Start out early and head northeast along I-85 and Highway 23, stop to peer down into Talullah Gorge, browse a couple roadside antique stores and treat yourself to a gut-busting lunch at the Dillard House. Turn west onto State Route 246 just before you hit the state line and, one scenic hour later, you'll find yourself in picturesque HIGHLANDS, N.C.. Although small, Highlands is no Hicksville. The streets are lined with upscale shops and fine restaurants, and the outskirts of town are dotted with nice hotels, charming inns and several golf resorts. But Highlands' chief asset is its location; within a few minutes' drive in any direction are stunning mountain overlooks, high waterfalls, raging rivers, lakeside campgrounds and dozens of trails in the surrounding Nantahala National Forest.