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Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Outer Banks Trip Planner

Make the most of your getaway to North Carolina’s Outer Banks and have a trip to remember. Between climbing historic lighthouses, searching for wild horses in the dunes, building a few sandcastles, surfing, fishing, and paddling around and soaking up the sun – you’ll have time to enjoy some exceptional seafood, learn a bit about one of our nation’s enduring mysteries, and simply relax.

There’s so much to do here that you need an Outer Banks vacation guide to help you plan your trip. That’s why we’ve created this travel guide: to help you make the most of your time on the Outer Banks. So read on, get planning, and prepare to enjoy every minute of your time on the Outer Banks.

Contents

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

How To Get Here

The Outer Banks of North Carolina are remote, which means getting there requires a little work. There are two small airports on the Outer Banks and one ferry route serves these islands; most visitors (and locals) arrive on one of two highways that connect the Outer Banks to mainland North Carolina. As you drive in (or take the ferry if you’re really adventurous), you’ll cross one of three sounds: the Roanoke, Currituck or Pamlico Sounds. A sound is a wide, shallow body of water, and a network of sounds and marshes stands between the Outer Banks and the mainland, making for amazing sunsets just about every night.

By Plane

Two tiny airports serve the Outer Banks. On Roanoke Island, the Dare County Airport (MQI) offers two runways but no commercial flights; the planes you see here are privately owned or chartered, or they provide flight-seeing/skydiving services. The second airport is a single runway at First Flight Airport (FFA) at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills; though the airport sees more than 100 flights a day, most of those are flight-seeing trips with a few private flights mixed in for good measure. Note there are no regular commercial flights to the Outer Banks, and even if there were, renting a car here can be difficult as there’s limited inventory.

Norfolk International Airport, VA

If you do fly in, you’ll be flying into one of the bigger airports in the region. Norfolk International Airport (ORF) sits 80 miles (129 kilometers) to the north in Virginia, a drive of around 90 minutes. A number of national and regional airlines serve ORF, and there are plenty of rental car agencies available.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Raleigh-Durham International Airport, NC

In North Carolina, the Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) sits around 220 miles (354 kilometers) west, a drive of three and a half hours. RDU sees a number of international flights daily and hundreds of domestic arrivals from regional and national carriers. You’ll have no problem renting a car if you fly into RDU.

Coastal Carolina Regional Airport, NC

Another nearby airport is Coastal Carolina Regional Airport (EWN) in New Bern, North Carolina, 138-miles (222-kilometers) southwest, a drive of just under three hours. This is another small airport and is serviced only by American Airlines (with most flights between New Bern and Charlotte (CLT)), so renting a car upon arrival could be tricky.

By Ferry

North Carolina operates a number of car and passenger ferries along the coast, but one route – Ocracoke Island to Hatteras Village (a one-hour trip) – serves the Outer Banks. This route arrives at the far south end of the Outer Banks in Hatteras Village, the southernmost point of Hatteras Island and the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. From here it’s a 60-mile (97-kilometer), 1.5-hour drive through Cape Hatteras National Seashore to the more tourist-focused towns of the Outer Banks.

This ferry arrives from Ocracoke Island, and getting to Ocracoke Island requires a ferry ride from the mainland. To reach Ocracoke Island you can take the Cedar Island Ferry or the Swan Quarter Ferry; both crossings take two and a half hours, plus a few minutes to load and unload the ferry. Once on Ocracoke Island you’ll drive the length of the island to the north end to catch the ferry to Hatteras Island, a one-hour ride. You can make a reservation (online) for ferries to Ocracoke Island, but you’ll just have to wait in line for the ride over to Hatteras.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

By Car

Most visitors to the Outer Banks arrive by car, approaching the Outer Banks from the north or the south. The northern route arrives in Kitty Hawk, while the southern route enters the Outer Banks at Roanoke Island (and the town of Manteo) before reaching the town of Nags Head.

