Watauga County ( )
from the North Carolina Collection's website at the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill A university () is an institution of higher (or tertiary) education and research which awards academic degrees in several academic disciplines. Universities typically offer both undergraduate and postgraduate programs. In the United States, th ...
. Retrieved 2013-01-31.
is a
county A county is a geographic region of a country used for administrative or other purposes Chambers Dictionary, L. Brookes (ed.), 2005, Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd, Edinburgh in certain modern nations. The term is derived from the Old French ...
located in the U.S. state of
North Carolina North Carolina () is a state in the Southeastern region of the United States. The state is the 28th largest and 9th-most populous of the United States. It is bordered by Virginia to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the east, Georgia and So ...
. As of the 2020 census, the population was 54,086. Its
county seat A county seat is an administrative center, seat of government, or capital city of a county or civil parish. The term is in use in Canada, China, Hungary, Romania, Taiwan, and the United States. The equivalent term shire town is used in the US s ...
and largest town is Boone. The county is in an exceptionally mountainous region. It is the home of Appalachian State University, which has approximately 20,023 students as of August 20, 2020. Watauga County comprises the Boone, NC Micropolitan Statistical Area.


The county was formed in 1849 from parts of Ashe,
Caldwell Caldwell may refer to: People * Caldwell (surname) * Caldwell (given name) * Caldwell First Nation, a federally recognized Indian band in southern Ontario, Canada Places Great Britain * Caldwell, Derbyshire, a hamlet * Caldwell, E ...
, Wilkes, and Yancey counties. It was named for the Watauga River, whose name is said to be a Native American word. Meanings include "beautiful water," "whispering waters," "village of many springs," and "river of islands."


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of , of which is land and (0.3%) is water. Watauga County is extremely mountainous, and all of the county's terrain is located within the
Appalachian Mountains The Appalachian Mountains, often called the Appalachians, (french: Appalaches), are a system of mountains in eastern to northeastern North America. The Appalachians first formed roughly 480 million years ago during the Ordovician Period. They ...
range. The highest point in the county is Calloway Peak, the highest peak of Grandfather Mountain (shared with the adjacent counties of Avery and Caldwell), which rises to 5,964 feet (1,818 meters) above sea level. At an elevation of 5,506 feet (1,678 meters) above sea level,
Beech Mountain Beech Mountain is a town in both Avery and Watauga counties in the U.S. state of North Carolina. As of the 2010 census, the town population was 320. The town is located atop Beech Mountain and is the highest town east of the Rocky Mountain ...
is the highest incorporated community east of the Mississippi River. Boone, the county's largest city and county seat, has the highest elevation (3,333 feet) of any city over 10,000 population in the Eastern United States. Isolated by mountainous terrain from the remainder of North Carolina to the east, Watauga County was described in the 19th and early 20th centuries as one of the Lost Provinces of North Carolina.

National protected areas

Blue Ridge Parkway The Blue Ridge Parkway is a National Parkway and All-American Road in the United States, noted for its scenic beauty. The parkway, which is America's longest linear park, runs for through 29 Virginia and North Carolina counties, linking Shen ...
(part) * Cherokee National Forest (part)

State and local protected areas

* Beech Creek Bog State Natural Area * Elk Knob State Park (part) * Foscoe Grandfather Community Center * Grandfather Mountain State Park (part) * Green Valley Community Park * Julian Price Memorial Park * Moses H. Cone Memorial Park * Turtle Island Preserve

Major water bodies

* Buckeye Creek * Craborchard Creek * Howard Creek * Laurel Creek * Meadow Creek * North Fork New River * Sharp Creek * South Fork New River * Watauga River * Yadkin River

Adjacent counties

* Ashe County - northeast * Wilkes County - east * Caldwell County - south * Avery County - southwest * Johnson County, Tennessee - northwest


