As of 2000, the population of Burke County was 89,148. Its county seat is Morganton.
The first European settlement in the interior of North Carolina and what would become the United States was made by Spanish in 1567, when they built Fort San Juan at the large Native American settlement of Joara near present-day Morganton. They renamed the settlement Cuenca. However the following year the Indians killed the Spanish and burned the fort. It was two centuries before Europeans tried to settle there again.
Burke County is part of the Hickory–Lenoir–Morganton Metropolitan Statistical Area.