Nature Center FAQ

When is the Nature Center open?



Highlands Nature Center is open to the public during April-November. Business hours vary by season. May through August, we are open 10:00 am to 5:00 pm TuesdaySaturday and 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm Sunday. We are closed on Monday. Hours are reduced in autumn and spring to 10:00 to 5:00 pm WednesdaySaturday to accommodate school programs.

The Nature Center is closed to the general public in winter except for outreach and special programming. However, the Botanical Garden trails are open every day during daylight hours. Admission to both the Nature Center and Botanical Garden is free.

 What is the history of the Nature Center?

The Highlands Nature Center, which is housed in the Clark Foreman Museum Building, is currently a program of the Highlands Biological Station, an inter-institutional center of the University of North Carolina. Highlands Biological Station also includes the Biological Laboratory–whose major focus is graduate education and research–and the Botanical Garden. But it hasn’t always been so.

Clark Foreman and other leading citizens of Highlands pushed for the establishment of a museum of natural history, which launched in 1927. In 1930, the institution was formally incorporated as the Highlands Museum and Biological Laboratory. Originally housed as an annex to the Hudson Library–the first public library in the state of NC–a new location was built in 1930 and named the Samuel T. Weyman Memorial Laboratory. The building that presently houses the Nature Center was constructed between 1939 and 1941 by the Works Progress Administration (similar to the Civilian Conservation Corps and also part of Roosevelt’s New Deal). Native granite from the Highlands Quarry was used, and the wood is wormy chestnut salvaged from the nearby national forest. The amphitheater behind the Nature Center was also constructed at this time. Following a renovation in 2001, the Nature Center now offers exhibits and year-round educational programming to regional schools.


Who funds the Nature Center?

We receive funding through several sources. The Highlands Biological Station receives some state funding from the UNC system, administered through Western Carolina University. Since 2003, the Nature Center has been a funded member of the NC Grassroots Science Museums Collaborative, an organization of North Carolina museums and nature centers funded by the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). We also raise money through memberships and donations to the Highlands Biological Foundation. Please consider becoming a member!


Where should I park my vehicle?

Visitor parking is available across the street from and behind the Nature Center, at Valentine House, and at the entrance to the Garden adjacent to Howell Cottage. To access the Garden entrance, enter the Station from 6th Street and continue to the end of the driveway.


What do you have for kids to do?

The Nature Center features a variety of exhibits for children of all ages, including live animals and interactive displays. During the summer, we offer special events, daily programs, and a series of nature day camps. The Botanical Garden features numerous interpretive nature trails. Admission to the nature center is free; and programs are generally free or at minimal cost.


Is it too late to sign up for a summer camp?

Contact the Nature Center for information on dates and availability. Session schedules are posted in February of each year and are available here. Camps often fill quickly, so registration is recommended by early May. However there are frequent cancellations, so you may request to be placed on a waiting list in the event a camp session is full.


I’d like to sign up for a special event.

Some special events require advanced registration. Please call the Nature Center at (828) 526-2623 for availability; if there are no more spaces you can be placed on a waiting list. Due to high demand, please inform us of any cancellations ASAP. You may pay for the program upon arrival.


What’s the hike to Sunset Rock like?

The trailhead is across the street from the Nature Center, and is not very difficult. It is a 0.6 mile gradual incline that takes about 10-20 minutes each way. It is actually a road, but driving up is discouraged. The rough gravel road is narrow with blind curves, and parking at the top is extremely limited. Cars can also be dangerous for those who are hiking. Sunset Rock at the top is a large granite outcrop that overlooks the town and has a great view, especially at sunset. A short trail to another vista, Sunrise Rock, is at the top of the road to the left and overlooks Horse Cove.


Where are some good hiking trails/waterfalls around here?

There are many to choose from depending on ability. Nearby hikes include the Chattooga River Trails at the old Iron Bridge and the Ellicott Wilderness (both are down Horse Cove Road, then right onto Bull Pen Road). Nearby waterfalls include Glen Falls (a few miles down NC 106 towards Scaly), or Bridal Veil Falls and Dry Falls (down US 64 towards Franklin). Visit the Highland Hiker or Nantahala Forest Service District Ranger Station (or the Visitor’s Center downtown) to obtain trail maps.


Is fishing allowed in your lake?

