EZ Home Search Guide to Living in Burke County, NC

Phots of Burke County, NC and Morganton

EZ Home Search Guide to Living in Burke County, NC 

Find an abundance of lakes, rivers, forests, and mountains in Burke County, North Carolina. Much of the landscape is protected parklands. The central North Carolina community provides ample access to the mountain regions that draw thousands of visitors every year. Residents enjoy a diverse economy and robust lifestyle supported by the great outdoors.

Why live where others come to play? Besides the recreational amenities, Burke County has a great cost of living, access to education, and a stable economy. Explore the Burke County profile to learn about life in this central North Carolina region. 

About Burke County 

Straddling the western Piedmont region, Burke County is surrounded by Avery, Caldwell, Catawba, Cleveland, Lincoln, and McDowell counties. The county has ample protected areas, small towns, rivers, and creeks, all nestled among its rolling hills. 

Its placement in Piedmont and Appalachian foothills means you'll find lots of changing elevation. Various rivers and creeks cut through the hills, with perhaps the most notable being the Catawba River, which runs from Rhodhiss Lake in the east to Lake James in the west. The northmost area includes the protected Linville Gorge Wilderness Area, with part of South Mountains State Park sharing the southern border with Rutherford County.

The county experiences all four seasons. Cool winters drop to 27F for the January lows, with an average of eight inches of snow per year. Summer highs top out in July at an average of 87F degrees. Most of the time, the days are sunny, but the area reports an average of 48 inches of rain a year.

Residents benefit from Burke County's low cost of living. The Best Places Index averages the United States at 100, and Burke County scores an overall 83.7. The most expensive cost of living category was health care, with an index of 122.2, while the least expensive category was housing, coming in at 56.7. 

I-40 runs east-to-east through Burke County and just south of the county seat. Residents can be in Asheville in about an hour and Charlotte in 1.5 hours by car.

Burke County History

Burke County's first inhabitants were the indigenous peoples of the Cherokee and Catawba Nations. Evidence for Native American habitation dates back long before European settlers arrived in the New World, with a mound builders settlement near present-day Morganton. It was the site of the largest Native American settlement in North Carolina and dates to about 1,000 AD. 

Burke County was formed from Rowan County in 1777. It was named for Thomas Burke, a delegate to the Continental Congress and later elected governor of North Carolina. The region was settled by many immigrants through the 18th century, predominantly by Scots-Irish and German settlers. Different parts of the region were taken to form surrounding counties, and the final borders were set in 1861. 

During the American Revolution, many Burke County citizens participated in the Battle of Kings Mountain. These "overmountain men" crossed over the Blue Ridge Mountains to defend their territories from Loyalists and British forces. 

During the Civil War, the county also experienced some action when General Alvin Gilliam led cavalry brigades to Asheville, and General George Stillman escorted most of his command to Tennessee from Lenoir, North Carolina. General Gilliam marched into Morganton, occupied the courthouse, and destroyed most of the county's records. 

Burke County Cities and Areas

Morganton serves as the county seat. This town sits on the Catawba River in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountain Foothills. Residents are close to outdoor adventure venues, a downtown music scene, shopping, dining, and retail opportunities.

Connelly Springs is a growing small town in eastern Burke County located between Hickory and Morganton. It is surrounded by the South Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains, and residents are close to Rhodhiss Lake and I-40.

Glen Alpine is a historic town incorporated in 1883. It is a residential community just minutes from Lake James State Park and the Catawba River. There are also some wineries and breweries in the area.

Rhodhiss is a town straddling the Burke County border. The Catawba River runs through the town center, which is located just south of the Rhodhiss Dam. 

Rutherford College is a small town that was originally named for a college but has since been closed. Today it is the location of Valdese General Hospital.

Other towns inside Burke County include Drexel, Hildebrand, Longview, and Valdese. Several of these towns connect through NC Highway 70 or I-40.

Burke County Job Market

The county's employment opportunities are predominantly in health care, retail, government, and manufacturing, but you can find other industries like education and administrative support. The manufacturing sector employs nearly 30% of the county's workforce. There are globally competitive companies, including ten foreign-owned manufacturers. These companies create products for technological, medical, chemical, machine, textiles, and furniture use.

Based on the number of employees, Burke County's top employers are The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, the Burke County School System, Blue Ridge Healthcare Hospitals, Waterfield Labor Solutions, Valdese Weavers, Levinton Manufacturing, and Burke County, and Case Farms Processing. 

In August 2021, the unemployment rate for Burke County was a reported 4.1%, while North Carolina had a 4.4% rate.

