Western NC Visitor Center 2013
Tourist & Relocation Information Guide
Western North Carolina (often abbreviated as WNC) is the region of North Carolina which includes the Appalachian Mountains, thus it is often known geographically as the state's Mountain Region. It is sometimes included with upstate South Carolina as the "Western Carolinas", which is also counted as a single media market. The region covers an area of about 11,000 square miles, and is roughly the size of the state of Massachusetts. The population of the region, as measured by the 2010 U.S. Census, is 1,110,320.
The term Land of the Sky (or Land-of-Sky) is a common nickname for this mountainous region and has been more recently adopted to refer to the Asheville area. (Areas in the northwest portion of the region, including Boone and Blowing Rock, commonly use the nickname "The High Country", rather than "Land of the Sky") The term is derived from the title of the book, Land of the Sky, written by Mrs. Frances Tiernan, under the pseudonym Christian Reid. The book often mentions the Great Smoky Mountains and Blue Ridge Mountains, the two main ranges that are found in Western North Carolina. The Asheville area regional government body, the Land-of-Sky Regional Council, utilizes the nickname.
Located east of the Tennessee state line and west of the Piedmont, Western North Carolina contains very few major urban centers. Asheville, North Carolina, located in the region's center, is the area's largest city and most prominent commercial hub. The Foothills region of the state is loosely defined as the area along Western North Carolina's eastern boundary; this region consists of a transitional terrain of hills between the Appalachians and the Piedmont Plateau of central North Carolina. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians have a reservation situated in the Western North Carolina region, adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The northern counties in Western North Carolina are commonly known as the state's High Country. Centered around Boone, the High Country boasts the area's most popular ski resorts, including Ski Beech, Appalachian Ski Mountain, and Sugar Mountain The area also features many attractions, historical sites, and geological formations such as Stone Mountain State Park, Linville Caverns, Grandfather Mountain, Blowing Rock, Tweetsie Railroad, Glendale Springs Inn, Shatley Springs, and Mystery Hill. Education, skiing tourism, and Christmas tree farming are among this area's most prominent industries, although agriculture and raising livestock also remain important.
The westernmost part of Western North Carolina is part of the Tennessee Valley. In this area, there are a few hydroletric projects as part of the Tennessee Valley Authority, including Fontana Dam.
The Foothills is a region of transistional terrain between the Piedmont Plateau and the Appalachian Mountains. Cities and towns like Chimney Rock, Lake Lure, Forest City, Rutherfordton, and Spindale have branded the Foothills title to their section of the state.
Western Carolina University has three campuses in western North Carolina. Appalachian State University in Boone and UNC Asheville are the region's other two public universities. Several liberal-arts colleges are also located in the region. Mars Hill College, affiliated with the North Carolina Baptist Convention, is located 15 miles north of Asheville. Founded in 1856, it is the oldest college or university in western North Carolina. Montreat College, affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, is located 15 miles east of Asheville. Lees-McRae College, located near Banner Elk, North Carolina, is also affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. Warren Wilson College, located in Swannanoa, is noted for its strong pro-environment policies and social liberalism. Brevard College, located in Brevard, North Carolina, is affiliated with the United Methodist Church.
Two major Interstate highways cross the region: Interstate 40, which traverses east-west, and Interstate 26, which traverses north-south. Interstate 240 is the only auxiliary interstate route in the region and it serves downtown Asheville. Highway US 421, a multilane expressway, is the major highway in the northwestern part of the state, and US 74 and US 441 are the major highways in the far western part of the region. A National Scenic Byway, the Blue Ridge Parkway, runs through western North Carolina, ending near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Two major class 1 railroads run through the region, CSX and Norfolk Southern. In addition, two tourist railroads also operate in the area, the Tweetsie Railroad theme park and the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.
Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) located southeast of the city of Asheville in Fletcher also services the area with non-stop jet service to Charlotte, North Carolina; Newark, New Jersey; Houston, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia; Orlando, Florida; Detroit, Michigan; O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois; Tampa, Florida; and LaGuardia Airport in New York City.
There are 82 mountain peaks between 5000 to 6000 feet in elevation in western North Carolina, and 43 peaks rise to over 6000 feet. Mount Mitchell is the highest point in eastern North America. Valley locations are typically closer to 2000 feet or 600 meters AMSL.
The French Broad River is the largest river in the region; others include the Little Tennessee River and Swannanoa River. The Eastern Continental Divide runs through the region, dividing Tennessee-bound streams from those flowing through the Carolinas.