This eastern shore of North Carolina and Virgina is a traveler's dream full of historic treasures and natural beauty. Located in the southeastern region of the United States of America, it has a humid subtropical climate, influenced by the Atlantic Ocean.
Outer Banks strip covers numerous beaches and islands: Bodie Island northern beaches or Carova, Corolla, Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head; Ronaoke Island beaches Manteo and Wanchese; Hatteras Island beaches Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras; and Ocracoke Island beach. Most have wildlife or historic landmarks worth visiting.
The Outer Banks Scenic Byway spans 131 miles and takes about 6 hours to drive. North Carolina Highway 12 (NC 12) is a state highway that traverses the northeastern coastline of North Carolina, linking the peninsulas and islands of the northern Outer Banks. Its length is 148 miles, and it overlaps with the OBX Scenic Byway.
Parks and Refuges
Coming from the north and passing the Sandbridge, the first point of interest is Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge adjoined with False Cape State Park. The name says it all, a true wildlife sanctuary. American Black Duck, Tundra Swan, Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Managed Wetlands, Beaches and Dunes, Forests. Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge is located on the other side of the bay. On the other side of that refuge you will find Carova, the northernmost Outer Banks community, while further south you will find Currituck National Wildlife Refuge. These wildlife parks have camping, hunting, fishing, boating, hiking, tours, educational, and photography programs. They are perfect for families and kids where awe inspiring nature sparks a desire to preserve it.
To help visitors prepare better for their trip to the OBX , here's a little overview of the region.
Starting at the north and moving slowly southwards, we will take you through all the points of interest you might want to see during your stay in The Outer Banks.
Bodie Island is a long peninsula that occupies the northernmost part of the Outer Banks.
The peninsula is home to two lighthouses, Bodie Island Light and Currituck Beach Light. The Wright Brothers National Monument also has a beacon. Jockey's Ridge is the tallest sand dune on the East Coast. The Cape Hatteras National Seashore protects the southernmost part of Bodie Island, and the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Park protect portions of the northern part of the peninsula.
Carova is a community in Currituck County. It can only be accessed by boat or by four-wheel drive vehicle. There are no paved roads connecting Carova to the town of Corolla.
Beaches of Carova are home to Banker horses and other wildlife, which is the primary reason tourists come here. There are no restaurants, shops and similar establishments.
Corolla, North Carolina
Corolla is a community located in Currituck County, North Carolina along the northern Outer Banks.
Once a quiet and obscure location, Corolla has since became a popular vacation destination. It is the single place with most historic landmarks in OBX. Corolla beach attract many tourists, especially during summer. Besides the beach, Corolla has many other attractions. Historic Whalehead Club charges fee that goes towards its preservation fund). Currituck Heritage Park has free admission and many events and is listed as an eBird hotspot, with at least 80 species recorded in the park. When you're in the park make sure to visit Center for Wildlife Education where you can learn about the wildlife in Outer Banks. You can discover the origins and history of America's mustangs in Corolla Wild Horse Fund Museum. There's also an animal sanctuary north of Corolla, a home to about 119 feral Banker horses.
To get a feeling about the OBX strip, you definitely want to take a Wild Horse Adventure Tour in Corolla. It is the most popular activity in OBX with thousands of past adventurers. You will see not only beaches and sand dunes from the seat in Humvee, but will be able to photograph free roaming wild horses, known under the name of Colonial Spanish Horses, which also include Spanish Mustangs.
Other attractions include Currituck Beach Lighthouse,one of the seven North Carolina coastal lighthouses; Currituck Shooting Club etc.
Corolla is home to the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, one of the seven North Carolina coastal lighthouses. It is the last major lighthouse built in OBX, and it is of national historic value. Though tall just under 50 meters, it contains one million red bricks! With the largest of the seven Fresnel lens sizes, its light can be seen 20 miles away. Beautiful Victorian style keeper's house can be seen from the top of the lighthouse.
If you're not a history or nature buff , Corolla offers great opportunities for shopping, dining, water sports, and the like.
Duck, North Carolina
Duck is a town in the north of Dare County. Its modest population of several hundred inhabitants increases to almost 20,000 during vacation season. Town was named one of best coastal towns, while Duck beach also received widespread acclaim. Duck beach was ranked among the top 10 beaches and was chosen as one of the best family friendly beaches in America.
Duck offers various outdoor recreational activities, watersports, good restaurants, shopping. For artistic souls there are several art galleries. In October town hosts a famous jazz festival. During the summer there are numerous programs, theater plays and concerts, almost all free and open to the public.
Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina
Kill Devil Hills is a town in Dare County, which is the most populous settlement in both Dare County and on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Nearby is Kitty Hawk, the origin of the invention enabling globalization, the first powered, manned airplane flight. Wright Brothers National Memorial offers the historical evidence and details about the brothers who changed the world, and can be found nearby, in a modern town Kill Devil Hills which was founded about half a century ago.
Nags Head, North Carolina
Nags Head is a town in Dare County and a favorite vacation spot because of its beaches and Jockey's Ridge. Jockey's Ridge State Park has the tallest sand dunes on East Coast. Besides sand, it also filled with a diversity of exotics plants like southern wax myrtle, eastern redcedar, live oak, redbay, southern red oaks, hickory, American sweetgum, loblolly pine, dogwood, sassafras; being a habitat for various animals and insects such as like gray fox, six-lined racerunner, North American opossum, tiger beetle, eastern spadefoot toad.
