The iconic Blue Ridge Mountains attract nature-loving visitors year-round, with each season bringing different outdoorsy adventures and changing landscapes. For those who head to Jackson County, North Carolina in the late winter, they'll have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of a little-known natural phenomenon: Shadow of the Bear.
From mid-February through early March, locals and tourists alike can watch as the sun sets behind Whiteside Mountain and casts this uniquely shaped shadow. At first, it looks like a small dark spot at the bottom of the valley. As the sun sinks, the shadow takes its full form, creating the appearance of a bear in an almost lounging position on the side of the mountain. The phenomenon only lasts for 30 minutes, beginning around 5:30 p.m.
Conditions have to be just right for the Shadow of the Bear to make its appearance. First and foremost, it must be a sunny day, and the angle of the sunset has to be just right, which is why this naturally occurring phenomenon can only be seen at certain times of year. And for those who miss it this winter, visitors can also admire the Shadow of the Bear in the fall, when colorful foliage makes for an even more pleasing show put on by Mother Nature.
Visiting in the winter has its perks, too. Those who visit during the quieter season will find beautiful snow-capped mountains, along with a less-crowded Jackson County, leaving them to enjoy the most popular trails and attractions in solitude.
If you find yourself planning a trip to Jackson County to see the Shadow of the Bear, there are plenty of cozy accommodations to choose from. Travelers with four-legged friends can check into Hotel Cashiers, a pet-friendly boutique mountain inn; golfers will find themselves right at home with a stay at the 20th-century High Hampton, which has a world-class course open year-round; and The Wells Cashiers offers a charming retreat with upscale amenities.
Jessica Poitevien is a Travel + Leisure contributor currently based in South Florida, but always on the lookout for the next adventure. Besides traveling, she loves baking, talking to strangers, and taking long walks on the beach. Follow her adventures on Instagram.