Generations keep coming back to High Hampton
In the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau of western North Carolina, Mother Nature shows off big, flaunting her allure in the foliage of fir, beech, and cypress towering over crystal creeks in the valleys and in her circling crown of majestic mountains cloaked in ruby, amber, and other jewel hues in autumn, and come summer, every shade of green. When the team behind the recent renovation of the High Hampton Resort in Cashiers started their work, they understood that they’d never be able to outshine their previous project, Tennessee’s lauded Blackberry Farm. So, they didn’t even try. But they did a stellar job of amplifying the beauty that abounds on High Hampton’s 1,400 acres.
Their success lies as much in what they didn’t do as in what they did. Meticulous yet not overly manicured landscaping keeps the feel natural. They freshened and updated accommodations but kept the rustic treehouse and log-cabin look. Much of the craftsmanship of the iconic main structure on the property, the late 1800s building that became the Inn, was untouched; its bark siding, massive four-sided stone fireplace, and wormy chestnut paneled walls were all preserved.
There’s obvious luxury at every turn but nothing approaching opulence, and a soft serenity permeates the grounds. The overall result magnifies the property’s inherent magic, including a strong sense of welcome that’s also a holdover from the original property. It’s this sentiment combined with the scenery that has drawn repeat guests to High Hampton for decades, and this underscores why the new owners were committed to retaining it in the new resort, as general manager Scott Greene explains. “High Hampton has its own unique charm and has been a beloved summer retreat welcoming families for generations,” he says.
“Our goal was to create an authentic sense of place, ensuring that the beloved elements and experiences remain, while providing a warm environment that's rich with connection, support, and inclusivity, welcoming to all and delivered with service that is informed and attentive but not stuffy.”
One seemingly simple addition in the re-imagining of the outdoor spaces is actually a masterstroke: Rows of double chaise lounges (complete with umbrellas for shade) are lined neatly on a lush lawn facing Chimney Tops and Chimney Rock mountains as they look down on glassy Hampton Lake, and the comfy perches beg guests to sit and soak up the postcard-perfect scene.
It’s this same stunning view that’s greeted guests at High Hampton Resort since it opened in 1922, after the McKee family bought it from Caroline Hampton and her husband Dr. William Stewart Halsted, who’d purchased it in the late 1800s. The McKees expanded the property from its original 450 acres and turned an existing structure on the land into the Inn.
For almost a century after, the Resort offered a mountainside escape with friendly service, family style mealtimes, and multiple options for activity, from sinking into a rocker on the wide Inn porch and getting lost in a book or playing a game of checkers in the lobby, to outdoor adventures such as golf, tennis, swimming, canoeing, and hiking. Today, the resort has the same mission and many of the same amenities. The property’s massive “champion” trees still stand sentinel. Bursts of rainbow-hued blossoms still pop in the dahlia garden, first cultivated by Dr. Halsted in the early 1900s. Miles of trails cutting through the forest and up the mountains are still waiting to be traversed.
But every aspect has been elevated, with the addition of modern comforts enhancing the original camp-like ambiance. The rooms in the historic Inn and cottages received full interior facelifts, with air conditioning and bigger bathrooms, keeping their laidback charm while meeting the expectations of today’s travelers.
And there are brand-new elements too: A spa now sits on the Inn’s third floor, offering a wide range of rejuvenating and relaxing treatments, and an inviting pool sits beside the lake. The 18-hole golf course underwent a major overhaul, with a redesign by renowned course architect Tom Fazio that’s challenging enough to test avid golfers without putting off less-skilled players.
The dining was also revamped. While the breakfast and dinner included in guest rates are served in the Inn’s dining room where meals were enjoyed in years past, the dishes now coming out of the resort’s kitchen are a cut above. Greene calls the culinary and wine programs “world class,” and selections such as a salad of shaved fresh veggies slicked with smoked onion jam vinaigrette, Carolina trout with almonds and brown butter, and a sweet finish of heady peach sorbet over delicate pavlova from executive chef Scott Franqueza, back him up.
While an upscale eating experience comes straight out of the owners’ playbook—Blackberry Farm is consistently and highly praised for its food and beverage offerings—credit must also be given to the original Inn designers, who ensured the dining room windows were perfectly placed to frame the property’s signature breath-stealing view of the mountain duo rising above the lake.
Underpinning all the upgrades, additions, and careful conservation of the original property’s character is a dedication to accomplishing the goal Greene outlined—bringing back former guests and attracting first-timers who’ll make their visits a tradition. So far, it’s working. “Since we reopened, we’ve had a host of guests return with stories and photos of when they first visited High Hampton as kids, and they, in turn, are now introducing their own children to the property. Many of the original handwritten guest ledgers are now framed and showcased around the Inn, and it’s wonderful to see guests point out the names of their friends and family,” he says. “It is a joy to welcome back so many.”