From the north: US-158, the Caratoke Highway, follows a narrow peninsula to the Wright Memorial Bridge. Upon crossing the Wright Memorial Bridge you’ll be on the Outer Banks. Reaching US-158 from points west is simple: navigate the waterfront town of Elizabeth City via US-17 or US-158, then continue on to the Outer Banks.

From the south or west: US-64 provides a straight shot across a beautiful, very rural stretch of North Carolina and arrives on Roanoke Island, while US-264 provides a more circuitous, even more rural drive that meets up with US-64 at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.

You should have no problem routing your GPS or navigation system to the Outer Banks. And if you’re not sure what destination to enter, try one of the towns like Nags Head (the southern entry point) or Kitty Hawk (the northern entry point). The Outer Banks tourism authority has helpful turn-by-turn directions from Norfolk International Airport, the Chesapeake Bay, and the Richmond area (and points north), as well as southern towns like Wilmington.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Getting Around

The Outer Banks is made up of a sliver of mainland, Roanoke Island, and a collection of villages strung along a series of barrier islands. On the mainland you’ll find Mann’s Harbor (a convenient spot to fuel up) and the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. On Roanoke Island you’ll find the towns of Manteo and Wanchese, plus historical and visitor-friendly sites (and sights) like Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, the harbor in Manteo and the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island. On the Outer Banks proper, you’ll find the following villages and towns: (from north to south) Corolla, Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco and Hatteras Village. US-64 and the US-64 bypass, with the addition of surface streets, traverse Roanoke Island.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

On the Outer Banks proper, navigation is easy. North Carolina Highway 12 traces a path from Corolla (at the far north end of the Outer Banks) to Hatteras Village (at the far southern end). And in the villages of Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head, it’s joined by US-158, which traces a parallel course. Here NC 12 runs along the beach as a slower, two-lane drive that’s often busy with pedestrians crossing from hotels and rental homes to the beach; US-158 is a four-lane thoroughfare that provides quicker travel and an abundance of restaurants, shops and other businesses.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Entrance Fees

The three Outer Banks national parks are Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, the Wright Brothers National Memorial and Cape Hatteras National Seashore. An entrance pass is not required to access Fort Raleigh National Historic Site or the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, although fees apply to various other services and activities within Cape Hatteras National Seashore. There are also no fees required to access Jockey’s Ridge State Park for day use.

An entrance pass is required for every person to enter Wright Brothers National Memorial. And bear in mind that Wright Brothers National Memorial is a cashless operation, but all major credit and debit cards are accepted.

Depending on the length of your stay and how many National Parks you plan to visit in a year, it may be more beneficial to purchase the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. This pass covers entrance fees into all U.S. National Parks as well as over 2,000 National Monuments, National Wildlife Refuges, National Historic Sites, and other federally managed lands. Passes are free for current U.S. military members and reduced for Seniors aged 62 years or older. Senior passes also provide a 50 percent discount at select campgrounds.

Have Kids in the 4th Grade? 
You and your family can get free access to hundreds of parks, lands, and waters for an entire year!  

Outer Banks Tour Map

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Where to Stay

Nearly every village on the Outer Banks has a selection of vacation homes, condos, and hotel or motel rooms to rent. In a few villages you’ll find campgrounds where you can hook up your RV or pitch a tent. And if you like to stay in B&Bs or inns, you’ll find a few of those as well.

Most visitors opt for a rental home while they’re here, and with a huge inventory of homes available, it’s no wonder. Rental homes range from oceanfront palaces that sleep 20, to simple homes perfect for a couple, family or small group. You’ll find homes with gourmet kitchens, private beach or sound access, expansive decks where you can watch the sun rise or set, pools, and more – including pet-friendly homes and places where accessibility won’t be an issue.

