Rising more than 350 feet from the Eno River, the Occoneechee Mountain summit is the highest point in Orange County. The summit is also reported to be the highest point between Hillsborough, NC, and the Atlantic Ocean.
Researchers believe that the area's habitat has remained relatively unchanged since the last Ice Age due to the presence of brown elfin, a rare butterfly, as well as several unique plant species. The brown elfin is typically found in mountainous and northern areas, and the nearest brown elfin population to Occoneechee Mountain is more than 100 miles west. When the Piedmont's habitat underwent enormous transformations after the Ice Age, the area became unable to support the brown elfin and other species more accustomed to cooler environments. Brown elfins, believed to have once populated the Piedmont, were restricted to the state's mountains. However, the brown elfin butterflies at Occoneechee Mountain remained.
Less than 2 miles down river in a sharp bend in the Eno, the Occaneechi Indian tribe built a village during the 1600s—after migrating from near present day Clarksville, VA. Their descendents are still a strong presence in the area.
In the colonial period, European immigrants settled the area, and the land was divided and passed through a number of hands. Until the 1950s, a mill village occupied a section of the natural area. The NC Division of Parks and Recreation first purchased land at Occoneechee Mountain in December, 1997. Since then, the natural area has grown to 190 acres.