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Three Kid-Friendly Hikes near Highlands, North Carolina

dad and son on trail to Secret Falls near Highlands, NC

Hiking is one of the best ways to check out the natural beauty of a destination. However, finding a trail that offers stunning scenery that is also kid-friendly can sometimes be a challenge. We’ve got our three favorite kid-friendly hikes near Highlands, North Carolina here for you.

We recently made a long weekend trip to Highlands, North Carolina. We loved checking out the adorable downtown area, but we made sure to spend plenty of time outdoors. Hiking is one of our favorite ways to explore a destination, so naturally, we checked out the trails in Highlands.

Secret Falls Trail

About the Secret Falls Trail

This hike is a 0.7 mile out and back (1.4 mile total) to, you guessed it, Secret Falls.  This relatively flat hike was an extremely manageable for kids, with only a few inclines- most of which are on the way back.  The elevation gain is only 327 feet, so its pretty easy for little legs.  Our daughter (4) made the entire trek on her own and gave it “100 thumbs up”.

There are two small water crossings, one requires walking over a log and the other has several rocks you can use as stepping stones .  The chilly water is only a few inches deep, so you could easily just walk through it during the summer.  

Once you reach the falls, there is a decent amount of space for the kids to walk around and play.  You can swim here during the summer, but there was no way it was happening for us in early March.  

hiking toward Secret Falls near Highlands, NC with kids
hiking to Secret Falls

Difficulty of Secret Falls Trail with Kids

We ranked this hike ranked a 1 out of 5.  (see below for our scale)

Getting There

Getting to Secret Falls Trail only takes about 15 minutes from downtown Highlands, at least half of which is down a gravel road that seems to lead to nowhere.  It is easy to miss the trailhead.  As you drive up it is on your right, almost behind you due to the positioning from road. Be prepared and look at the maps beforehand, as cell service can be spotty.

Sunset Rock Trail

About the Sunset Rock Trail

This easy trail, just on the edge of town is much more of a leisurely walk than a hike- even for little kids.  The 0.8 mile trail leads you from the base of town up a gravel road for most of the distance.  Cars are allowed on the road, so make sure to keep an eye out.

As you approach the top you come to the short path leading to the Sunset Rock lookout.  From here you can get a bird’s eye view of town below and the mountainous backdrop.  

As you might imagine, this can be a crowded spot at sunset, so be prepared. We went during the early morning hours and had the place to ourselves.

toddler at Sunset Rock overlook in Highlands, NC
Overlook | Sunset Rock

Difficulty of Sunset Rock Trail with Kids

This is an easy 1 out of 5.  One thing we did notice, is that due to the wide road, our daughter moved at a much slower pace, as it was easy to get distracted.  

Getting There

The trailhead for Sunset Rock is located directly off of Highway 64, directly across from the botanical gardens at the edge of town.  

Whiteside Mountain Hike

About the Whiteside Mountain Trail

Whiteside Mountain Trail is one the most well-known in Highlands, NC.  We read in multiple places not to take kids, but after further investigation, we decided to give it a chance.  

Our main concern was safety. Most of the lookouts have barriers, so we weren’t as concerned once we learned that.  Honestly, this hike seemed fairly kid friendly in our opinion.  We saw multiple families with young children on the trail.

The 2.2 mile loop makes a 545 foot elevation gain.  Although steep in places, it isn’t a technical hike.  Our four year old daughter completed the entire hike with no problem.  

Once you ascend the stairs from the parking lot and walk a short bit, you come to the fork in the trail and notice several large boulders to your left.  As the trail is a loop, you have two options for which way to go.

From here, you can go left for an easier, more gradual walk to the top.  However, this means your hike down will be much harder and more technical.  We would suggest going to the right and up the steps.  Although this is the steeper route to the top, the trek back down will be so much easier.  This is especially true with smaller kids.  

Once you reach the top, there are multiple overlooks with views extending over the surrounding valley.  The cliffs you are standing on have a 700 foot drop to valley floor below.  

***Although there are railings, I would consider them more of a line of demarcation rather than a stable fence on which to lean.  Just keep an eye on the kids, making sure they don’t get too close.  

gorgeous views of the valley below from the Whiteside Mountain Trail near Highlands, NC
gorgeous views | Whiteside Mountain Trail

Difficulty of the Whiteside Mountain Trail with Kids

We ranked the Whiteside Mountain trail a 3 out of 5.  This is mostly due to the elevation gains more than any technicality issues.  

Getting There

From Highlands, follow Highway 64 toward Cashiers. You’ll go through a neighborhood, ending at the parking area. The drive only takes about 12 minutes. The parking lot for the trail fills up quickly, so I’d get there early.  There is also a $3 per day usage fee.  It’s an honor system, so just leave your money at the pay station near the trailhead.  

Our Trail Ranking Scale

Our trail ranking goes from 1 (that was a breeze) to 5 (never again!). This is always based on how easy the hike is with kids, as fitness levels for adults can vary. Our kids are used to hiking with us, but we try to focus our rankings on safety and technicality of the hike.

Looking for hikes near our hometown of Nashville? Check out this post on Greeter Falls.

Leave us a note to let us know your favorite kid-friendly hike near Highlands, North Carolina.

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