No. Highlands Biological Station is a nature preserve.  Some areas of the pond are also reserved at times for programming or research.


What venomous snakes are in Highlands?

There are only two — the copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) and timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus). Both are pit vipers and have triangular shaped heads and elliptical pupils. In addition to their rattles, timber rattlesnakes are recognized by their stocky bodies with dark blotches and wavy crossbands. Copperheads have hourglass-shaped bands across their bodies and copper-colored heads, and juveniles also have bright yellow tails. Because vipers are live-bearers, there is no such thing as a rattlesnake or copperhead egg. There are no cottonmouths here; in NC they are found only in the eastern part of the state, towards the coast. Water snakes are common in Highlands, but they are only harmless northern water snakes.


What should I do if I am bitten by a snake on a hike?

Snakebites are extremely rare. If the snake is non-venomous, treat it as you would any other bite, scratch, or other wound. If it is a copperhead or rattlesnake, remain calm to keep your pulse and circulation down. Send someone for help. Do NOT cut open the wound, but if you have a snake bite kit you can try to use suction to remove some of the venom. Do not use a tourniquet, as this may concentrate the venom at the source and thereby increase local tissue damage. Keep in mind that many of these bites are “dry” bites anyway. The best advice is to watch where you step, do not place your hands into places you cannot see, and never harass snakes.


Are there mountain lions in Highlands?

There have been unsubstantiated sightings from time to time, but it is unlikely that a large, viable remnant population exists. Most sightings are misidentified bobcats or even coyotes. Genuine sightings of mountain lions could be of a solitary animal, one that may have escaped from captivity, or one that someone has released illegally.


Are white squirrels albinos?

The white squirrel is not a true albino because it retains a small amount of dark pigment in its fur and lacks red eyes. Rather, it is a leucistic white form of the common gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). Populations of white squirrels exist in the Cashiers area and east to Brevard and Hendersonville.


Can you identify this animal?

Stop by the Nature Center during business hours and we can try to help you. The Nature Center web page also has links to other sites about native wildlife.


I found this animal. Do you want it for the Nature Center?

In most cases, no, but thank you! We have plenty of animals to care for already. If it was captured in the wild, please return it to where you found it. Collection of wild animals also usually requires a permit to be performed legally.


I have an injured or orphaned animal. Can you take it?

No, but there are others around who are licensed wildlife rehabilitators. Lists of local rehabbers are available from the NC Wildlife Resources Commission. To learn more about what to do with orphaned or injured wildlife, click here. You may also contact Wild for Life in Asheville at (828) 665-4341 or, or call the National Wildlife Rehabilitation Association at (320) 259-4086 for additional information.


I have a snake/bat/raccoon/beaver, etc. at my house. Will you come and remove it?

No. Please call an exterminator or Animal Control. Lists of Wildlife Damage Control Agents are available from the NC Wildlife Resources Commission. If you need something identified, stop by the Nature Center during business hours and we will try to help you.


Can I collect salamanders/turtles/frogs/snakes/etc. as pets?

No, you must have a permit from the NC Wildlife Resources Commission to collect them legally. This is true for most animal species, especially vertebrates. A copy of our permit is on file at the Nature Center. Even dead specimens usually require a salvage permit.


I found this hawk/owl feather. Can I keep it?

No. It is illegal to possess even a feather from a bird of prey. However, the Nature Center is a recognized educational institution and is permitted to have them for teaching purposes.


I would like to donate this item to the Nature Center.

Contact the Nature Center to find out if it can be used. With some rare exceptions, we never accept live animals–we have plenty of animals to care for already, plus we try to display only native species. Please do not leave items after hours.


 I’d like to schedule an outreach program for our group.

If you just want to tour the Nature Center on your own, you may come any time during business hours. For guided tours or other outreach programs, call the Nature Center at (828) 526-2623 to schedule a time. Program fees may apply.


I’d like to reserve the amphitheater and/or building for a private event.

Unfortunately, only certain groups are permitted to use the amphitheater, as the Highlands Biological Station is State property and not a privately-owned business. Events must conform to our mission statement and be co-sponsored by Highlands Biological Station. Private events such as parties and concerts usually cannot be accommodated, but you may call to inquire at our main office, (828) 526-2602. The Nature Center building may be reserved for meetings of some affiliated organizations after business hours for a small fee.