Highlands is an incorporated town in Macon County in the U.S. state of North Carolina. Located on a plateau in the southern Appalachian Mountains, within the Nantahala National Forest, it lies mostly in southeastern Macon County and slightly in southwestern Jackson County, in the Highlands and Cashiers (pronounced "cashers") townships, respectively. The permanent population was 924 at the 2010 census. The population can swell up to 20,000 during spring to fall.
The official average elevation within town limits is 4,118 feet (1,255 m), making it one of the highest incorporated municipalities east of the Mississippi. The annual rainfall approaches 100 inches (2,500 mm) due to the orographic lifting effect of storms coming from the lower elevations. This rainfall and, counterintuitively, the abundant sunshine, create a lush and verdant microclimate which delights botanists.
Highlands is becoming more and more a two-season community; a summer-season community and an ever growing winter-season community. The summer season (generally March through November) draws large numbers of Southerners from the oppressive summertime heat and humidity found throughout much of the region to enjoy the beautiful mountains, cool days, fine dining, and hometown Main Street experience. More and more the town is increasing its winter season draw through its offering of arts, culinary, holiday and romantic events.
The town is dotted with many antique dealers, a well-known auction house, restaurants (six of which have received awards from Wine Spectator), shops, and inns, as well as several buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. For the performing arts there are four theaters: The Highlands Playhouse (founded in 1938), the Instant Theatre Company (founded in 1981), the Highlands Community Players (founded in 1995), and the Martin-Lipscomb Performing Arts Center, which hosts touring groups. For the visual arts there is The Bascom - A Center for the Visual Arts, a new facility named for the artist and playwright, Louise Rand Bascom Barratt.