This is a community maintained resource for things to do and see on vacation when visiting the Outer Banks of North Carolina. By community maintained, we will outline specific headings below with just about any relevant sub-heading we can think of and ask readers to use the no registration discussion form at the bottom of this page to ask detailed questions about this coastal region, as well as supplying information about this global vacation destination. When using the form below, please subscribe to replies so you get notified of new questions and answers.
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Coastal Travel Recommendations
The outer islands of this coastal region from the NC and VA state line to the Crystal Coast are an enduring travel and vacation destination visited by people from around the world to experience this area’s unique and remote ecosystems, habitats, and seemingly never-ending pristine beaches and sprawling sand dunes.
To help us capture this experience for future visitors, we hope you’ll review the headings below and consider supplying relevant information and asking questions so future generations can review and learn.
Boating And Sailing
In looking at a map of the region, it’s clear between the inner sounds, rivers, and bays on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other, this local area has more water than land opening up endless opportunities for boating and sailing. In fact, we believe the best way to explore the diverse ecosystems of the region is by boat or sailboat. If you are not a boat owner, there are services in most major commercial areas where vacationers can take tours of the lighthouses, shipwrecks, tours of wildlife refuges, sunset cruises, and more.
With this in mind, where are local boat ramps in places like Ocracoke, Cape Hatteras, Nags Head, Kitty Hawk, and other areas where boaters can access the Albemarle Sound and Pamlico Sound? What navigational challenges are there for boaters to this region?
What are some well-known marinas that allow for boat storage, and have services for supplies and gas? What are some well-known major landmarks which are only accessible by boat or sailboat?
By water, how far is the Intracoastal Waterway (ICP) away from the outer islands? For people traveling the U.S. East Coast by sailboat from northeast cities to Florida and the Caribbean Islands, what are some established port of calls that allow for overnight docking and have good access to restaurants, shopping, and entertainment?
Like boating and sailing, with endless stretches of water, there are seemingly endless opportunities for recreational fishing within sounds, rivers, estuaries, bays, saltwater flats, and surrounding marshlands.
What are some local areas that have guided fishing tours and services in places like like Corolla, Avon, Duck, and Cape Hatteras?
What species of fish are typically caught within the sounds, inlets, bays, and rivers of the Outer Banks? What licensing is needed for recreational fishing in the area versus places that do not require a license?
Where are some easily accessible shipwreck sights popular for people who love big game fishing? What are some solid recommendations for people not familiar with saltwater fishing when thinking about needed rods and reels, bait, and other equipment when fishing the inner banks, inlets, and sounds?
What are some well-known fishing piers in local communities open year-around for recreational fishing? What time of the year is best for which species of fish?
With over 170 miles of pristine beaches and islands, it’s not hard to imagine beach fishing beingh popular. In fact, this recreational activity is ranked at the top for things to do while vacationing and visiting this region. No boat needed, no sailboat needed. No pier needed.
All you really need is a rod and reel, a chair, some bait, and the desire to relax and feel peaceful. When thinking about Cape Lookout, Cape Hatteras, Nags Head, Frisco, and Rodanthe, each of these communities allow for beach fishing 24 hours a day. But, you do need a fishing license and saltwater stamp.
As a past visitor or resident of the outer islands, what are some recommendations and cautions when considering fishing from the beach? What species of fish are typically caught in the surf?
We do know that Cape Lookout has two options for cabin rentals which specifically cater to beach fishing by vacationers and travelers to the region. Where are cabins in places like Duck, Corolla, Buxton, and Kitty Hawk?
Charter Boats And Gulf Stream Fishing
While this is certainly debatable, offshore and Gulf Stream fishing is likely one of the top reasons people visit the NC Outer Banks. With Cape Hatteras being the closest land approach to the valued warm Gulf Stream waters, sportfishing and big game fishing are highly sought after recreation activities in the area.
Considering this, charter boats are a big business in the area with many offering the best in world-class inshore and offshore fishing opportunities.
As a visitor to the coastal region, we strongly encourage you to find your local boat docks and wait for the charter boats to come in from their daily excursions from offshore waters and marvel at the size and diversity of fish brought in.