As with most of North Carolina's High Country, the climate of Watauga County is that of a
Humid continental climate A humid continental climate is a climatic region defined by Russo-German climatologist Wladimir Köppen in 1900, typified by four distinct seasons and large seasonal temperature differences, with warm to hot (and often humid) summers and freezing ...
, characterized by considerably cooler and more extreme weather than in other parts of the state. Dramatic and unexpected changes in the weather are not uncommon in the county, particularly for precipitation. This is partly due to the elevation of the county, and partly due to
orographic lifting Orographic lift occurs when an air mass is forced from a low elevation to a higher elevation as it moves over rising terrain. As the air mass gains altitude it quickly cools down adiabatically, which can raise the relative humidity to 100% and cre ...
, which causes precipitation to fall more readily in Watauga County than in lowland areas to the east. Summers can be very warm, with temperatures commonly in the 80s and on a rare occasion in the 90s. Snow usually starts in November, and there can be snow falls in April, although this is not usual. Windy conditions tend to be amplified across the county due to the rugged terrain and high elevation. Because of the cold weather in Watauga County, the area is home to several ski resorts. Among them is Appalachian Ski Mountain.


Watauga county, like most of the high country, has no
Interstate The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, commonly known as the Interstate Highway System, is a network of controlled-access highways that forms part of the National Highway System in the United States. Th ...
. Most of the county is crossed by mountain roads, maintained by the state and county. Downtown Boone, adjacent to Appalachian State University, is very walkable.

Major highways

* * * * * * * * *


No commercial airports or passenger train depots are nearby. AMTRAK serves High Point and
Winston-Salem Winston-Salem is a city and the county seat of Forsyth County, North Carolina, United States. In the 2020 census, the population was 249,545, making it the second-largest municipality in the Piedmont Triad region, the 5th most populous city in ...
in the nearby Piedmont area, and
Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation (PART) provides inter-city and regional public transportation for the Greensboro, Winston-Salem Winston-Salem is a city and the county seat of Forsyth County, North Carolina, United States. In the ...
(PART) bus provides connecting shuttle service to Watauga County. A helipad is in service at the Watauga Medical Center. A small general aviation airstrip (FAA Identifier: NC14) is located in Boone. Commercial airline passengers typically utilize the airports at Charlotte,
Greensboro Greensboro (; formerly Greensborough) is a city in and the county seat of Guilford County, North Carolina, United States. It is the List of municipalities in North Carolina, third-most populous city in North Carolina after Charlotte, North Car ...
, and Raleigh-Durham in North Carolina, or Tri-Cities in Tennessee.

Public Transportation

There is a public transport system in Boone provided by Appalcart that services the downtown and some outlying areas, with special routes to rural areas and intercity transit routes to Wilkes, Winston-Salem,
Greensboro Greensboro (; formerly Greensborough) is a city in and the county seat of Guilford County, North Carolina, United States. It is the List of municipalities in North Carolina, third-most populous city in North Carolina after Charlotte, North Car ...
, Lenoir,
Hickory Hickory is a common name for trees composing the genus ''Carya'', which includes around 18 species. Five or six species are native to China, Indochina, and India (Assam), as many as twelve are native to the United States, four are found in M ...
, Lincolnton, Gastonia and Charlotte for a small fee.


2020 census

As of the
2020 United States census The United States census of 2020 was the twenty-fourth decennial United States census. Census Day, the reference day used for the census, was April 1, 2020. Other than a pilot study during the 2000 census, this was the first U.S. census to off ...
, there were 54,086 people, 21,077 households, and 11,452 families residing in the county.

