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BANK ON OBX

NC 12 Highway – The islands of the Outer Banks are connected by two-lane coastal highway NC 12. Most of the Outer Banks is less than a mile wide but stretches for 130 miles north to south. This is a photo looking north along Hatteras Island.
NC 12 Highway – The islands of the Outer Banks are connected by two-lane coastal highway NC 12. Most of the Outer Banks is less than a mile wide but stretches for 130 miles north to south. This is a photo looking north along Hatteras Island.

North Carolina’s Outer Banks offer visitors the opportunity to both relax and explore

By Brianne Brown

Spanning 130 miles, the barrier islands known as the Outer Banks—or OBX—off the coast of North Carolina are quickly becoming a destination hot spot for travelers. Not limited simply to scenic beaches and other on-season, warm-weather adventures, OBX truly has something to offer both beachcombers and landlubbers alike.

Beaches

Those seeking white, sandy beaches will find an oasis on the Northern Beaches—shores that span the northern OBX towns of Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head. Those seeking uncrowded beaches can find relaxation among the sand dunes and sea grass of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, accessible via ATV or 4×4. If the waves of the Atlantic aren’t your thing, beaches on the sound side of the island offer calmer and shallower water.

Other warm-weather recreation includes bike rentals, fishing, kite rentals and more. Bikes and scooters are available at any number of local retailers up and down the coast. Jeannette’s Pier is a popular spot for fishing and also has interactive science exhibits. And anything from cornhole boards to surfboards and kayaks can be found at Kitty Hawk Kites, a popular franchise on the islands.

Wright Brothers National Memorial
Wright Brothers National Memorial

Historical Excursions

If beaches aren’t your style or you are planning an off-season trip, OBX has plenty in the way of historical appeal. Some of the first Europeans to land in the New World did so in the Outer Banks in 1585, and the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site—an official National Park Service (NPS) location—showcases the cultural heritage of those travelers and the Native Americans who lived on Roanoke Island. Fort Raleigh is also home to The Lost Colony, an outdoor drama held in the summer that tells the tale of the group of settlers that mysteriously disappeared. Also located on Roanoke Island are the Elizabethan Gardens, a 10-acre botanical garden dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I and a living memorial to the lost colony of Sir Walter Raleigh.

North Carolina boasts that it is “First in Flight,” and the birthplace of modern aviation is located in the OBX town of Kill Devil Hills. It was here on December 17, 1903, that Wilbur and Orville Wright achieved solo flight for the first time. The Wright Brothers National Memorial—also an official NPS site—allows you to walk the flight line corridor where the brothers flew. Make sure to wear proper footwear, and climb to the top of Big Kill Devil Hill to view the Wright Monument.

Charter Fishing Offshore
Charter Fishing Offshore

North Carolina Aquarium and Roanoke Island

Located on Roanoke Island, the North Carolina Aquarium is a great family-friendly activity for a rainy day or simply a fun day trip. A complete tour of the facility generally requires no more than two hours, so visitors can explore other places of interest on Roanoke Island, including the Roanoke Island Maritime Museum and charming downtown Manteo. Here, you can shop at various antique stores, bookstores and pottery shops; sip on brews at the Lost Colony Brewery and Café or grab a bite to eat at Poor Richard’s Sandwich Shop; you can even take a ghost tour by night.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse – Built in 1870, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse has stood for generations as a source of inspiration and symbol of strength, presiding over the pristine shoreline of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse – Built in 1870, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse has stood for generations as a source of inspiration and symbol of strength, presiding over the pristine shoreline of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Lighthouse Tours and Grave of the Atlantic Museum

OBX is home to a number of lighthouses that are not only breathtakingly beautiful, but modern and fully functional as well. A tour of the lighthouses up and down the coast could include the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, one of the most recognizable lighthouses in the world. Cape Currituck Lighthouse in Corolla offers a panoramic view of the sound, and the Bodie Island Lighthouse in Nags Head is its architectural twin. The Ocracoke Lighthouse at the southernmost tip of the OBX is the nation’s second-oldest lighthouse and is still fully operational.

While these lighthouses safeguard modern ships and vessels, the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” that runs along North Carolina’s coast is the focus of a museum by the same name. The North Carolina Maritime Museum has a dedicated exhibit featuring the thousands of shipwrecks in the area since the sixteenth century.

Corolla Wild Horses

One of the most exciting attractions on the OBX is a Corolla Wild Horse Tour. Wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs freely roam the northern beaches near Carova. These majestic creatures have been in the area for centuries and Wild Horse Adventure Tours offer 4×4 off road tours to get a glimpse of these feral horses in their natural habitat. Don’t expect to feed or pet these horses, however; it is illegal to come within 50 feet of one.

Hang Gliding at Jockey's Ridge State Park
Hang Gliding at Jockey's Ridge State Park

IF YOU GO…
There are a number of brand-name hotels dotting the oceanfront in OBX, including Hilton Garden Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Comfort Inn. More plentiful are charming, smaller-scale beachfront inns and motels. As can be expected in a summer destination, vacation rentals and Airbnbs abound, as well.

When booking flights, keep in mind that Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) is an approximately three-hour drive from OBX on Highway 64; Norfolk International (ORF) in Virginia is approximately two. You can opt to hire a shuttle service from one of these airports, but renting a car may be more cost-effective. Additionally, unless you plan to spend all of your time at the beach, renting a car is the easiest way to get around to various points of interest.

A north-to-south drive from Corolla to Ocracoke would take almost four hours and require a ferry. Plan your day trips by region for optimal time to enjoy all OBX has to offer.

The storied hospitality of the Outer Banks awaits. With so much to do and explore, you may need a vacation from your vacation once you return! But long after your return to the real world, OBX has a way of remaining in your soul.