What are your experiences in fishing offshore waters near the Gulf Stream and what types of charter boat packages are there for people wishing to spend a half day or full day out on the water?
Nature And Wildlife
Wildlife refuges and nature viewing areas are very abundant along the outer and inner islands with an overwhelming diversity of marine mammals, shorebirds, fish, and other wildlife.
Some of the most notable places to see when considering wildlife viewing is the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge extending from Corolla to the NC and Virginia state line, the North River Game Land Dedicated Nature Preserve near Shawboro, Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Reserve, Jockey’s Ridge State Park near Nags Head, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge near Rodanthe on Highway 12, Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge in Carteret County near Cedar Island, Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge Admin Building And Visitor Contact Station and Gull Rock Game Land near Swan Quarter, and Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge near Rodanthe on the inner banks. The wild horses of Shackleford Island, Cedar Island, and Corolla are some must see places to learn about equestrian habitats in the wild.
While there are established wildlife refuges and nature viewing areas in this coastal region, it’s hard not to see the entire Outer Banks as one big delicate ecosystem and habitat.
What are your experiences with wildlife habitats along the outer and inner banks, on the Pamlico Sound, Currituck Sound, and Albemarle Sound?
The Outer Banks lighthouses are easily in the top three most famous and favorite places to see along the banks of this coastal region.
The Currituck Beach Lighthouse near Corolla, the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse near Roanoke Island, the Bodie Island Lighthouse near Nags Head, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse near Cape Hatteras, the Ocracoke Island Lighthouse on Ocracoke Island, and the Cape Lookout Lightouse on the Cape Lookout National Seashore are all perennial favorites for things to do when thinking about history, touring, learning, and climbing these enigmatic structures.
What are some of the coastal lighthouses you climbed in the past while traveling or vacationing in this region, or which lighthouses are on your bucket list? It’s important to note that the only lighthouse not open to climb by the public is the Ocracoke Island lighthouse.
Historical References And Markers
In the vein of keeping this article as readable as possible, it’s impossible to list all the historical references and historical markers on this stretch of land in coastal NC.
However, it’s impossible to talk about history and these islands without mentioning the Wright Brothers National Memorial dedicated to being first in flight, the contributions of the coastal NC lighthouses to maritime navigation dating back to colonial times, the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” as a solemn reminder of how treacherous these waters are still today.
Did you know historians have documented well over 350 shipwrecks on the immediate coastline from Cape Hatteras to Cape Lookout? And, did you know that divers from around the world come to dive the waters of the Atlantic looking for lost treasures and bounty?
Also, did you know that Blackbeard the Pirate is well-known to historians who to this day continue to document his travels along the East Coast of the United States?
What are some historical references and markers your family visited while on vacation? What are some recommended places to see?
Beaches And Sand Dunes
Sometimes, finding elaborate places to see, touring, and discovering just doesn’t cut it. So for this section, let’s drop the official itinerary and focus on peace. Many times, all you need is to lay on a secluded and remote beach, surrounded by white sand dunes, the sounds of gulls overhead, the laping of the waves on the beach, warm temperatures, a slight ocean breeze, and a warming sun to calm your surroundings.
If this sounds fun, then you literally have over 170 miles to find your perfect secluded and quiet beach or sand dune to accomplish this. Forget the arcades, sprawling kids amusement parks, the bustling retail shops and tourist traps because the Outer Banks offers the best nourished and secluded beaches and sand dunes anywhere in the world.
Which of the outer and inner islands have your favorite relaxing beaches? What makes this spot unique?
Pamlico Sound Resources
The Pamlico Sound is the largest body of water which separates the inner banks from the outer islands and is very vital to the entire Outer Banks ecosystem. This body of water is the primary route for all ferry routes to and from places like Swan Quarter, Portsmouth Island, Ocracoke Island, Cape Hatteras, and other places.
Additionally, the Pamlico Sound is the main body of water that serves most of the smaller bays, rivers, creeks, estuaries, and smaller sounds along our coast. Furthermore, this body of water is very fertile for recreational fishing, kayaking, canoeing, jet skiing, boating, and sailing.
As a past visitor to this coastal region, what wildlife refuges, watersports, hiking trails, nature trails, and fishing did you discover within the Pamlico Sound?