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Vacation rentals are available in nearly every town and village – Southern Shores are the exception, as most homes there are full-time Outer Banks residents. There are a number of nationwide chain hotels on the Outer Banks and a bevy of mom-and-pop hotels (many with that classic beachside hotel vibe) available; several of these offer pet-friendly stays if you’re traveling with your four-legged friend. Most chain hotels are concentrated in the Kitty Hawk-Kill Devil Hills-Nags Head area, as are many of the mom-and-pop hotels and motels.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

For RVers and campers, Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the seven villages there offer the lion’s share of accommodations. Here you’ll find several campsites operated by the National Parks Service and a dozen or more privately owned RV parks and campsites ranging from primitive to resort-like, including a large KOA campground.

While there’s no shortage of accommodations on the Outer Banks, if you want your choice of beachside home or if you want to redeem some hotel rewards points, you’ll need to book early, as much as a year in advance.

As you’re selecting your accommodations, keep in mind the amenities available in each town and village. In Corolla, Duck and Southern Shores, things are quieter and slower, and you have a good – but not huge – selection of dining and shopping options. Throughout Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head you have the highest concentration of dining, shopping and entertainment options. In Manteo on Roanoke Island, you’ll get a taste of what it’s like to live here full-time. Throughout the seven villages in Cape Hatteras National Seashore, you’ll find life is slow and focused (folks come to fish, surfers surf, and the ones who want to do nothing but rest and recharge do exactly that) and that there are fewer options for dining and shopping. The official visitors bureau for the Outer Banks has a great guide available to help you select the village that matches your vibe.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

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Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

When To Visit

Folks like to say there’s no bad time to visit the Outer Banks, and they’re right. It’s gorgeous here year-round, but there are better times to visit, and that’s all based on weather. Summer is prime time: the weather is great, the water is warm, and the beach towns show off their very best. But look at a visit into the shoulder season, those weeks and months in late spring and early fall when the weather is warm and consistent and the water’s excellent. With summer being high season, expect crowds and heavy traffic at times. The busiest days are on Saturdays and Sundays, when rental homes see families departing and arriving en masse. If your travel plans allow, arrive a little early or late in the day to avoid the worst of traffic.

From late fall through winter and into early spring, it gets cold on the Outer Banks. It’s windy here (that’s why the Wright brothers decided to test their amazing flying machines here) and when you combine cool water, cold temperatures and a steady wind, you arrive at a significant wind chill. On the coldest, most blustery days you could experience an ambient temperature in the mid 30s, a 45-knot wind, and a wind chill in the teens or lower. Days like that don’t happen often, though.

During the early or late parts of shoulder season and throughout the off-season it’s possible you have the beach to yourself. Surfers and anglers love this time of year because the lack of crowds mean they can surf and cast to their heart’s content. They brave the cold water with wetsuits or insulated waders, and take advantage of the empty beaches. Some anglers visit the Outer Banks based on what they want to catch – different species are more active during some seasons – and surfers will watch for storm forecasts and arrive in time to ride big, storm-driven waves.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Hurricanes, tropical storms and tropical depressions can be an issue on the Outer Banks. From June through the end of November it’s Hurricane Season for the Atlantic Basin, which includes the East Coast, Gulf Coast, Caribbean, and eastern Mexico. When you’re traveling during this time, it’s a good idea to keep a casual eye on the weather forecast. The Outer Banks is well-versed in hurricane preparedness and in what to do for visitors and residents in the event things get serious and an evacuation order is issued. For this reason, we recommend looking into travel insurance to cover any expenses and inconveniences that arise from an evacuation or inclement weather (coverage and cost varies by travel insurance provider).

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

How Much Time Do You Need to Visit the Outer Banks

During the summer season – and parts of shoulder season – most rentals are available by the week only, although some (often the hotels) offer shorter stays. For this reason, it’s easy to say you need a week to visit the Outer Banks. Fortunately, that’s true. In a week you’ll have time to explore a few beaches, go in search of the Banker Ponies on a guided tour (feral horses that roam wild and free near Corolla), climb a lighthouse, and eat plenty of local seafood.