This area is good for biking, or hiking. Also many hang-gliders, kite flyers and sand gliders are regulars here. There'a a museum with several exhibits, and the area itself supports a rich and abundant fauna.
The most unique feature of the Ridge is the lagoons that can spring up and shift the sand, making unique experiences each time. Major attractions are beaches for swimming, sunbathing, and a variety of water sports. The town also offers various forms of family entertainment.
Roanoke Island in Dare County was named after the historical Roanoke Carolina Algonquian people who inhabited the area in the 16th century.
Roanoke Island lies between the mainland and the barrier islands near Nags Head.
Island was the site of the Roanoke Colony (The Lost Colony), an English settlement established in 1585 by Sir Walter Raleigh. Two years later, group of more than a hundred men, women and children arrived to Roanoke. Governor John White's daughter Eleanor Dare, gave birth to Virginia Dare, the first English child born in North America. Soon after Governor White returned to England, but was unable to come back until 1590 because of the war with Spain. When he finally succeeded, the colony had vanished and what happened to those people remains one of America's most intriguing unsolved mysteries to this day. Fort Raleigh National Historic Site is the place where the colony used to be.
Elizabethan Gardens can be found today here, along with birds, frogs, butterflies, bugs, and more than 200 plant species, including poisonous ones like Angel's trumpet, Crocus, Hydrangeas, Hyacinths, Iris, Lily of the Valley, Oleander, Queen Anne's Lace, and Rhododendrons. There are plenty of workshops and educational programs, but it is also a perfect place for a wedding.
Manteo, North Carolina
Manteo is a county seat of Dare County, located on Roanoke Island. The town is named for an American Indian named Manteo, who served as a liaison between the Roanoke Colony settlers and the Indians.
There are several festivals and event held throughout the year:
- Dare Day is a free and open to public festival held on the first Saturday of June. It celebrates the people of Dare Country.
- Independence Day celebration is held in Manteo every 4th of July. Various contests, games and tournaments take place that day.
- The New World Festival of the Arts takes place along the Manteo waterfront. It is a great exhibition with an over 20-year long tradition, featuring over 80 selected artists.
- Pirate's Cove Billfish Tournament is a fishing tournament that takes place annually in mid-August. Competitors come from around the world to try to win substantial cash prize.
Pea Island was once contiguous neighboring islands of Bodie Island or Hatteras Island. It was created when two inlets, the New Inlet in 1738, and Oregon Inlet in 1846, separated it from the neighboring islands. Having disappeared due to hurricanes and shifting sands, it came back into existence and changed its topology during the years. Since 1937, it has been home to the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge hosts more than 365 species of birds, 25 species of mammals, 24 species of reptiles, and five species of amphibians, including endangered species threatened with extinction like piping plovers, green sea turtle, hawksbill sea turtle, Kemp's Ridley sea turtle, leatherback sea turtle, loggerhead sea turtles, red wolf, red-cockaded woodpecker, roseate tern, seabeach amaranth, shortnose sturgeon, and West Indian manatee.
Hatteras Island, also known as "the blue marlin capital of the world", is one of the longest in the contiguous United States, measuring 42 miles (68 km) from end to end. It is known for sport fishing, surfing, windsurfing and kiteboarding. Hatteras Island is very popular among tourists and is often used used as a venue for destination weddings, family reunions, and special events.
Cape Hatteras is the point that protrudes the farthest to the southeast of the Atlantic coast of North America, also being the nearest landpoint to Bermuda.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, built in 1870, as the tallest brick lighthouse tower in the world at the time of construction. It is 200 feet tall and represents the tallest lighthouse in the United States and one of the tallest brick lighthouses in the world. In 1999, it was moved from its original location because of the receding shoreline.
Cape Hatteras Beach is regarded as one of the most beautiful beaches in the USA.
If you enjoyed the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, you will enjoy the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. Remains of hundreds of ships can be found here, along with stories of their destinies. Even better, you can explore their wracks first hand during the diving season.
Ocracoke, North Carolina
Ocracoke is a town located at the south of Ocracoke Island, in Hyde County, North Carolina. It is known as the location of the pirate Blackbeard's death in November 1718. If the road takes you there don't miss trying some figs and fig cake the town is renowned for. Every year town hosts a fig festival that features a fig cake contest.
You might think that Ocracoke Lighthouse is yet another lighthouse? Not really. It is actually the oldest operating lighthouse in North Carolina! A reason more to visit and compare it with newer lighthouses on the way here.
If you've seen even a small part of above, you probably got tons of feedback from locals and tourists alike and will know where to go next. We are eager to hear from you about your experiences.
D. Frankenberg (2012) The Nature of the Outer Banks: Environmental Processes, Field Sites, and Development Issues, Corolla to Ocracoke. Univ of North Carolina Press
National Park Service (2015) Moving the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Cape Hatteras National Seashore
K. Bachman (2012) Insiders' Guide® to North Carolina's Outer Banks. Rowman & Littlefield