• Population: About 1,000 year-round, spikes to about 15,000 in the summer
• Biggest employers: Highlands-Cashiers Hospital, restaurants and accommodations business.
• Miles from downtown Chattanooga: 157
• Geographic features: The town is bordered by the Nantahala National Forest and Pisgah National Forest.
• Date founded: 1875.
• Historic info: In the 1870s, two Kansas developers took a map of the United States and drew a line from Chicago to Savannah and a line from New Orleans to Baltimore. They predicted that the "X" where the lines intersected would become a great commercial crossroads, and they decided to develop a resort town wherever that spot was. The "X" was Highlands.
• Most famous resident: Bobby Jones, successful amateur golfer in the 1920s
and '30s who co-founded the Masters Tournament and helped develop the Highlands Country Club
• Unique characteristics/ fun fact: The town has secured two unusual titles:
"Salamander Capital of the World" and "Lichen Capital of the World."
GLIMPSEOF THE FUTURE
For more tips that will help you find the best things to do in the Chattanooga region, pick up a copy of Glimpse, a travel guide that will be in your newspaper on Friday. Glimpse covers the hottest activities and best-kept secrets in nearly 100 cities across Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina and will be accessible online from TimesFreePress.com.
The mountain town of Highlands is technically located in a rainforest. But picture a rainforest that's the opposite of the sweltering Amazon basin.
The forest is about 20 degrees cooler during the summer months than anywhere in the Southeast. There is little -- if any -- humidity. The cool climate has fostered a lush fairyland of tall pines, laurels, rhododendrons, mosses and ferns.
If this rainforest had an El Dorado, it would be the small but culturally thriving town of Highlands -- beloved by generations of families for its unique gems: Quaint and elegant hotels, upscale eateries, prized golf courses and the most cherished treasure of all -- the sweeping mountain vistas.
Roughing it ... like royalty
• Travel the mountain terrain by foot, by river raft, and by horseback -- or llama back.
• Just because you're in the forest doesn't mean you're in the sticks. Catch a play at the Highlands Playhouse (362 Oak St.) or be serenaded during concerts at the Highlands Cashiers Chamber Music (507 Chestnut St.). The Bascom, the town's new arts center, covers six acres and showcases a collection of regional artists' work (323 Franklin Road).
• Shop for antiques or handcrafted jewelry in the quaint downtown center.
• Sample the town's abundance of restaurants. At least five have been awarded the revered Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.
Highlands Biological Station
The station's botanical garden features almost 500 native species of wildflowers, shrubs and trees in natural forest and wetland environments. It is free and open to the public year-round from sunrise to sunset.
• Visit the Highlands Nature Center to view exhibits about the area's native plant and wildlife. The center is home to live animals that include salamanders and snakes, along with stuffed wildlife such as white squirrels and black bears.
The Nature Center offers nature day camps in the summer for children ages 4-14, and family activities on a daily basis through the summer.
Located at 265 N. Sixth St., in Highlands, it's open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday from May 25 through Labor Day. Admission is free, but program fees may apply.
Source: Highlands Biological Station
Fine meals and merriment
• Culinary Weekend: Come hungry for the town's signature event, held the second weekend in November. Relish wine tastings and gourmet cooking demonstrations by the area's top chefs. Prices vary.
• Christmas Tree Lighting Celebration: The town closes Main Street to traffic on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving. Besides the tree lighting, you can visit with Santa and his elves, sip hot cocoa, and sing Christmas carols. Admission is free.
• The Olde Mountain Christmas Parade is Dec. 7
• In March, make sure to visit on an empty stomach for this community-wide chili cook-off. Tickets are available at the door, children are free.
Fall for the falls
• Drive under Bridal Veil Falls, which spills over old 64 West (located off U.S. 64, 2-1/2 miles west of Highlands); visit the majestic Cullasaja Falls (located off small roadside pull-off along U.S. 64, 9 miles from Highlands); or head to Glen Falls, where a triad of waterfalls cascade 640 feet (located off Highway 106 South about 2 miles from downtown Highlands).
• A light walk will deliver you right behind Dry Falls, where the river plunges off a cliff above (located on Highway 64, 3 miles from Highlands).
• Bust Your Butt Falls in Gorges State Park is a favorite swimming hole and is also home to a boulder that makes the perfect launchpad into the Cullasaja River. (U.S. 64 West from Highlands, 6-1/2 miles from Highlands)
Sources: www.ncwaterfalls.com; www.stayandplayinthesmokies.com