Trip Report: Brown Mountain OHV Area

In the days of the old covered wagon,

When they camped on the flats for the night,

With the stars growing dim on the old high gorge rim,

They would watch for that Brown Mountain Light…


Seated within the Pisgah National Forest, Brown Mountain is a relatively nondescript ridge that lies along the Blue Ridge Mountain range.  The mountain itself is scenic but pales in comparison to some of the other nearby attractions such as Grandfather Mountain and Linville Falls.  So, you may be asking, why this place?

What Brown Mountain lacks in size and beauty it makes up for in mystique.  You may have noticed that this article started out with song lyrics.  Those words were written by bluegrass artist Scotty Wiseman (of the duo Lulu Belle and Scotty) and have since been covered by numerous country and bluegrass artists.  The song tells the tale of the Brown Mountain Lights, a phenomenon in which mysterious lights appear dancing along the mountain at nighttime and disappear without a trace.  The lights have been seen by numerous parties for hundreds of years and there has yet to be a definitive scientific explanation for their origin.  According to the song, long ago a man went out hunting on the mountain and never returned.  His slave set out searching for him and, as the story has it, the lights are that of the slave’s lantern, still looking for his long-lost master centuries later.

Another explanation for the lights comes from Native American folklore.  Around the year 1200 A.D., a fierce battle took place on the mountain between the Cherokee and Catawba tribes.  Cherokee legend claims that the lights are the spirits of the Cherokee widows who set out on the mountain searching for their slain husbands.

Scientists have tried to explain the lights but every plausible explanation they have come up with has been disproved.  The most popular hypothesis was that the lights were reflections from passing headlights from trains and automobiles in the nearby Catawba valley.  However, the lights appeared on the mountain well before the existence of automobiles and trains.  Further, the valley experienced a massive flood in 1916 in which the railroad bridges were wiped out and inoperative for months.  Nonetheless, the Brown Mountain Lights continued to appear and dance as normal.

Whatever the reason, none can argue that the lights don’t exist.  They have been photographed and captured in video thousands of times.  Here is an example pulled from YouTube:

As many of you know, overlanding is a different breed of offroading in which the principal goal is the journey itself.  It isn’t just about crawling over a boulder or making it through a mud bog.  It is about seeing new things and learning about the places you visit.  The history and folklore is one of the primary reasons I decided to check out Brown Mountain.  The other reason?  Brown Mountain is home to the only legal OHV area located within the Pisgah National Forest.

Having never been to Brown Mountain OHV area, I was reliant on what I could find online regarding its trails and difficulty.  Needless to say, it wasn’t much.  Basically everyone said it was mainly for ATVs and the OHV trails were boring.  Most of these folks, however, were in TJs and JKs on 35″ tires (or larger) and who had lockers.  From the pics online I could tell my TJ would be bored (after all, it’s on 35s and locked).  The XJ (with its 31″ tires and open differentials), however, was a different story.  I have built and am still building the XJ with overland travel in mind.  After about 5 minutes of online searching I came to a conclusion…this would be the perfect place to test the build.

I set out early in the morning for the mountain.  Once I arrived, I stopped into the Craig Mountain Farm General Store, purchased my trail pass, and hit the trails for the XJ’s inaugural run.

The Jeep performed near flawlessly.  It wasn’t the TJ but then again it isn’t supposed to be.  Only damage incurred was a slightly tweaked shackle that came down hard on a rock ledge.  The trip was a testament to the parts installed thus far and also opened my eyes to some necessary modifications in the future, namely skid plates.  I did not see the famed lights as my trip was just for the day.  However, a return is high on the priority list and the plan is to make it an overnight excursion.  Who knows, I just might catch a glimpse of the famous Brown Mountain Lights!

6 thoughts on “Trip Report: Brown Mountain OHV Area

  1. What are you measuring to come up with the 9″ mark? Your rocker, your diff, your bumper, etc.?

    I’ve seen pics of Subarus there but honestly don’t know if they made it to the top or turned around sooner. I would think it could be done with very careful line selection but I would expect some scrapes and damage underneath.

  2. How much ground clearance do you have? Do you think it would be passable in an Outback with almost 9″?

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