Brown Mountain Lights

Brown Mountain Lights

Brown Mountain is a low-lying ridge, approximately 1.5 miles long, in the Pisgah National Forest near Morganton, North Carolina, on the border of Burke and Caldwell Counties.

For perhaps hundreds of years, and since at least the early 1900s, mysterious illuminations known as the Brown Mountain Lights have been seen there.

The lights are small balls that appear irregularly over Brown Mountain; There are literally hundreds of eyewitness accounts of the lights, and they have merited two investigations by the United States Geological Society. It is known that they have been seen by residents of the surrounding area since at least the 19th century, but the Cherokee Indians of the area may have been seeing the lights as early as the 13th century.

When present, the Brown Mountain lights can be seen from as far away as Blowing Rock, and have been reported to rise to a fair height above the ridge, before disappearing in a ‘silent explosion’, like a roman candle. The lights are best seen from Wisemans view or Linville Falls

Official speculation as to the origin and cause of the lights ranges from ‘reflections from moonshine stills’ to marsh gases. However, in modern times, moonshining has become increasingly rare, and there are no marshes near the area where the lights appear.

Scientists are not the only ones who speculate as to where the lights come from. If one reads almost any book about North Carolina mountain folklore, you are likely to find some slightly more superstitious explanations for the lights. One story tells of a pregnant woman murdered by her husband after he falls in love with another woman. He buries her body under a pile of rocks on Brown Mountain, but the very next night mysterious lights appear over the ridge. Haunted by the ghostly lights, he confesses to the murder and leaves town, never to be seen again.

According to Cherokee folklore, the lights are the lanterns of the wives of brave warriors killed in battle. They wander the skies above the mountain, forever searching for the souls of their loved ones.

To this day, the lights continued appearance remains a mystery.


  • The book Escape to Witch Mountain by Alexander Key, upon which the Disney movie was based, was inspired by the Brown Mountain Lights, essentially making Brown Mountain the original “Witch Mountain.”
  • The 21st episode of the sixth season of the The X-Files takes place on Brown Mountain. The episode is called “Field Trip.” However, the episode takes place in fictional Boone County, North Carolina.
  • The lights are the inspiration for the bluegrass?song, Scotty Wiseman?s ?Brown Mountain Lights?, later performed by the Kingston Trio, and the Country Gentlemen. In this version the light is being carried by “a faithful old slave/come back from the grave” who is searching for his lost master.