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During the summer, the Outer Banks are without a doubt one of the most popular places to visit on the East Coast. From my point of view, these are the best things to do on the Outer Banks.
The Outer Banks, also called OBX, are a group of barrier islands that stretch from Virginia into North Carolina for 200 miles.
The Outer Banks are known for their beautiful beaches, but they also have other rare places to live, like beach grass and salt marshes.
The islands have been called the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” because so many ships have sunk near them. They were also the site of some of the first US colonies.
But the Outer Banks are a great place for tourists to visit and a must-see for anyone going to North Carolina.
This guide will help you find everything from the most famous beaches to the most famous landmarks in the area. We only talk about places and things to do in North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
Were any of the best things to do on the Outer Banks missed?
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Things to Do in the Outer Banks
Visit the Best Beaches in the Outer Banks
The main reason people go to the Outer Banks, which has 50 miles of beautiful beaches, is to enjoy the sun, sand, and waves.
On the barrier islands, you can fish, kayak, paddleboard, surf, build sandcastles, and lay out in the sun.
Lifeguards will be on duty from the weekend before Memorial Day to the weekend before Labor Day. However, you should still pay attention to any warnings about riptides, strong currents, and the tides.
The gentle waves at Corolla Beach in the northern part of the Outer Banks make it a great place to body-board.
There is a public launch for paddleboards, kayaks, and other small boats at the Whalehead Club.
If you’re taking a pet with you on a trip, go to Duck.
One of the few beaches in the United States where pets are allowed. If a pet is good, it can run around without its leash.
The southern Outer Banks are made up of Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, the beaches of Hatteras Island, and finally Ocracoke Island. Because the waves in Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills are so good, surfers and skimboarders come from all over to ride them.
Nags Head, North Carolina, has some of the best fishing and the most beautiful sunsets in the state.
See the Lighthouses in the Outer Banks
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
Since 1870, the famous black and white striped lighthouse at Cape Hatteras has helped keep ships safe in the Atlantic Ocean. It is the brick lighthouse that is the tallest in the world.
After climbing 208 feet, or 257 steps, you’ll be able to see amazing views. It can be hard to get to the top of the 12-story tower, so take breaks whenever you need to. Every 31 steps, there is a landing where you can stop and rest.
Because of erosion, the lighthouse and its buildings had to be moved 2,900 feet inland in 1999. The move took an incredible 23 days, and it was also the highest brick structure that had ever been moved.
Address: 46379 Lighthouse Rd, Buxton, NC 27920
Currituck Beach Lighthouse
Between the Cape Henry Lighthouse in northern Virginia Beach, Virginia, and the Bodie Island Lighthouse in Nags Head, North Carolina, ships can use the Currituck Beach Lighthouse near Corolla to help them find their way.
The light can be seen from 18 nautical miles away, and it turns once every 20 seconds. When you reach the top of the tower’s 220 steps, you’ll have a stunning view of the sound and the Atlantic Ocean.
Each landing is a great place to stop for a break because there is something to learn and discover there.
The old keeper’s house has been turned into a souvenir shop that sells all kinds of things that can be used on the water. The North Carolina lighthouse is open all year long, but you can only go on a tour to the top of the tower at certain times of the year.
Address: 1101 Corolla Village Rd, Corolla, NC 27927
Bodie Island Lighthouse
The three-times-rebuilt Outer Banks lighthouse is on Bodie Island, just south of Nags Head’s Whale Bone Junction.
The 156-foot-tall Bodie Island Lighthouse can be seen from 19 miles away across the Graveyard of the Atlantic. It has beautiful black-and-white horizontal stripes.
The lighthouse is only open during certain times of the year and requires a ticket. The keeper’s house has a museum and a gift shop.
It is highly recommended that you stay all day to hear the park rangers’ fascinating historical talks. Birdwatchers will have a lot of fun walking around the grounds and watching the many kinds of birds that live on Bodie Island.
Address: 8210 Bodie Island Lighthouse, Nags Head, NC 27959
Ocracoke Island Lighthouse
The Ocracoke Island Lighthouse is near the village of Ocracoke. It is the oldest lighthouse that has always been in use in North Carolina and the second oldest in the whole country.
On top of the 75-foot whitewashed tower is an octagonal lantern with a light in it. The tower is 25 feet across at its base.
This light shows where Pamlico Sound and Ocracoke Inlet meet.
Even though you can’t go up in the tower, there’s still a lot to see and learn at this historic site, like the keeper’s house with its red roof and the ship that powered the light.
Address: 8210 Bodie Island Lighthouse, Nags Head, NC 27959
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
The Cape Hatteras National Seashore is 70 miles long, from Bodie Island to Ocracoke Island.
There are many coastal towns to visit, as well as two historic lighthouses, fishing piers, the option to drive on the beach, and many other outdoor activities.
People who visit the first national seashore in the United States often spend their time at one of the park’s many clean beaches, doing things like kiteboarding, swimming, windsurfing, crabbing, fishing, and surfing.
If you want to walk around the National Seashore, there are several ways to do so.