In a week on the Outer Banks you’ll also find plenty of time to relax, take it easy, and slow down. And of course, two weeks spreads things out and gives you more time to nap, work on your tan, or explore.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

During the shoulder season you’ll find folks within an easy drive of the Outer Banks coming to visit for a long weekend – three or four days – of beachcombing, birdwatching, fishing or surfing (or both), and exploring.

Because of the nature of the week-long rentals, it’s difficult to village-hop across the Outer Banks, spending a night in Duck, a night in Nags Head, and a night or two in Rodanthe or Hatteras Village or Manteo. But because the area is so compact, it’s easy to visit each town (if that’s your thing) and get to know them. Or you can stay focused and spend your week in one area and soak up all the sun and sand you can stand.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

How to Avoid the Crowds

Summer is by far the busiest time on the Outer Banks, when families fill the numerous rental houses and hotels as well as nearby campgrounds. As a result, visiting in spring (March to May) and in fall (September to November) means you will avoid a lot of the summer crowds and vacation rental rates drop. Many locals will tell you fall is the best time to visit – the Outer Banks weather is mild until the end of December, and the crowds have lessened. Some of the restaurants and attractions close outside of peak tourist months, but many local restaurants stay open all year round. Winter is the quietest time of year, and hotel and private beach rentals are incredibly affordable for those seeking some snow-free solitude.

And if you are visiting in summer, there are simple tips for avoiding peak traffic. Typically, most people vacationing on the Outer Banks choose to rent from Saturday to Saturday. So, if you switch up your check-in day to a Friday or Sunday, then check-in traffic will be much less.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Things to See and Do

Visitors come to the Outer Banks to rest and relax and do nothing. Or to frolic on the beach, flying kites and building sandcastles and playing in the surf. Others come to fish, to surf, to dine on fresh seafood. Fortunately, you can do it all on the Outer Banks. Read on for some of our favorite activities and sights.

Bodie Island Light Station

In terms of structure, Bodie is a twin to the Currituck Beach Lighthouse at the far northern end of the Outer Banks. The Bodie Island Light Station has a distinct paint job: horizontal black and white stripes. That helped mariners back in the day know which lighthouse they were looking at – and it also helps us take really great photos!

One of the most awesome things to do here, or at any lighthouse, is to climb it. There’s a season for climbing but lucky for us, it coincides with visitor season. The view from the top is epic, to say the least.

RESERVATIONS REQUIRED

Climb tickets for the Bodie Island Light Station are available on a first come, first served basis. Visit nps.gov for more details and reservations.

Cape Hatteras Light Station

As well as being the tallest brick lighthouse in the country, the Cape Hatteras Light Station is painted with a memorable, black and white candystripe design. If available, it’s fun to climb the lighthouse. You can see where the building was relocated from and tidelines keep rising. You may even recognize the lighthouse as a location often first-battered by hurricanes threatening to make landfall along the coastline. Also in the area, be sure to check out the towns of Hatteras and Buxton, and the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum is worth a few fascinating hours.

CLIMBING CLOSURE

The Cape Hatteras Light Station is currently closed for climbing and will likely not open until the summer of 2026. Visit nps.gov for updates.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

The Cape Hatteras National Seashore is a stretch of approximately 70 miles (113 kilometers) south of Nags Head. Much of it is natural, and sometimes a little wild, but it’s a beautiful drive to explore. Though we will enjoy some longer sections of zero development, there are seven small towns heading that way including Rodanthe, Avon, Buxton and Hatteras Village. We have a couple of very cool lighthouse at Bodie Island and Cape Hatteras itself. Driving this way is a great day out, with lots of space on open beaches and it’s definitely less crowded feeling than the towns to the north. If you enjoy beachcombing for shells – that’s the way to go. 