Burke County Real Estate Market

You'll find a variety of housing options in the Burke County area. Predominantly rural single-family homes, you can choose a small-town lifestyle or find mountain cabins for a rustic getaway. Lakefront properties can be found near Rhodhiss Lake and Lake James, and some residential riverfront is on the Catawba River.

County data from September 2021 showed the number of new listings slightly increased year-over-year by 2.4%. Median sales prices were up 16% and stood at $231,000. The average days on the market until the sale was 24, a 58% drop year-over-year. Even as the year-to-date listings were up 26.5%, the total inventory of homes for sale was down 22%. The month's supply of inventory stood at 1.3 months.

Looking historically at median sales price data, Burke County's prices were relatively stable from 2011 to 2016. The pace of price increases picked up a bit in mid-2016 with a greater acceleration near the end of 2020. The median prices first surpassed the $200,000 mark early in 2021. 

In terms of local property taxes, Burke County charged $0.695 of $100 of assessed value in 2021. The municipalities and fire districts also charge property taxes, and their rates vary based on the address. The municipality tax rates varied from $0.05 in Connelly Springs to $0.5875 in Hickory. Downtown Morganton had an additional $0.14 tax on top of the city's $0.57 rate. 

Find the most recent data on the Burke County Real Estate Market on the EZ Home Search database. Our information updates from the MLS every 15 minutes. 

Burke County Demographics

Based on the 2020 US Census, 87,570 people live in Burke County. The estimated population declined over the decade by 3.8%. The number of residents dropped by about 3,342 people from the 2010 census. 

Burke County trends towards an urban population, with 57% of residents living in an urbanized area. The median resident age was 44 in 2019, with the majority of residents falling in the 0-19 age group. The over 65 group had the second-highest number of residents. About 81% of residents identified as white alone, while approximately 7% identified as Black or African American and 7% as Hispanic or Latino.

The reported median household income from 2015 to 2019 was $44,557. Around 82% of persons over 25 held a high school diploma, and 16% had earned a bachelor's degree or higher.

Burke County Education 

Burke County Schools serves over 12,000 students in grades K to 12. The district has 15 elementary, five middle schools, and five high schools. The county schools typically receive a state grade of B or higher for performance and growth. The student-to-teacher ratio is 16 to 1. Starting in 2022, local juniors and seniors will be able to take a rigorous curriculum in STEM at the new North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, which is opening a second campus in Morganton. 

Five private schools are available to Burke County residents. About 60% of the private schools are religiously affiliated. 

Burke County is also home to the North Carolina School for the Deaf, which was established in 1894 to educate children who are hard of hearing. The campus is on the National Historic Register. 

For higher education, Western Piedmont Community College in Morganton has over 100 associate's degrees and state-level certification programs. One of its specialties is a 7,000 square-foot mechatronics education space which offers opportunities to develop skills and high-tech industries. Students can learn about advanced manufacturing and engineering at the college. 

Burke County Health Care

UNC Health Blue Ridge, formerly known as the Carolinas Healthcare System, is Burke County residents' largest primary care provider. Its services include cancer, cardiology, digestive health, neurology, orthopedics, women's and children's services, and urgent care. There are around 120 primary care physicians, specialists, and extenders available to service patients in the region.

Broughton Hospital is one of three regional psychiatric hospitals operated by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. This location serves the western 37 counties of North Carolina with mental health in psychiatric care, and it also provides statewide care for deaf individuals with mental illnesses. 

Affordable medical services are available through the Burke County Health Department. These include comprehensive family practice, acute illness care, nutrition, immunizations, and family planning. The health department operates an adult health clinic and a child health clinic. 

Burke County Things To Do

Find a thriving tourism industry in Burke County. People are driven here by the abundant mountains, forests, rivers, and lakes. Within the county, you will find Lake James State Park, South Mountain State Park, the Linville Gorge, the Fonta Flora State Trail, and a portion of the Pisgah National Forest. The county has ample protected parklands, making it one of the largest landholders in the county.

Inside all of these protected areas, you will find hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails. Fishermen have access to trout streams and lakes. There are picnic and day-use areas for you to enjoy time outside in nature. Near Linville Gorge are the Linville Caverns, one of the only places to tour a cave in North Carolina.

The Catawba River runs through Burke County, which connects through Marion, Morganton, Valdese, Granite Falls, and Hickory. This blueway is used for canoeing and kayaking all year round.

Another popular outdoor trail is the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail. This route retraces the overmountain men's trail while traveling to the Battle of Kings Mountain during the Revolutionary War. Several public trails are along or close to this route, including the Catawba River Greenway. 

