outdoor lounge furniture facing mountains and greenery at high hampton in north carolina

Growing up, I never thought about hiking as a thing — it was just something I did in the acres of hilly woods where I lived. It wasn’t until I was an adult, living in the city and searching for a place to park around popular trailheads, that I realized what a gift it has been to be able to walk out my back door and start hiking. So when I heard that High Hampton, a historic resort in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, had on-site access to real trails (as opposed to walking paths through the woods), I couldn’t get there fast enough.

After three hours in the car, I’m so eager to hit the mountains that, just minutes after checking in, I’ve switched out my clogs for hiking boots and am striding through the lobby, intent on conquering Chimney Top, the most challenging of the resort’s nine hiking trails. “Wait,” says a kindly staff member, who, unasked, offers me a hiking pole and a small daypack already loaded with snacks and water. “It’s my favorite trail but it’s tough!”

overview shot of high hampton surrounded by trees in north carolina
Courtesy of High Hampton

After thanking her for the warning, I hopped onto the trail, a steep but well-marked, thatch-covered ramble through dense woods, over burbling creeks and past huge monoliths. I sailed along a series of switchbacks for the first mile and a half or so, wondering if this was an “ego trail,” that guests were told was challenging but was really just a sweat-inducing walk. But then I hit “The Saddle,” which marked the final uphill mile to Chimney Top’s 4018-foot summit. Less a trail than a river of granite slabs and boulders that looked like they’d fallen off the back of a giant pickup truck, the pathway soared upward, twisting and turning at crazy angles that required an hour of sliding, grasping, and pulling to reach the top. When I returned, sweaty, scuffed, and smiling, my hiking mentor handed me an “I climbed Chimney Top” sticker to mark my achievement.

High Hampton has been described as a summer camp for adults and it’s easy to see why: in addition to miles of trails, the resort’s 1,400 acres are set with tennis and pickleball courts, a Tom Fazio-designed golf course, a pool, and a croquet lawn. During the warmer months, the lake is the center of the action with boating, fishing, and even old-school swimming platforms where teens can scheme out of earshot of their parents. Summer is when the resort’s more than 600 dahlia plants explode into bloom, transforming the garden into a kaleidoscope of pink, scarlet, orange, and pale yellow starbursts that last  until the first frost.

The resort’s main building, an Adirondack-style structure with deep, welcoming porches, a sloping ceiling, and shagbark exterior, looks the part as well. But the resemblance to camp ends there. Though rough-hewn paneling and a mighty stone fireplace remain from the original inn, today, the living room is dotted with elegant furnishings arranged into comfortable seating areas. In the chestnut-lined dining room, sleek sapphire-hued chandeliers and clean-lined chairs add a subtle dose of modernity. At the bar, bottles and glassware are set in front of a clear glass wall that looks out onto the leafy scene outside.

a closeup of a food and drink spread at high hampton in north carolina
Courtesy of High Hampton

And then there’s the food. Ninety minutes after returning to the hotel, showered and changed, I was sipping a glass of Champagne and eagerly awaiting a five-course dinner created by Executive Chef Scott Franqueza, whose resume includes stints at Café Boulud and Per Se in New York as well as at Blackberry Farm in Tennessee. The menu, a delicious high-low mix that included dishes such as deviled eggs with caviar and beef short ribs served alongside exotic King Trumpet mushrooms, which resembled props from the Jurassic Park movie but had been carefully roasted and were remarkably delicious. Dessert, poufs of matcha frozen yogurt and chocolate mousse sandwiching a round of crunchy sesame candy, had been created by Franqueza’s wife April, a Culinary Institute of America-trained pastry chef with her own impressive resume. It was a about as far from camp fare as I could imagine.

Breakfast at High Hampton is a comforting collection of all the things you love about breakfast in the south — mile-high biscuits and gravy, mountains of bacon, buttery grits — along with less traditional (but equally delicious) newcomers such as avocado toast and a breakfast salad with a fried egg. No matter which direction you go, a homemade pastry large enough to be a meal is served as an amuse-bouche.

overview shot of a mountain surrounded by greenery next to a body of water near high hampton in north carolina
Courtesy of High Hampton

The land that surrounds High Hampton was for decades a beloved lakeside retreat for South Carolina’s Hampton family, who rode horses, fished, hunted, and planted a huge variety of plants and trees. Sold in 1922, the new owners opened a 25-room inn on the property (in 1924). By the 1930s, they’d built the current Adirondack-style structure and added a variety of activities. Before long, High Hampton was attracting Vanderbilts and Margaret Truman for summer stays in the cool North Carolina mountains.

By the early aughts, High Hampton had lost much of its luster; in 2017, a group that included Blackberry Farm’s Sandy Beall, purchased the resort and closed it for a full renovation. It emerged in 2021 refreshed and renewed but with its spirit, as well as many of the inn’s beautiful details and lovely traditions, happily intact. Guests will also find that the inn has added air conditioning, heat, an elevator, and other “modern” amenities. Staff members are warm and welcoming; in addition to my hiking mentor ensuring that I didn’t traipse into the woods unsupplied, when I realized I had missed the nightly wine tasting, the resort’s sommelier darted into the kitchen to get me a glass of sparkling rose.

a room with two beds at high hampton in north carolina
Courtesy of High Hampton

High Hampton’s 59 rooms are located within the inn and cottages; each is unique but all feature rustic wood furnishings set off with bright fabrics, modern art, and oversized white bathrooms. Vintage furnishings — wooden chairs and trunks, for instance, many of which were part of the original décor – have found new lives as accent pieces in bathrooms and hallways. There are no televisions but wifi coverage is excellent.

Somehow, with all that acreage and all those hiking trails, High Hampton is just a half-mile from the village of Cashiers, a busy but walkable crossroads filled with shops, restaurants, coffeehouses, and galleries in every direction. At the historic Village Green, there are free concerts, farmers markets, art shows, and a nature series with presentations by local experts.

This part of North Carolina is also dotted with waterfalls — so many that they have their own map. Head to Whitewater Falls, a 411-foot wonder, for the sheer spectacle or to Dry Falls, where you can walk behind the rushing wall of water. If the day is hot, consider taking the hour-long drive to Sliding Rock, a 60-foot-long natural water slide that ends with a plunge in an icy pool of fresh mountain water. There are also hiking trails galore, white-water rafting, rock climbing, and fly fishing along the Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail. If you crave nurture over nature, the town of Highlands, with its shop-filled downtown, botanical garden, and art center, is a pretty 20-minute drive along a winding mountain road.

The closest airport to High Hampton is Asheville Regional Airport; the beautiful 49-mile trip takes nearly 90 minutes. The resort is about a two-hour drive from Greenville, South Carolina and three from Charlotte.

Featured image courtesy of High Hampton