Spanning several barrier islands along the coast of North Carolina, the Outer Banks feature pristine beaches, protected sand dunes and sea turtle nests, and friendly locals. Spend your days swimming, sightseeing, boating, and reconnecting with family and friends. As for incredible places to stay, Outer Banks vacation rentals range from luxury multi-storied family houses on the beach to cozy condos perfect for smaller groups. From the wild horses on Ocracoke Island to sand surfing on the largest sand dune in the Southeastern United States, there is always something to keep you on the go during your Outer Banks trip.
1. See Where Mankind First Flew at the Wright Brothers National Memorial
Starting on the northern end of the Outer Banks in Kitty Hawk, you can learn more about what it took for man to make his first flight at the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Start at the visitors center to see the exhibits, watch a movie about the brothers’ struggles, and see a replica of their plane. Afterwards, walk the path up to the memorial. Along the way, see the markers that show where the brothers landed on each attempt. Bring a picnic lunch from your vacation rental to enjoy a meal alfresco at one of the picnic tables.
2. Climb the Southeast’s Largest Sand Dune at Jockey’s Ridge State Park
Stop by the visitors center at Jockey’s Ridge State Park to learn more about the sand dune and the conservation efforts to keep it protected. Afterward, take off your shoes, roll up your pants, and explore the dune. Many days, Kitty Hawk Kites, a local business, is on the dunes with the equipment to go dune surfing or hang gliding.
3. Discover a Mystery at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
In the small town of Roanoke, visit the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site to learn more about one of the greatest mysteries in U.S. history, the Lost Colony of Roanoke. During the early days of the colonial era, the entire colony of Roanoke disappeared without any evidence of where they went. The missing included the first English child born in the colonies, Virginia Dare. Walk around the remains of the encampment, or enjoy a picnic lunch at one of the tables.
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4. Cool off at Scammell’s Corner Surf Shop and Ice Cream Parlor
Almost all the small towns in the Outer Banks have locally owned ice cream shops, but one of the best is Scammell’s Corner Surf Shop & Ice Cream Parlor. With retro decorations and a homey feel, this shop welcomes you with scrumptious cones and amazing sundaes. After you polish off your treat, walk through the surf shop and talk with the owner to find out where the waves are the best for surfing.
5. Drive on the Beach at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore
With a special permit, it’s possible to take a drive on the beach at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore during certain times of the year. You need to watch a short video to understand how to avoid sea turtle nests and protect the sand dunes. With permit in hand, steer towards the beach, and follow the surf towards the horizon. When you’re out of the reach of the tide, park and take a dip in the water.
6. Watch for Birds at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
The Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is a popular place for bird watching and a protected area for sea birds. The park is a haven for migrating birds in the spring and fall. Pack your binoculars from your vacation rental to see the shy birds. The refuge sees up to 365 species of birds, and the rangers are happy to help you spot or identify a particular bird.
7. Increase Your Knowledge and Skills at the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station
Before the U.S. Coast Guard took over the duties of helping sailors in trouble, the job fell to the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station in Rodanthe. The men and women who served here helped many people escape shipwrecks off the coast of the Outer Banks. In the summer, you can take a tour of the station to learn more about these brave men and women. Walk through the buildings where they slept and practiced for emergencies.
8. Learn Kite Surfing From Kitty Hawk Kites
A cross between surfing and flying, kite surfing is one of the most exciting sports on the Outer Banks. You can take a lesson or rent the equipment from Kitty Hawk Kites at one of several locations. Imagine gliding along the water on your board when a gust of wind catches your sail, pulling you off the water and propelling you forward. Learn the basics with a group lesson, or get specialized help with a private lesson.
9. Climb the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
Visit the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse during the summer to climb to the top. It’s part of the National Park Service, and park rangers share the lighthouse’s history in helping to save lives. All year long, you can stop at the visitors center and walk around the lighthouse’s base.
10. Learn About Shipwrecks at the Graveyard of the Atlantic
In Hatteras, at the far end of the Outer Banks still connected to land, you can learn more about the famous and mysterious shipwrecks off the coast of the North Carolina at the Graveyard of the Atlantic. The outside of the museum is shaped like the interior bracing of a ship’s hull. Wander through the exhibits, or take a guided tour.
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