Nature Center


SalamanderHighlands Nature Center was founded as the museum of the Highlands Biological Station in 1927, and was originally housed as an annex to the Hudson Library. Its present home, the Clark Foreman Museum building, was constructed between 1939 and 1941 by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) using native granite from the local quarry and wormy chestnut salvaged from the Nantahala National Forest. Following a renovation in 2001, the Nature Center now offers exhibits and year-round educational programming focusing on the biodiversity of the southern Appalachian region. Programming includes pre-K-12 outreach, special events and daily activities during the summer that are open to the general public, as well as summer nature camps for ages 4 to 14. Younger campers explore the outdoors and learn about plants and animals through a variety of activities and games. Older campers conduct scientific research, develop team-building skills, and observe nature on adventure field trips into the Nantahala National Forest.    


Highlands Nature Center is a member of NC Grassroots Science Museums Collaborative.


current hours of operation:

We are currently closed for the winter except for school outreach programming.

Botanical Garden Trails are open every day until sunset.

address and phone number:

930 Horse Cove Road / PO Box 580, Highlands, NC 28741

(828) 526-2623




Below you will find the schedule for our daily programming and special events.  For information about school outreach programming and special events, please visit the link below in the “links” section.


school outreach 


summer camps

summer programs  |  printable schedule of events

programs for adults

biodiversity in the southern Appalachians

nature notes

species lists:  mammals     |     amphibians     |     reptiles     |     birds





2014 Summer Weekly Programming (May 26-Aug. 16)

All programs take place at the Highlands Nature Center and Botanical Garden, 930 Horse Cove Road, and are free to the public unless otherwise noted.







Botanical Garden Tour


All ages

Join us on a guided, themed walk along the Garden trails to learn more about the beautiful native flowers and plants of the southern Appalachians.  More information.


Family Nature Activity


Ages 4+

Activities vary weekly but may include critter searches, discovery walks, nature studies and games, or crafts.  $1 per person.


Storybook Science Program


All ages

Come for a nature lesson based around a children’s storybook, and see and touch an interesting item from the Nature Center!


Zahner Lectures



Sponsored by HBF (June 19-Sept. 4). Weekly evening seminars presented by scientists, historians, artists, and writers on a variety of environmental topics.


Animal Feeding Time


All ages

Come and observe what each of the Nature Center’s animals eat and learn how they feed!


Featured Creature


All ages

Learn more about one of the Nature Center’s live animals up close!


2014 Schedule of Special Events

All special events take place at the Highlands Nature Center and Botanical Garden, 930 Horse Cove Road.  Advanced registration (828.526.2623) is required for some events due to limited space.  Educators can receive science CEU or criteria II NC EE credit.  Call for details.


April 22 “Earth Day Conservation Lecture” 7:00-8:00pm, all ages, free

Patrick Brannon, Nature Center director, will be presenting a talk on the impact of discarded bottles along our mountain roads on the mortality of small mammals.  Learn simple ways to help save the shrews!  Each year, many shrews and rodents enter bottles in search of food or water and become entrapped, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of animals over time.  Mr. Brannon will discuss the research he and his students have done to examine the severity of this phenomenon in our region, and how you can help alleviate the problem.   Appropriate for all ages, free.


May 30  “Know Your Frogs”  8:30-9:30pm, ages 7-adult

Come for a presentation about regional frog species.  Learn to identify species of frogs visually and by their calls.  People are invited to stay after the presentation to search for frogs and to participate in a scientific survey of calling frogs at the Station.  $5 per person.  Advanced registration is required.  Don’t forget your flashlight.


June 12  “Owl Prowl”  7:30pm-?,  all ages

In collaboration with the Highlands Plateau Audubon Society.  Come to the amphitheatre for a presentation by the Carolina Raptor Center (CRC) featuring live owls.  Afterwards, stay for a night hike to find owls in the wild.  Don’t forget your flashlight.  Free, but contributions to CRC are appreciated.

*please note that parking is extremely limited for this event; visitors are encouraged to carpool or walk from downtown parking.

* in the event of rain, limited indoor seating will be on a first-come, first-serve basis


June 27  “Nature by Night”  9:00-10:00pm, ages 6-adult

Learn about adaptations of nocturnal animals through a variety of fun games, activities, and observations along the garden trails.  Bring a flashlight!  $3 per person, advanced registration is requested due to limited space.


July 11 11th annual “Salamander Meander”  9:00-10:00pm, ages 7-adult

Join herpetologists on a night search to observe some of the area’s magnificent salamanders in the wild.  Bring a flashlight!  $5 per person.  Advanced registration is required due to limited space.


Aug. 1 “Snakes of the Highlands Region”  7:00-8:30pm, all ages

Come for an educational program featuring live snakes!  Herpetologist and Nature Center Director Patrick Brannon will present a talk on local snake species.  Learn snake identification, natural histories, and common misconceptions about them.  $2 per person.  Advanced registration is not required, but please note that seating is limited.


Oct. 4 “Fall Leaf Colors” family program 2:00-4:00pm

Activities will focus on how leaves change color, deciduous versus coniferous trees, and winter survival strategies of each.  Afterwards, visitors will be led on a walk through the Botanical Garden to identify many species of trees by leaf type, shape, and color.  Fun and educational for all ages; cost is $5 per person.  Advanced registration is required; please call 526-2623 to sign up.


Oct. 30 “Halloween Enchanted Forest Nature Trail” 6:30-7:30pm

Group tours leave every 15 minutes from 6:30 – 7:30 pm.  Bring a flashlight to go early trick-or-treating along the Botanical Garden trails. Encounter friendly forest creatures (portrayed by students of the UNC Institute for the Environment) and learn interesting nature facts about each one!  Fun and educational for all ages; cost is only $1 per person.  Please call 526-2623 for more information.