Here are a few that we like:
- The 4.5-mile-long Open Ponds Trail links the British Cemetery and the Frisco Campground on Hatteras Island.
- The 0.75-mile Hammock Hills Trail in the Ocracoke Campground leads to a salt marsh and has beautiful views of Pamlico Sound.
- You can get to the 3/4-mile Buxton Woods Loop Trail from the Buxton Woods Picnic Area.
More than 350 different kinds of birds live on the beach, so bird watchers will have a great time trying to find them all.
Address: Cape Hatteras National Park Road, Nags Head, NC 27959
Go Beach Camping
You can stay at a campsite in the Outer Banks if you want to be close to the water without spending a lot of money on a beachfront rental or hotel.
There are 17 different campsites along the Outer Banks and in different towns and places on the OBX.
There are three campsites in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and there are also fourteen private campers along the coast.
The campsites are full of things to do, and campers can use everything from RV hookups to a beach with no one else there.
These are some of the most popular places to camp:
- The Cape Point Campgrounds are close to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and other great places to fish.
- On Portsmouth Island, which is south of Ocracoke Island and can only be reached by private ferry or small boat, you can bring your tent with you and take it with you when you leave. A rustic vacation is one where the beach is rough and there aren’t any modern conveniences. The area is well-known because it is a popular place to fish and look for shells.
- Oregon Inlet Campground is the perfect place for anyone who wants to camp and fish in the ocean.
If you want a campground with lots of things to do, Cape Hatteras / Outer Banks KOA Resort is the place to park your RV or set up your tent.
The resort has a Zero Entry Pool, movie nights, a dog park, and much, much more.
Drive Your Car on the Beach
One of the best things to do in the Outer Banks is drive your car on the beach.
From Corolla, you can drive on a sandy beach for almost ten miles to get to Carova, a small beach or village where you might make memories while the salt air blows through your hair.
Make sure your car is ready to drive on the dunes by lowering the air pressure in your tires to between 1 and 20 pounds per square inch (PSI), staying within the speed limits, and parking in the right places.
The beaches on Hatteras Island are open all year, but cars can only drive on those in Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head from October 1 to April 30.
You can drive a 4×4 along the Beach Access Route, but you should come with plenty of gas and know when high tide will make the road impassable.
If you’re not sure how to drive on the sand, you can rent an ATV or sign up for a Jeep tour to see the beaches.
Visit the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station Historic Site
Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station is one of the most visited places on the Outer Banks because it has a lot of history and reminds people of the brave people who helped save people in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The station was the first of its kind in North Carolina, and it helped save 42 men from a World War I ship that was sinking.
Historic site of the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station, by Elizabeth CC BY 2.0
If you go to the station, make sure to watch the history film and look around the museum, which has a lot of interesting things, like things found in nearby shipwrecks and old rescue equipment.
Check the schedule ahead of time to make sure you don’t miss a life-saving drill demonstration with beach equipment.
Stroll Along the Duck Boardwalk
On the sound side of Duck, between The Waterfront Shops and Christopher Drive, near the southern end of Duck, you can find Duck Boardwalk, which is a great place to let kids run around and burn off some energy or to watch the sunset without getting your feet dirty.
Get out and look at the willow swamp and maritime forest along the route, eat some fish tacos at the NC Coast Grill & Bar, or just sit back and watch people. In all of the Outer Banks, you won’t find a more intimate setting.
You can walk your dog on the boardwalk if you have one. It’s a must-do if you want to do something fun in Duck.
Peruse the Elizabethan Gardens
The peaceful setting of Manteo’s 10.5-acre Elizabethan Gardens is home to more than 500 types of plants.
The grounds are beautiful, with a rose garden, antique herbs, hydrangeas, camellias (there are 85 different kinds), and other flowering plants.
In the royal rose garden at Windsor Castle in 1976, you can find the rose that belonged to Queen Elizabeth II.
Find the old living oak that has been there since the first colonists came to the Outer Banks in 1585. The gardens are always open, except in February, when pets are not allowed.
Witness History at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
On the northern tip of Roanoke Island, near Manteo, is the 355-acre Fort Raleigh National Historic Site.
At the visitor center, you can learn about the history of the first permanent English settlement in what would become the United States. You can also see The Lost Colony, which is the country’s longest-running outdoor stage show, and hike the trails.
Visit the visitor center to learn more about the history of Roanoke Island, North Carolina, including the battle that happened there during the Civil War, the Roanoke Island Freedman’s Colony, and Reginald Fessenden. The video is 17 minutes long.
From spring to fall, park rangers offer a wide range of activities that are both educational and fun.
The 1.25-mile Freedom Trail lets you walk through beautiful coastal forests, catch a glimpse of the Croatan Sound, and daydream about the Civil War and the forts in Freedman’s Colony.
Explore the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
Since more than 2,000 ships have sunk in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of North Carolina, the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum has a lot to tell people.
The museum has displays about piracy and ghost ships, as well as artifacts that were found in shipwrecks.
