The historic High Hampton Inn. Credit: High Hampton Inn

The High Hampton Inn & Country Club in Cashiers, NC is a place of southern hospitality, where afternoon tea is still a tradition and the art of conversation is celebrated. Surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, with their cool breezes and beautiful lakes, the resort has welcomed generations of guests to “renew, rejuvenate and reconnect to nature’s playground.” Listed as a historic landmark on the National Register of Historic Places, High Hampton has a rich history dating back to the mid-nineteenth century. What many don’t know is that this historic area is home to six state champion trees, one potential national champion and what many claim is the largest baldcypress, standing over 340 feet.

The estate was originally a summer retreat for the Hampton family to escape the heat and malaria plaguing South Carolina. Wade Hampton III, a planter, governor, senator and one of the wealthiest men in the South at the time, purchased property from the Zachary family and helped build the Hampton Hunting Lodge in North Carolina. Hampton enjoyed hunting and learned to ride horses in Cashiers Valley, a skill that served him well as a major general in the Civil War.

In 1890, the property was sold to Wade Hampton’s niece, Caroline, and her husband Dr. William Stewart Halsted, a chief surgeon at Johns Hopkins. A variety of exotic trees and shrubs were planted by Halsted, who was also an amateur botanist and the main reason for the property’s many big trees. Since the land was purchased by E. Lyndon McKee in 1922, it has developed into the recreational resort it is today, where three generations of the McKee family have been excellent stewards of the trees, gardens and forests.

Hampton Lake. Credit: High Hampton Inn

Famous Virginia big tree hunters Byron Carmean and Gary Williamson were in western North Carolina following up on a lead they received about a big tree. While in the area, they stopped by High Hampton to visit a state champion they had heard about. Byron and Gary soon discovered the 1400 acre property is full of large maples, poplars, hickories and magnolia trees. With dozens of state champions and 43 national champions already under their name, Byron and Gary decided to add two more state titles to their list: a Kentucky coffeetree (196 points) and an umbrella magnolia (94 points), the contender for the fall 2012 National Register of Big Trees. The other four champions at High Hampton are a bottlebrush buckeye (31 points), a Fraser fir (249 points), an alternate-leaf dogwood (46 points) and a black locust (260 points).

Clifford Meads, general manager of High Hampton Inn & Country Club, says “the history and unique specimens concentrated on one property helps cultivate a nurturing feeling of long time caring for the property and visitors.” There are 15 miles of mountain hiking trails lined with hemlock and rhododendron, waterfalls, a 35-acre lake for fishing, boating and swimming, and the phenomenon known as “Bear Shadow.” During the last two weeks of October, a perfect image of a black bear dances across the tops of the colorful trees when the sun sets behind Whiteside Mountain.

If you’re looking for something to do this fall, visit Cashiers, NC and enjoy the scenic foliage of the Blue Ridge Mountains. And, while you’re there, go big tree hunting at High Hampton Inn. With mountains and valleys to explore, you’re bound to find more champion trees.

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"Bear Shadow" over Whiteside Mountain. Credit: High Hampton Inn