool tubs among the available amenities.
If you're traveling with pets, check out Hotel Cashiers for spacious rooms with modern flair in what is billed as a boutique mountain lodging destination in the heart of Cashiers. Winter guests save 10% when staying three or more nights.
Where to eat:
Buck's Coffee Cafe offers coffee and espresso drinks, breakfast, lunch, beer, wine and small bites year-round in a casual, comfortable atmosphere with free Wi-Fi. Cozy up next to the mountain stone fireplace with a frozen latte and warm chocolate muffin before the 6 p.m. closing time.
The Orchard features gourmet fare in a relaxed setting. Take in the orchard and garden views from the restored 100-year-old farmhouse while indulging in entrees like rosemary seared venison loin wrapped in applewood-smoked bacon and topped with brie, caramelized apples and a port wine reduction. Most of the extensive menu's Southern selections, wines and beers — available by the case — can also be ordered to go, along with provisions including PEI mussels, bacon-wrapped quail breasts and chanterelle mushrooms, all the way down to (almond) milk. While open year-round, winter hours mean limited weekday availability.
Slab Town Pizza serves up stellar pies on handmade dough, along with calzones, sandwiches and other casual fare elevated by seasonal ingredients. Choose from special selections like the White Pizza with sausage, red onions, arugula, ricotta and panna sauce, or create your own. Open every day except Monday, the restaurant closes at 8 p.m., so don't expect a nightcap, though beer and wine are available.
Whiteside Brewing Co. features a handful of its ales year-round plus a rotating selection of seasonal brews alongside bar bites, burgers and sandwiches. Along with five other breweries in Sylva and Dillsboro, both located about 45 minutes away, it's part of the Jackson County Ale Trail. Conveniently located next to Laurelwood Inn, owned by the same couple, Whiteside offers walkability should you find you've downed too many by the 8 or 9 p.m. closing time.
Known as "The Heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains," Cashiers is sure to draw even more attention with the April 2021 reopening of the storied High Hampton Resort. Currently undergoing a full renovation by the team behind the beloved Blackberry Farm and Blackberry Mountain, the historic resort is now booking reservations for April 2021 and beyond, with options ranging from inn and cabin rooms to entire cabins.
The charm of the nearly 100-year-old architecture and design of High Hampton, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, will be retained in the upgrades, including enlarging each guest room and bathroom and installing central heat and air. Amenities of the 1,400-acre property include a spa with six treatment rooms, a calendar of seasonal activities, a 35-acre private lake for swimming, boating and fishing, as well as 15 miles of hiking trails, a swimming pool, tennis courts, a fitness center and an 18-hole scenic mountain golf course being redesigned by top golf course architect Tom Fazio.
General Manager Scott Greene says the renovation design features a mix of original antiques and updated vintage pieces. Art from the inn's archives is combined with modern pieces reflecting High Hampton traditions — such as dahlias painted by a local artist in reference to the resort's award-winning, century-old dahlia garden, and botanicals of buds from its "champion trees." More than a dozen trees at High Hampton are considered "champions" by the nonprofit American Forests' National Big Tree Program, which bestows the honor on the nation's largest trees.
Blackberry Farm and Blackberry Mountain co-founder and Chairman Sandy Beall first visited High Hampton nearly 40 years ago, back in 1982. He enjoyed it so much that he purchased a home there, owned since 1922 by the McKee family — the previous owners of High Hampton — and recently partnered with Arlington Family Offices and Daniel Communities to restore the iconic Cashiers destination.
"High Hampton is a place like no other, and really no comparison to Blackberry with its century-old buildings, host of traditions and laid-back atmosphere," Greene says. "The design is an ode to its rich heritage, with charming historical features honored and preserved, while also revitalized and upgraded, offering guests a haven of refined yet camp-like comfort with spectacular views of the surrounding property."
To be open year-round beginning in April, seasonal rates for winter and spring start at $395 per night for double occupancy and include breakfast, dinner and access to amenities. For more information or to book, visit highhampton.com.