Written by: Deena Bouknight | Publish: July – 2022
Highland Hiker, the local landmark known far beyond the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau, celebrates 40 years of outdoor outfitting.
Milestone birthdays abound on the Plateau this summer, and one of those celebratory moments belongs to the Highland Hiker.
For 40 years, the retailer has served local residents and visitors to the Plateau.
Chris Wilkes explained how his family became owners of Highland Hiker: “My parents, David and Carol Wilkes, lived in southern Illinois and worked for my grandparents in the early 1980s. holidays with friends and possible business partners who had a house in Highlands. When the Happy Hiker (original name), run by Margaret Hoff, came up for sale, my parents decided to buy the business and move the family to Highlands. We have been here ever since.
“We had been shopping (at Happy Hiker) while on vacation and looking for a place to move and raise our kids, and it all kind of fell into place,” Carol said.
The outfitting business suited the family not only professionally, but also personally. The Wilkes family regularly hikes and walks in the area, and David is an avid fly fisherman who has passed his skills on to his children.
Several generations of family members regularly frequent the store, but Carol shared that one change in four decades has been that “the season” is all year round.
“When we first took over the Happy Hiker in 1982, we were busy in June, July, August, then again in October. Now we see visitors all year round, including winter.
And Chris, whose wife Hilary is also involved in the family business, explained that while most product offerings, such as fishing flies, hiking poles, backpacks, boots, socks , rainwear, tents, etc. have remained in the outdoor product mix, gear technology has improved over the years. “It’s much lighter and easier to use,” he said.
Additionally, Highland Hiker currently offers fly fishing schools, guided trips and courses.
“And over the years we’ve run bike tours, kayak tours, hikes, and travel seminars,” Chris added.
Today the store has four locations, The Cabin at 601 Main Street, Falls on Main at 561 Main Street, and Hiker Shoes at 547 Main Street in Highlands. Visit them at the Cashiers at 47 Route 107 South at the Crossroads.