The western terminus of the highway is NC 111. Traveling east 2.5-mile (4.0 km), the highway beings a brief 1.1-mile (1.8 km) concurrency with NC 42 and joins the Tar Heel Trace scenic byway. NC 42 departs the route at the NC 11 intersection, NC 142 continues 1.4-mile (2.3 km) to the rural community of Hassell. Leaving Hassell to the east, NC 142 terminates after 3.7-mile (6.0 km) with the NC 125 / NC 903 junction. The Tar Heel Trace continues southbound on NC 125.
The route was created in 1975 as part of a rerouting of NC 42, which formerly ran from the current NC 11 / NC 42 / NC 142 junction to the NC 125 / NC 903 junction. In 1980 the route was expanded west to its current profile by promoting two secondary routes in Martin and Edgecombe county.