2000 census

As of the census of 2000, there were 42,695 people, 16,540 households, and 9,411 families residing in the county. The population density was 137 people per square mile (53/km2). There were 23,155 housing units at an average density of 74 per square mile (29/km2). The racial makeup of the county was 96.45%
White White is the lightest color and is achromatic (having no hue). It is the color of objects such as snow, chalk, and milk, and is the opposite of black. White objects fully reflect and scatter all the visible wavelengths of light. White o ...
, 1.59% Black or African American, 0.25% Native American, 0.59% Asian, 0.04%
Pacific Islander Pacific Islanders, Pasifika, Pasefika, or rarely Pacificers are the peoples of the Pacific Islands. As an ethnic/racial term, it is used to describe the original peoples—inhabitants and diasporas—of any of the three major subregions of Ocea ...
, 0.45% from
other races Other often refers to: * Other (philosophy), a concept in psychology and philosophy Other or The Other may also refer to: Film and television * ''The Other'' (1913 film), a German silent film directed by Max Mack * ''The Other'' (1930 film), a ...
, and 0.62% from two or more races. 1.46% of the population were Hispanics or Latinos of any race. According to the 2000 Census the largest self-reported ancestry groups in Watauga County were:
English English usually refers to: * English language * English people English may also refer to: Peoples, culture, and language * ''English'', an adjective for something of, from, or related to England ** English national id ...
(25.1%), German (22.5%) and
Irish Irish may refer to: Common meanings * Someone or something of, from, or related to: ** Ireland, an island situated off the north-western coast of continental Europe ***Éire, Irish language name for the isle ** Northern Ireland, a constituent unit ...
(13.3%). Most of those claiming Irish ancestry in Watauga county are actually of Scots-Irish/Ulster-Scots Protestant background and not Irish Catholics. There were 16,540 households, out of which 23.20% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 47.40% were married couples living together, 6.80% had a female householder with no husband present, and 43.10% were non-families. 28.60% of all households were made up of individuals, and 8.00% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.26 and the average family size was 2.80. The age distribution is 16.30% under the age of 18, 27.80% from 18 to 24, 23.40% from 25 to 44, 21.50% from 45 to 64, and 11.00% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 30 years. The overall age distribution and median age are greatly affected by the presence of Appalachian State University in Boone. For every 100 females there are 99.30 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 98.20 males. The median income for a household in the county was $32,611, and the median income for a family was $45,508. Males had a median income of $29,135 versus $22,006 for females. The per capita income for the county was $17,258. About 7.20% of families and 17.90% of the population were below the poverty line, including 11.50% of those under age 18 and 10.60% of those age 65 or over.

Government, public safety, and politics


Watauga County is governed by an elected Board of Commissioners who provide administration policy for the appointed County Manager. Watauga County is a member of the regional High Country Council of Governments.

Public safety

County sheriff and municipal police

The Sheriff's Office provides court protection, jail management, and protection of all county owned facilities for all of Watauga County and patrol and detective services for the unincorporated areas of the county. The towns of Boone, Beech Mountain, Blowing Rock, and Seven Devils have municipal police departments.

Fire protection and emergency services

Fire protection is provided by 13 fire departments in Watauga County including Beaver Dam, Boone, Beech Mountain, Cove Creek, Deep Gap, Foscoe, Meat Camp, Shawneehaw, Stewart, Simmons, Todd, and Zionville. The Emergency Management Office coordinates resources for emergency services.


Historically, Watauga's strong Unionist sympathies – though not as strong as North Carolina highland-mountain counties like Avery and Mitchell, or counties with Quaker, antislavery histories like Yadkin – meant the county voted mainly Republican during the Solid South Democrat era, except in Presidential landslides. The only Democrats to gain an absolute majority of the county's vote in the 20th century were
Franklin Roosevelt Franklin Delano Roosevelt (; ; January 30, 1882April 12, 1945), often referred to by his initials FDR, was an American politician and attorney who served as the 32nd president of the United States from 1933 until his death in 1945. As th ...
in 1932 and 1936, and by a very narrow margin, Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, while Woodrow Wilson in 1912 and
Bill Clinton William Jefferson Clinton (Birth name, né Blythe III; born August 19, 1946) is an American politician who served as the 42nd president of the United States from 1993 to 2001. He previously served as governor of Arkansas from 1979 to 1981 ...
in 1992 obtained pluralities in three-cornered contests. The growth of Appalachian State University, with its predominantly left-leaning electorate, has strengthened the Democratic Party’s standing and it carried the county in 2008, 2016 and 2020. The county has also proved favorable for Libertarians, with Watauga being
Gary Johnson Gary Earl Johnson (born January 1, 1953) is an American businessman, author, and politician. He served as the 29th governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003 as a member of the Republican Party. He was the Libertarian Party nominee for Presi ...
's best county in all of North Carolina in both his 2012 and 2016 campaigns.


