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  • Sunset hang gliding at Jockey’s Ridge State Park
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    Take to the Sky in Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head

  • Distant view of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
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    Natural Beauty and Adventure on Hatteras Island

  • Shops line the boardwalk in Duck, North Carolina
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    The Charming Beach Towns of Duck and Corolla

  • Quaint shops along a street in downtown Manteo
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    Culture and History in Manteo

Wild pony on Carova Beach in the Outer Banks
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North Carolina’s Outer Banks: A Charming Coastal Itinerary

  • Route distance:
    565.00 km
  • Suggested Time:
    5 days

A classic Southern USA escape to the beach in North Carolina’s Outer Banks

Stretching nearly the length of the coast of North Carolina is a string of beach communities and untouched natural landscapes known as the Outer Banks. Frequently abbreviated OBX, this remote ribbon of barrier islands offers an ideal escape. Stretch your legs with walks along sandy beaches, explore historical attractions, stroll quaint villages dotted with lighthouses, or visit rolling sand dunes where you can take flight by hang glider. Or, do as many do around here and simply enjoy the island life with a blanket on the beach to watch the sunset.

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Sunset hang gliding at Jockey’s Ridge State Park
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Take to the Sky in Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head

The closest international airport is Norfolk International in Virginia, a 1.5-hour drive from the Outer Banks. Your entrance to the islands will be a drive over Wright Memorial Bridge, named after the Wright brothers of first-in-flight fame. It’s here in Kill Devil Hills, your first stop, that Wilbur and Orville Wright flew the first powered, heavier-than-air plane in 1903. Walk the flight line of the historic event and you’ll gain a new appreciation for air travel – the first lift-off was a surprisingly short jaunt of a mere 37 meters. Just down the island in Nags Head is Jockey’s Ridge State Park, site of the tallest sand dune on the Atlantic coast and one of the most beautiful beaches around. Folks gather here to fly kites with the kids, hike the dunes or stop for a picnic. Try sandboarding on the dune fields, or take advantage of the year-round winds and go hang gliding at the beach. Stay for a perfect sunset photo or head a little further south to Jennette’s Pier for a fantastic panoramic view. Nags Head is a good place to stay for the night; your next destination is blissfully off the grid.

100 km
1.5 hours by car
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Distant view of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
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Natural Beauty and Adventure on Hatteras Island

Stretching nearly 230 kilometers, the Outer Banks National Scenic Byway (called Highway 12) is the main thoroughfare for travel along the islands. Head south for a day of sun and sea to Cape Hatteras National Seashore, encompassing 110 kilometers of protected, undeveloped shore. Enjoy surfing, kitesurfing, kayaking, snorkeling, swimming, fishing, crabbing and sunbathing. Do a self-guided climb (open seasonally from the third Friday in April to Columbus Day in October) of the Bodie Island Lighthouse, with its horizontal black-and-white stripes, and the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the tallest brick lighthouse in the U.S. At the far end of Hatteras Island, ride the free ferry to remote Ocracoke Island. With thousands of shipwrecks estimated offshore, this is a must-visit for divers. History buffs will also be intrigued by the World War II-era British cemetery. If you’re ready to rest your flip flops for the day, there are low-key, affordable accommodations in the village of Hatteras.

126 km
1.75 hours by car
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Shops line the boardwalk in Duck, North Carolina
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The Charming Beach Towns of Duck and Corolla

Head back north up the highway and pass by your starting destination for a day in the charming towns of Duck and Corolla. At Duck Town Park and Boardwalk, go canoeing or kayaking, search for crabs, take the kids to the playground and walk the beautiful boardwalk. At the adjacent Waterfront Shops, pick up gifts and souvenirs at locally owned boutiques and have lunch at a waterfront restaurant. If you’re looking for beach access, head to neighboring Corolla, where wild mustangs freely roam the sands. Multiple companies offer off-road tours on the beach to get you closer to these untamed creatures. From March to the beginning of December, you can climb the 220 steps to the top of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, an unpainted brick structure that is worthy of at least a pretty picture in the off-season. Nearby, take a tour (self-guided or ghost-themed) at the Whalehead Club, a restored, 1920s-era mansion by the water. With its convenient amenities and casual resort feel, Corolla is a great place to stop for an overnight.  

66 km
1 hour by car
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Quaint shops along a street in downtown Manteo
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Culture and History in Manteo

On your way back to the mainland, pause for a few hours in Manteo on Roanoke Island. The island is infused with colonial history, beginning with a failed attempt at establishing a settlement in 1584, followed by fighting with the native inhabitants and the building of a fort that has never been found. In 1587, Sir Walter Raleigh brought 120 English men, women and children to the island. Later that year, the governor made a trip back to Europe for supplies but, due to war with Spain, could not return until 1590. Upon his return, he found the entire colony had vanished. This disappearance is considered one of the greatest mysteries of the nation’s settlement history. Intrigued? Head to Fort Raleigh National Historic Site for a showing of “The Lost Colony” (May - August), an outdoor stage production dramatizing this puzzling event. Take in the colorful trees and flowers at Elizabethan Gardens, located within the historical site. Your history lesson continues at Roanoke Island Festival Park, a family-friendly, interactive attraction where you can board a 16th century-style ship, explore a re-created Coastal Algonquian Native American town and interact with historical interpreters at a settlement village. Grab a bite to eat in Manteo’s historic waterfront district before heading back to Norfolk International Airport for your return flight.

More information

Official North Carolina Travel Site