The Highlands Plateau Greenway is a five-mile loop of trails in Highlands, North Carolina, that link natural, cultural, and historic sites. While the greenway doesn't gain much elevation along its course, you can enjoy spectacular alpine scenery throughout your hike in the aptly named Highlands, the highest incorporated town east of the Mississippi River.
A great place to start your journey on the Highlands Plateau Greenway is the Highlands Recreation Park, which offers ample parking and several amenities, including an off-leash dog park! From there, you and your dog can head northwest on the greenway to the scenic Mirror Lake or east to take a loop around downtown Highlands and Ravenel Lake.
As you pass through downtown, you'll follow parts of the trail dedicated to the arts. These include a read-aloud "Story Walks" section and the Winkler Sculpture and Nature Trail, a section of the greenway that features outdoor sculptures and art installations. At its endpoints, the Highlands Plateau Greenway links with other trails, including the Kelsey Trail and the Rhododendron Trail. To the southeast, you can take the greenway to another scenic spot, Sunset Rock, which provides a beautiful view of Highlands and the surrounding mountains and forests.
Just because the Highlands Plateau Greenway passes through a downtown area doesn't mean it's not wild! Many sections of the greenway loop through dense sections of temperate rainforest. Oak, hickory, pine, and fir create a thick canopy along much of the route, especially as you approach Ravenel Lake or Sunset Rock. You may pass under natural arches of rhododendron and laurel or spot carnivorous pitcher plants. You'll be surrounded by birdsong, as these woods are home to hundreds of species of birds. Many unique microfauna species also live here. This part of the Appalachian Mountains is home to one of the densest groupings of salamander species in the world.This culturally and naturally rich mountain haven will reward any number of days you spend exploring the outdoors with your pup.