Fall is in full swing in the Western North Carolina mountain towns of Jackson County. That means crisp, cool air, breathtaking fall foliage and the annual return of the Shadow of the Bear. This one-of-a-kind natural phenomenon, an actual shadow of a bear, emerges every autumn on Cashiers Valley from behind Whiteside Mountain.
Reaching an elevation of 4,930 feet, Whiteside Mountain is one of the world’s oldest mountains, believed to be between 390 and 460 million years old. For a few weeks around dusk every fall, the mountain serves as the spot to observe a true natural spectacle, the Shadow of the Bear. As the sun sets, the shadow of the mountain creates an image of a Black Bear that looks to be rising slowly from the colorful valley below. Although the shadow does not resemble a specific type of bear, the black bear symbolizes courage and strength in the Cherokee culture. In fact, the spirit of the bear is meant to be a strong source of support in times of difficulty and provides courage to face challenges in one’s life.
According to the BlueRidgeHighlander.com, “Cherokee tales of the Black Bear are legendary here in the mountains, tales that can be either fact based, spiritual or mythical in origin. These Black Bear legends, along with many more Cherokee legends are affectionately shared in order to maintain a native tradition, relating this knowledge to others so that they won’t be lost from posterity. What the Cherokee people felt and believed about the Black Bear, add to the overall make up of who the Cherokee are as a people and their connection to this world, and as individuals connected to the spirit world itself.”
As the sun sets behind Whiteside Mountain, the Shadow of the Bear appears – usually between 5:30 and 6 p.m. from mid-October through early November. Watch as it slowly evolves as the sun descends, starting as a small dark shadow before growing larger and morphing into what others have described as a turtle, a cat, a dog and possibly even a mouse (we’ll leave that up to you to decide), before finally taking on a bear shape.
The Shadow of the Bear has captured the imagination of many locals and visitors alike, but it’s also attracting attention from around the country. The Weather Channel featured the Shadow of the Bear in its 2017 article, “Fall-nomena: 10 Incredible Phenomena You Have to See in Fall.” It also was featured by Land Rover in one of its ad campaigns.
To see the Shadow of the Bear, the best place to view it is an unmarked overlook, known as the Rhodes Big View Overlook, along U.S. Highway 64 West between Cashiers and Highlands. There is no actual parking lot, so use caution when trying to view.
For the best view, arrive early; don’t be surprised if there are many others awaiting the shadow’s emergence. Also, because the shadow only appears on clear, sunny days, check the weather conditions before heading out. The bear will stay inside on overcast days.
When posting photos or videos of the Shadow of the Bear on social media, be sure to hashtag your posts with #ShadowoftheBear and #DiscoverJacksonNC.
To help plan your visit to see the Shadow of the Bear, download our visitors guide today. Be sure to catch the Shadow of the Bear this fall before it goes back into hibernation! If you are not able to make it this fall, the bear will also make a brief appearance next year from mid-February to early March.