The Ultimate Guide To Asheville and the Western North Carolina Mountains
The Ultimate Guide to Asheville & the Western North Carolina Mountains

The Online Version of the Best-selling Regional Guidebook
 

 

Brown Mountain Lights

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To the east of Asheville, near Morganton in Burke County, lies Brown Mountain. Rising to an elevation of only 2,600 feet, this foothills mountain has been at the center of a mystery since the earliest days of recorded history. For hundreds of years, lights have been seen on the mountain to the astonishment of all that have seen them. Cherokee Indians were familiar with the lights as far back as the year 1200, and their legends claim the lights are the spirits of Indian maidens searching for their fallen husbands and sweethearts. Early scientists, including German engineer Gerard Will de Brahm, Dr. W.J. Humphries of the Weather Bureau, and members of the U.S. Geological Survey, studied the lights and offered various explanations, none of which has stood the test of time. In fact, there has been no satisfactory explanation to date, making the lights one of North Carolina’s most enduring mysteries as well as one of its most famous legends. Possible explanations that have been rejected by the scientific community include nitrous vapor emissions, locomotive or automobile reflections, “Andes Light” manifestations, marsh gas spontaneous combustion, moonshine still reflections, electrical phenomenon such as St. Elmo’s Fire, mirages, UFOs, radioactive uranium ore emissions, and atmospheric reflections from nearby Hickory, Lenoir, or other area towns.
   The lights are visible from several locations, the most popular being Brown Mountain Overlook, located 20 miles north of
Morganton on NC Hwy. 181 one mile south of the Barkhouse Picnic area; Wiseman’s View Overlook, located five miles south of the village of Linville Falls on Kistler Memorial Hwy. (Old NC 105/SR 1238); and Lost Cove Cliffs Overlook, located on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 310 two miles north of the NC 181 junction.
   Brown Mountain’s lights have been seen as far away as Blowing Rock and the old Yonahlosse Trail over Grandfather Mountain over twelve miles away. The lights are an irregular and somewhat rare occurrence and are not always visible. Your best chance of seeing them is on a night with clear weather conditions, good visibility, and little to no moonlight. Witnesses have reported seeing them at all hours of the night between sundown and sunrise. The lights vary widely in appearance, at times seeming large like balls of fire from a Roman candle, sometimes rising to various heights and fading, others expanding as they rise to finally burst without a sound.
   It is best to keep your expectations low since there is absolutely no certainty that the lights will be visible. In this case, the journey is just as important as the destination. The adventure of looking, not finding, should be your focus. In any event, you will be participating in a North Carolina mystery that has baffled plenty of smart people over the years!

Location: Near
Morganton, North Carolina (see viewing locations above)
Distance: 1˝-2 hours from Asheville
Telephone: 828-433-6793, Morganton Visitor Information Center
Directions: To Lost Cove Cliffs Overlook on Blue Ridge Parkway. From Asheville, take I-40 East to Morganton and NC 181 North. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a more scenic though slower alternative (allow three hours). Follow the parkway north from the Tunnel Rd. (US 70) entrance to Milepost 310.

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