Some notable examples of the counties economy are: * The county produces heavy amounts of
Fraser fir The Fraser fir (''Abies fraseri'') is a species of fir native to the Appalachian Mountains of the Southeastern United States. ''Abies fraseri'' is closely related to ''Abies balsamea'' (balsam fir), of which it has occasionally been treated as ...
Christmas tree A Christmas tree is a decorated tree, usually an evergreen pinophyta, conifer, such as a spruce, pine or fir, or an artificial tree of similar appearance, associated with the celebration of Christmas. The custom was further developed in earl ...
s. * The growth of produce was once a mainstay in the agricultural economy of the county.
Cabbage Cabbage, comprising several cultivars of ''Brassica oleracea'', is a leafy green, red (purple), or white (pale green) biennial plant grown as an annual vegetable crop for its dense-leaved heads. It is descended from the wild cabbage ( ''B.&n ...
was once widely grown, so much so, that a sauerkraut plant was once located in Boone. The plant has long been closed. Boone Creek, the main creek that runs through Boone and the Appalachian State University campus is still nicknamed Kraut Creek since it is said that the creek used to smell of sauerkraut juice coming out of the plant. * The Watauga County Farmers' Market has been operating in Boone since 1974.


K-8 schools

* Valle Crucis * Blowing Rock * Parkway * Hardin Park * Green Valley * Bethel * Cove Creek * Mabel * Two Rivers Community School * Grace Academy * Mountain Pathways Montessori School

High school

* Watauga High

Colleges and universities

* Appalachian State University. Appalachian State is part of the University of North Carolina System and enrolls more than 19,000 students. * Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute - satellite campus



Beech Mountain Beech Mountain is a town in both Avery and Watauga counties in the U.S. state of North Carolina. As of the 2010 census, the town population was 320. The town is located atop Beech Mountain and is the highest town east of the Rocky Mountain ...
* Blowing Rock * Boone (county seat and largest town) * Seven Devils

Unincorporated communities

* Aho * Bamboo * Cove Creek * Deep Gap * Foscoe * Matney * Meat Camp * Sherwood *
Silverstone Silverstone is a village and civil parish in Northamptonshire, England. It is about from Towcester on the former A43 main road, from the M1 motorway junction 15A and about from the M40 motorway junction 10, Northampton, Milton Keynes and Ba ...
* Sugar Grove *
Todd Todd or Todds may refer to: Places ;Australia: * Todd River, an ephemeral river ;United States: * Todd Valley, California, also known as Todd, an unincorporated community * Todd, Missouri, a ghost town * Todd, North Carolina, an unincorpora ...
* Valle Crucis * Vilas * Zionville

Former communities

* Shulls Mill


* Bald Mountain * Beaverdam * Bethel * Blowing Rock * Blue Ridge * Boone * Brushy Fork * Cove Creek * Deep Gap * Meat Camp * New River * North Fork * Shawneehaw * Stony Fork * Todd

See also

* List of North Carolina counties * National Register of Historic Places listings in Watauga County, North Carolina * North Carolina State Parks * National Park Service * List of national forests of the United States


Further reading

* John Preston Arthur
''A History of Watauga County, North Carolina: With Sketches of Prominent Families.''
Richmond, VA: Everett Waddey Co., 1915. * Michael C. Hardy, ''A Short History of Watauga County.'' Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, Publisher, 2008. * Daniel J. Whitener, ''History of Watauga County: Souvenir of Watauga Centennial.'' Boone, NC: n.p., 1949.

External links

Watauga County government official website
* {{authority control Counties of Appalachia 1849 establishments in North Carolina Populated places established in 1849