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NC mountain town ranks No. 1 in country: Travel + Leisure

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NC mountain town ranks No. 1 in country: Travel + Leisure

Highlands — in Western North Carolina — ranks as the nation’s best mountain town.

Nik Shuliahin via Unsplash

A North Carolina destination boasts “breathtaking” views — and is the best mountain town in the United States, a new report finds.

Highlands ranks No. 1 on a list of small mountain towns that are brimming with activities and places to stay, according to results published Tuesday, Aug. 22.

To create the list, Travel + Leisure magazine said it considered places across the country that had fewer than 25,000 residents. It divided the small towns into seven categories, including those known for mountains, beaches, lakes, deserts, food and culture, spas and wellness, and “wine, beer + spirits.”

Travel + Leisure said each winning destination had to “excel in its category and offer a variety of activities, accommodations, and a timely reason to visit — be it a notable new festival, hotel, restaurant, attraction, or tourism initiative.” The magazine turned to travel experts for nominations before editors chose their top places.

Why was Highlands named the best mountain town?

Highlands — roughly 75 miles southwest of Asheville — was praised for its “remote yet still accessible” location. It’s known as a gateway to the wilderness of the Nantahala National Forest but is within a few hours’ drive of major Southern cities.

“Highlands is a summer retreat for those looking to escape the humidity and a year-round haven for hiking, waterfall spotting, art, music, and top-tier dining and hospitality experiences,” the magazine wrote in its report.

The town of under 2,000 people made its mark earlier this year, when three of its resorts ranked near the top of another Travel + Leisure list. Visitors to Highlands can expect a “slower pace, access to natural beauty and outdoor activities, and a charming Main Street lined with local shops and restaurants,” the latest report said.

If you’re considering a vacation, Vivian Littlejohn of Half-Mile Farm told Travel + Leisure that Highlands in the fall is “breathtaking, with every color leaf you can imagine.” But the magazine said there are reasons to go even sooner, including “near-perfect” summer weather and a live music series that runs through October.

Travel + Leisure only listed a winner and runner-up for each category. After Highlands, the nation’s second-highest ranking mountain town was Red Lodge, Montana.

North Carolina destinations didn’t earn recognition in the other six categories that Travel + Leisure considered, results show.

Simone Jasper is a reporter covering breaking stories for The News & Observer and real-time news in the Carolinas.

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