Albemarle Sound Resources
The Albemarle Sound is further north of the Pamlico Sound and is just as vital to communities near Currituck despite it’s smaller size.
What are some important and unique places to see and things to do along the Albemarle Sound when traveling to our coastal region? What are some resources for bird watching, nature sightseeing, wildlife, kayaking and canoeing, and sailing exists for this northern cousin of the Pamlico Sound?
Currituck Sound Resources
While a part of the Albemarle Sound ecosystem, the Currituck Sound separates the northernmost land mass and wildlife refuge of the banks from the mainland. Some towns along the Currituck Sound include Knotts Island, Corolla, Duck, and Southern Shores with Kitty Hawk, Nags Head, and Kill Devil Hills being just south of this sound.
What are some important tourism resources when visiting the Currituck Sound while on family vacation?
Cape Lookout National Seashore And Portsmouth Island
At the southernmost portion of the banks is Cape Lookout National Seashore, Portsmouth Island, and Shackleford Banks which are only accessible by private boat or passenger ferry. Cape Lookout is actually broken up in to three core banks with the southern core banks containing the famous lighthouse.
Ferry service to these islands are accessible from places like Davis NC, Sea Level, and Harkers Island. The core banks of Cape Lookout are an important fishing destination for their small villages of rustic rental cabins used by people who travel to this coastal region for beach fishing, whale watching, and diving the many shipwrecks just off the coast.
Shackleford Banks is well-known for it’s herd of wild horses much like the wild herd found at Corolla.
Ocracoke Island is a popular destination for it’s heritage and culture centered around maritime law and entertainment. Ocracoke Island was a familar sight and stopping point for pirates like Blackbeard back in colonial days. However, Ocracoke Island is only accessible by passenger and car ferry from Cape Hatteras and Cedar Island.
Ocracoke Island has a robust entertainment and tourism center with small locally owned retail shops, restaurants, and motels. This island also has one of the famous lighthouses with it’s own unique history along the NC coastline.
Frisco And Cape Hatteras National Seashore And Lighthouse
Frisco is a very small community located within the Cape Hatteras ecosystem, and this section will have it’s dedicated discussion forum for tourism related places to see and things to do because Cape Hatteras is one of the most well-known places along the NC Outer Banks for it’s charter boat service to the Gulf Stream, beach fishing, and more.
Buxton, Avon, And Salvo
Buxton, Avon, and Salvo are very remote, small, and isolated towns along the narrowest portion of the banks. Discussions for these towns will be added within this sub-heading.
Rodanthe is another small and secluded town along the central banks with it’s own unique culture, and is well-known for being the theme around the novel by Nicholas Sparks called “Nights on Rodanthe” made popular in 2008.
Nags Head And Roanoke Island
Entertainment, tourism, and other discussions on Nags Head and Roanoke Island will be populated with data in this sub-heading as we receive information and questions about these areas.
Kill Devil Hills
This small town is most notable for it’s historical relevance to being the first place in America where people first experienced flight. But, it also has it’s own unique maritime culture, beautiful secluded beaches, and wildlife habitats.
Kitty Hawk And Southern Shores
Both of these small towns begin the transition from the central portion of the islands to the northern part of the islands, and like most places along this narrow strip of land, have their own unique culture and ecosystems for vacationers to enjoy. Both Kitty Hawk and Southern Shores are annual retreats by people who enjoy remote and very secluded travel destinations and pristine beaches.
Duck and Corolla
Located at the northernmost portion of the island, Duck and Corolla are very remote towns known for extremely secluded beaches, incredible scenic views, and majestic sunsets. If you happen to decide on a family vacation within these towns, be sure to learn all you can about the Corolla wild horses and the history of this area.
A small unincorporated town sitting directly on the VA and NC border, Knotts Island is home to the Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge and ferry service over Currituck Sound. Discussions centered on this island will take place under this sub-heading.
Questions And Discussions
Using the discussion form below, discuss with us your most detailed information and questions regarding things to do and see on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. As this article gets lengthy, we’ll split-up sub-headings to have their own standalone comments page. Again, we hope you will consider sharing this travel and vacation resource.