About Western North Carolina

Western North Carolina is a primarily rural, mountainous Appalachian region with a population of fewer than 800,000 people across 16 counties. The communities vary in size, with Buncombe County (population 252,268) as the mostly densely populated. 

(ACS, 2019)

The 16 counties of western North Carolina.

The culture and natural beauty of this area attract visitors from around the world, while many families have called it home for generations. This mix of deep tradition and innovative economy creates a rich regional patchwork of unique communities.

Though the mostly rural context of western North Carolina creates challenges, the culture and closeness of community members have created a thriving environment for collaboration and innovation, both locally and regionally.

Haywood County, by Ecocline Photography

In the 2015 WNC Healthy Impact Community Health Assessment, community leaders, health care, and social service providers described their counties' greatest assets as the following:

(WNCHN - WNC Healthy Impact Key Informant Survey, 2015)

Photo courtesy of McDowell Health Department

Photo courtesy of Polk County Health Department

The estimated total population of the region in 2017 was 780,618. 

(ACS, 2019)

This is a map of the total population of the county by census tract according to the ACS 2012-2016. 

Data users often question why certain American Community Survey (ACS) estimates are not available. The missing estimates can be caused by data suppression. Data suppression refers to the various methods or restrictions that are applied to ACS estimates (e.g. population thresholds) to limit the disclosure of information about individual respondents and to reduce the number of estimates with unacceptable levels of statistical reliability.

(ACS, 2019)

Click on the counties listed in "Change Filter" on top of the chart to select which counties you want to view.

Eighty-eight percent of counties in western North Carolina are designated as “rural." The WNC region covers 6,685 square miles; a quarter (25%) are national or state forests. 

(North Carolina Department of Commerce, 2019)

Jackson County, by Ecocline Photography

Compared to the entire state of North Carolina, western North Carolina is about 7.4 years “older” (median age of population is 46.2 years). 

(ACS, 2019)

The WNC region has a 44% higher proportion of persons age 65 and older than North Carolina as a whole.
By 2038 projections estimate there will be more than 265,799 persons age 65+ in the WNC region.

(ACS, 2019)

Compared to the entire state of North Carolina, western North Carolina has lower proportions of all racial and ethnic groups, except American Indians/Native Americans, as the region is home to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. 

(ACS, 2019)

Western North Carolina is 89.9% White, 4.4% Black or African American, 1.5% American Indian/Alaskan Native and 5.9% Hispanic or Latino (of any race). 

(ACS, 2019)

Click on the counties listed in "Change Filter" on top of the chart to select which counties you want to view.

There are 16,000 enrolled members in Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians; approximately 10,700 live in WNC (both on and off Tribal lands).

Click here to learn more about the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Tribal lands encompass parts of five western North Carolina counties: Cherokee (Andrews/Murphy), Graham (Robbinsville), Jackson (Sylva), Haywood (Waynesville/Maggie Valley), and Swain (Bryson City).

EBCI Tribal lands in WNC

Compared to the entire state of North Carolina, the WNC region has a larger number of adults (25+) with only a high school diploma (16% higher average) and fewer adults with a bachelor's degree or higher (26% lower average).

(ACS, 2019)

This map shows the percent of people over the age of 25 who have their high school diploma or a higher education level. 
It is important to note that lighter, yellow hues are associated with a larger proportion of the population without a high school diploma or GED and darker, red hues are associated with higher educational attainment. 

In the WNC region, the median household income ($41,732) was $8,588 less than the North Carolina average ($50,320) in 2013-2017.

(ACS, 2019)

Haywood County, by Ecocline Photography

Mitchell County, by Ecocline Photography

In the 2018 WNC Healthy Impact Community Health Assessment,  more than half (53.8%) of community leaders, health care, and social service providers selected "Access to Health Care Services" as one of the social determinants of health most critical to address in the community.

(WNCHN - WNC Healthy Impact Key Informant Survey, 2018)

"Grow Food Where People Live," Photo courtesy of Polk County Health Department

Photo courtesy of Mitchell County Health Department

The regional dataset (WNC Healthy Impact Community Health Survey and Online Key Informant Survey) is available thanks to contributions from hospitals in the 16-county region of western North Carolina. Thank you!