Due to its wide range of elevation, Wilkes County's climate varies considerably.In the winter, it is not unusual for it to be sunny with the temperature in the forties in the county's eastern section, while at the same time it is snowing or sleeting with the temperature below freezing in the county's mountainous north, west, and south.The North Wilkesboro Speedway was the first NASCAR (National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing) track; it held its first race on May 18, 1947 Wilkes County native and resident Junior Johnson was one of the early superstars of NASCAR, as well as a legendary moonshiner. Wolfe's vivid article was later adapted as the movie The Last American Hero (1973), starring Jeff Bridges and Valerie Perrine.Johnson was featured by the writer Tom Wolfe in a 1965 article for Esquire magazine titled "The Last American Hero Is Junior Johnson. Benny Parsons and Jimmy Pardue were two other notable NASCAR drivers from Wilkes.The North Wilkesboro Speedway was closed following the 1996 NASCAR season.
Wilkes County's terrain gradually becomes more level and less hilly as one moves to the east; the far eastern section of the county lies within the Piedmont region of North Carolina.In 1847 another part of Wilkes County was combined with parts of Caldwell County and Iredell County to become Alexander County.In 1849 additional parts of Wilkes County and Caldwell County were combined with parts of Ashe County and Yancey County to form Watauga County.Opened in 1962, the dam created a lake with a shoreline of 56 miles.The lake is used for boating, swimming, fishing, and waterskiing; it is especially noted for its excellent bass fishing. Kerr Scott lake is the largest body of water in Wilkes.