Check out The Graveyard of the Atlantic and the Civil War on Hatteras Island displays to learn more about the maritime history of the Outer Banks, Colonial American pirates, and WWII battles in the Atlantic Ocean off the Outer Banks barrier islands.
The museum also has the original Fresnel lens from the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and the flag from the USS Monticello.
Sign up for one of the museum’s scavenger hunts and have a good time with the kids. If you finish it, you’ll get something for it.
See the Dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park
Jockey’s Ridge State Park has the highest system of sand dunes in the eastern United States.
You can wander around aimlessly in the sand, which seems to go on forever, or you can walk along the 360-foot boardwalk, from which you can see the Atlantic Ocean and Roanoke Sound.
In the state park, there is a great visitor center where you can learn more about the dune ecosystem, the park’s plants and animals, and take part in a number of activities led by park rangers.
During the hot summer, the sand at Jockey’s Ridge is at its coolest in the early morning or just before dusk. People who want a more thrilling experience can take hang-gliding lessons from the dunes through Kitty Hawk Kites.
Take Dune Hang Gliding Lessons
Since 1974, Kitty Hawk Kites has taught people as young as four to hang glide.
Come to a three-hour class with us, and we’ll take you to the top of the sand dunes. Here is where you’ll run a few laps before taking off like the Wright Brothers did back in the day.
Get ready to fly 30 to more than 100 yards above the ground when you’re only 5 to 15 feet in the air. You won’t hurt yourself too much if you fall and land on your bottom in the sand.
Visit the Lost Colony on Roanoke Island
The Lost Colony is an outdoor historical play that has been done since 1937.
This two-hour program is all about what happened to Sir Walter Raleigh and the 117 English men, women, and children who moved to Roanoke Island for good.
Stories about Queen Elizabeth I, the birth of Virginia Dare, and the 450-year-old mystery of what happened to the colonists will keep you interested.
From May until August, the show runs every summer at the Waterside Theater. Make time to take part in this much-loved Manteo tradition.
Check Out the OBX Piers
Take a walk along one of the seven piers that go out into the ocean while you’re on the Outer Banks. At the very end, you can have a great dinner and a breathtaking view of the shore.
The Hatteras Island Avon Fishing Pier is 600 feet long and is in the town of Avon.
The Outer Banks Fishing Pier at milepost 18.5 in Nags Head is a popular place for fishermen because it is open 24 hours a day and has lights. It is also home to Fish Heads Bar and Grille.
Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head is worth going out of your way to see. It is at milepost 16.5 on the barrier island highway. It’s a thousand feet long. This pier has a classroom that runs on wind power and some of the best fishing on the East Coast.
Plus, the pier has beautiful views of the ocean and the sunrise. During the summer, the pier is a good place to see dolphins.
Explore Roanoke Island Festival Park
Cross the water to Manteo on Roanoke Island to see a copy of an English village from the 1600s.
The kids will have a great time dressing up as sailors, playing games, and looking around the replica of Elizabeth II.
As you move through the park, stop by the American Indian Town. There, you may see re-enactors and Algonquin displays. Then, after you watch the Legend of Two Path movie, you can check out the Adventure Museum’s hands-on exhibits.
Visit the Whalehead Club
The bright yellow Whalehead Museum is a must-see on every trip to Corolla. It is on 39 acres along the Currituck Sound.
In the 1920s, Edward Collings and Mary Louise Knight Jr. used the house and grounds as a place to go hunting in the winter. Visitors to Whalehead can really go back in time by using self-guided audio tours to see the Art Nouveau estate and gardens.
On your way, you’ll see period furniture, real Tiffany lamp fixtures, a grandmother clock, and a Steinway piano.
On the audio tour, you’ll hear stories about the Knight family and a few ghost stories from the area. The grounds are kept in perfect condition, and the view of the lake, especially at sunset, is stunning.
Check Out the Wright Brothers National Memorial
Any first-time visitor to the Outer Banks, whether or not they plan to take flying lessons at Jockey’s Ridge, should make a detour to the Wright Brothers National Memorial.
Find out more about the history of flying and how it all began on December 17, 1903, when Orville and Wilbur took their first flight. You can join a guided tour, or you can go at your own pace through the gardens and exhibit halls.
Make sure to stop by the First Flight Boulder on your travels. It has marks on it that show where the Wright brothers landed after each of their four successful flights from the sand dune where they took off.
After you climb the 60-foot airplane tail memorial, you can check out the renovated Wright home and hangar.
The Wright Brothers Visitor Center has a history of the brothers’ successes and failures, as well as some hands-on exhibits.
If you have a National Parks Pass, you can get in for free.
Where to Stay in the Outer Banks
There are many places to stay in the Outer Banks. Most people rent a place on the beach, but we’ve included a few hotels that might be better for you.
- OBX The Island Motel (Manteo)
- Rooms for the captain to live in (Frisco)
- Hotel Hilton Garden Inn Outer Banks (Kitty Hawk)
- Saltaire has some cottages (Kitty Hawk Beach)
Tell me about some of the most interesting things that have happened to you in the Outer Banks.
Leave a comment and tell us what you think! Thanks!