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Watauga County
United States Post Office (Boone, North Carolina)
United States Post Office (Boone, North Carolina)
Official seal of Watauga County
Map of North Carolina highlighting Watauga County
Location within the U.S. state of North Carolina
Map of the United States highlighting North Carolina
North Carolina's location within the U.S.
Country  United States
State  North Carolina
Founded 1849
Named for Watauga River
Seat Boone
Largest town Boone
 • Total 312.56 sq mi (809.5 km2)
 • Land 312.56 sq mi (809.5 km2)
 • Water 0.9 sq mi (2 km2)  0.3%%
 • Estimate 
 • Density 163/sq mi (63/km2)
Time zone UTC−5 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−4 (EDT)
Congressional district 5th

Watauga County ( wə-TAW-gə) is a county located in the U.S. state of North Carolina. As of the 2010 census, the population was 51,079. Its county seat 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, Wilkes, and Yancey counties. It was named for the Watauga River, whose name is said to be a Native American word, the meaning of which is in dispute among various histories with translations ranging from beautiful water, whispering waters, village of many springs, and river of islands, to name a few.

In 1861 part of Watauga County was combined with parts of Burke, Caldwell, McDowell, and Yancey counties to form Mitchell County. In 1911, the county was reduced to roughly its current size when portions of it were combined with parts of Caldwell and Mitchell counties were combined to form Avery County.


Snake Sunset
Snake Mountain (5,555') in Northern Watauga County

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 312.56 square miles (809.5 km2), of which 313 square miles (810 km2) is land and 0.9 square miles (2.3 km2) (0.3%) is water.

Watauga County is extremely mountainous, and all of the county's terrain is located within the Appalachian Mountains 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 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.


As with most of North Carolina's High Country, the climate of Watauga County is that of a Humid continental climate characterized by considerably cooler and more drastic weather than other parts of the state. Dramatic and unexpected changes in the weather are not uncommon in the county, particularly when it comes to precipitation. This is partly due to the elevation of the county, and partly due to orographic lifting, 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, also, tend to be amplified across the county due to the rugged terrain and high elevation. Many people have noted that the winters of Watauga County tend to resemble those of the northern United States instead of the South.

Because of the cold weather in Watauga County, the area is home to several ski resorts. Among them is Appalachian Ski Mountain.

National protected areas

Adjacent counties


Historical population
Census Pop.
1850 3,400
1860 4,957 45.8%
1870 5,287 6.7%
1880 8,160 54.3%
1890 10,611 30.0%
1900 13,417 26.4%
1910 13,556 1.0%
1920 13,477 −0.6%
1930 15,165 12.5%
1940 18,114 19.4%
1950 18,342 1.3%
1960 17,529 −4.4%
1970 23,404 33.5%
1980 31,666 35.3%
1990 36,952 16.7%
2000 42,695 15.5%
2010 51,079 19.6%
2020 54,086 5.9%
U.S. Decennial Census
1790-1960 1900-1990
1990-2000 2010-2013

2020 census

Watauga County racial composition
Race Number Percentage
White (non-Hispanic) 44,986 83.17%
Black or African American (non-Hispanic) 2,101 3.88%
Native American 82 0.15%
Asian 938 1.73%
Pacific Islander 11 0.02%
Other/Mixed 2,447 4.52%
Hispanic or Latino 3,521 6.51%

As of the 2020 United States census, there were 54,086 people, 21,077 households, and 11,452 families residing in the county.


No commercial airports or passenger train depots are nearby. AMTRAK serves High Point and Winston-Salem in the nearby Piedmont area, and Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation (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, and Raleigh-Durham in North Carolina, or Tri-Cities in Tennessee. 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, Lenoir, Hickory, Lincolnton, Gastonia and Charlotte for a small fee.

Major highways

  • US 221
  • US 321
  • US 421
  • NC 88
  • NC 105
  • NC 184
  • NC 194


Map of Watauga County North Carolina With Municipal and Township Labels
Map of Watauga County, North Carolina With Municipal and Township Labels


Unincorporated communities


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


  • The county produces heavy amounts of Fraser fir Christmas trees.
  • The growth of produce was once a mainstay in the agricultural economy of the county. Cabbage 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
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