The towns in Burke County enjoy hosting family-friendly festivals throughout the year. The historic Morganton Festival is held in the heart of downtown just after Labor Day. Multiple stages host national and local music acts, dance troupes, magicians, and other live entertainment. There are also rides, games, food, and art vendors.

Each Friday during the summer, Morganton has a free concert series called TGIF. Sit on the southeast lawn, enjoy food trucks and beer vendors, and listen to the live entertainment. Morganton is also the scene of a FAB crawl (Food, Alcohol, Beverage) which invites locals and visitors to come and enjoy the day downtown. Breweries stay open later, and they run a trolley for a shuttle. 

Another popular event is the commemorative crossing of the Catawba River. It's a Revolutionary War reenactment of the overmountain men crossing the Catawba River. It takes place close to Judge's Riverside Restaurant, and a festival takes place afterward at McDowell House, which hosted the men for a night in 1780.

You can find more scenery at South Mountain State Park. There are trails available for mountain bikes and horseback riding, and the 80 ft High Shoals Falls is just a mile hike. 

Burke County is also home to three golf courses, including some municipal courses. 

Burke County Local Attractions

The City of Morganton Municipal Auditorium, locally known as CoMMA, is a 1,100 seat state-of-the-art theater. The Mainstage Series has an annual show schedule that includes Off-Broadway plays, concerts, circus acts, and more. It also has an outdoor amphitheater which is home to the Back Porch Series.

The town of Hildebran sponsors Cruise-ins from May to September. Come see classic cars while you enjoy live music, Rex's famous homemade ice cream, and a hot dog cart. 

Surrounding the town of Hildebran and Hickory, the Henry River Mill Village preserves what pioneer life was like in North Carolina. It was also a film location for the first Hunger Games movie. 

The Blue Ridge Parkway runs through the northern edges of Burke County. You can pick it up and travel to other iconic stops along this famous highway. 

Linville Falls is probably the most popular attraction in the Linville Gorge. It is the easiest to reach by car, but you can also hike down a 1.4-mile Trail.

Table Rock and Hawksbill Mountain are two iconic peaks in the northern area. You can reach both along the winding Table Rock Mountain Road.

The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail commemorates the Patriot unification, march, and battle that led up to the Battle of Kings Mountain. Visit sites along this trail which includes a vehicle route, walkable pathway, and affiliated historic sites and museums. The trail passes through Lake James State Park and Quaker Meadows Plantation in Morganton. 

Enjoy winter sports near Jonas Ridge. The Snow Tubing Park opens in December, and reservations are recommended.

Burke County Dining

Experience the local flavors of Burke County, which draws on a southern tradition but also mixes in modern and global inspiration. Several craft breweries have opened their doors in the last few years, but many of the iconic dining venues have roots going back decades. Here's a sampling of what's on the plate around Burke County:

  • Root and Vine cooks from scratch preparation using traditional French techniques to marry Southern-style food with fresh seasonal produce. 
  • Homer's Soda Shop is a modern take on a soda shop with classic craft cocktails, libations, dinner, and Sunday brunch.
  • JD's Smokehouse is a blend of eastern and western style BBQ. 

In terms of craft beer and locally-produced alcohol, you have ample choices in Burke County:

  • Sidetracked in Morganton has named their homebrews after trains, given that it's located next to the 1916 Railroad Depot & Museum.
  • Silver Fork Winery is 20 minutes from Morganton downtown. It has an incredible view of the mountains.
  • Brown Mountain Bottleworks has a mixture of locally produced brews and snacks.
  • Catawba Brewing Company is a local joint with indoor and outdoor seating.
  • Fonta Flora Brewery is in a refurbished flatiron building with craft beers named after local spots.
  • Reece Winery is the closest winery to Morganton and operates out of a 114-year-old home.
  • Southern Mountain Distilling Company is a spirit maker that uses local waters.

Burke County Shopping 

If you're looking for a place to shop and dine, Morganton is the first place to visit. It has a thriving downtown with several restaurants, shops, and local businesses. You'll find museums and art galleries, fashion and games. Morganton is also home to some shopping centers with big chains to serve your other shopping needs.

The town of Hildebrand has a local farmers market that focuses on locally grown produce and other products. It runs from May to the end of October. Another farmer's market is located in Morganton. 

Living in Burke County

Burke County offers its residents a low cost of living with a mixture of housing and employment opportunities. With so many protected acres, the outdoor enthusiasts will have plenty to do all year round with hiking, biking, and mountain fishing. Burke County also provides canoeing, kayaking, and other water sports. There is a growing dining and craft alcohol scene. Most importantly, Burke County has a thriving series of well-connected communities that welcome locals and visitors alike. 

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