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Corolla

This is the end of the road driving as far north as we can on the North Carolina Outer Banks. Beyond seeing where the pavement meets the sand, there are several cool things to see, including the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and associate historic buildings like the lightkeeper’s residence. From a more gilded time – the Whalebone Club was once a somewhat decadent seeming duck hunting lodge. And the protected waters of the Currituck Sound are well worth enjoying – the Whalebone Club is a good place to do that.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Duck

Of the towns north of Kitty Hawk, Duck enjoys a true town center-feeling unlike the others. It’s well worth exploring and taking some time to walk the waterfront boardwalk – that extends into the water in many places.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Fort Raleigh and The Lost Colony

Way back in the 1580s, an English colony was established at the north end of Roanoke Island. It only lasted a few years before the colonists disappeared without a trace, and to this day, we really don’t 100% know what became of them. You can visit the site where their fort stood, learn about their lives and disappearance, then watch The Lost Colony, the longest-running outdoor drama in America, a dramatic interpretation of the events surrounding the mystery of the failed colony.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Jennette’s Pier

There are three excellent piers that jut out into the Atlantic Ocean along the Outer Banks. Jennette’s might be the most famous and is located at Nags Head. Having been rebuilt three times – the last time in concrete – the pier is lovely for a short stroll, or for a slightly higher activity level – a popular place to fish from. Fishing equipment and bait are available right at the pier, and you’ll also find a small aquarium at the location too. For a taste of local flavor, opposite the pier is Sam and Omies – a tavern/diner that is an Outer Banks favorite for its decor, food and tradition. It started out as the place the fishermen would take their breakfast before heading off to work.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Jockey’s Ridge State Park

Sand dunes and their specialized environment are unexpectedly fascinating, and Jockey’s Ridge has two places to explore. The visitor center is accessed right from the Croatan Highway and feature a boardwalk through the low dunes – but you should also get your toes into the sand. Also be sure to visit the Jockey’s Ridge Sound Access location. This gives you the best of both worlds – explore the dune environment, but also access some lovely sound-side beach areas where you can cool off. And if you go a little further, you’ll find you might have more space all to yourself.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Roanoke Island

We talk specifically about The Lost Colony and Fort Raleigh separately, but there are many other things to enjoy on Roanoke Island, which is on the sound-side of Nags Head. Manteo is quite the lovely waterside town – charming, historic feeling with loads of galleries, stores and dining options to explore. Enjoy the boardwalk too, you’ll see that the town becomes like a magnet for folks who want a relaxing end to their day.

Further along the island is the highly experiential North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island – an excellent outing at any time, but a fantastic option on a rainy day. Other great experiences to seek out on the island include the historically restored Island Farm, the gorgeous Elizabeth Gardens over by Fort Raleigh and calling in to the National Wildlife Refuges Visitor Center to plan your own little adventure. And finally – there’s the Mothervine, a plant you may have never imagined. You’ll be tempted to make this five-minute detour as we tour – no spoilers.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Rodanthe

Located in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Rodanthe is most recognizable of the three intermingled towns including Waves and Salvo, and Avon further to the south. It’s a uniquely beautiful drive just to get there. We’ll cross some very long and impressive bridges on the way, and don’t be surprised if the beach sand is trying to reclaim the road. The area is popular for regular surfers and kiter-boarders. The Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station is a celebration of the brave souls who risk hazardous seas to save those on ships in distress.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Wright Brothers National Memorial

On December 17, 1903, in Kitty Hawk, the Wright Brothers successfully launched four powered flights that day, making history as they proved mankind could break the bonds of gravity and fly. You can stand on that very ground at the memorial – or even better, you can walk the exact flightpath from the day that changed the world forever. The memorial and visitor experience is a not-to-be-missed highlight for you visit to the Outer Banks.

Cultural Experiences

Wright Brothers National Memorial, Kill Devil Hills

Orville and Wilbur Wright came to the Outer Banks several times in the early 1900s to test their gliders and their powered flying machine. On December 17, 1903 right here in Kitty Hawk, they were successful and launched four powered flights that day, making history as they proved mankind could break the bonds of gravity and fly. The memorial stands on that same field where they flew that December day, and when you visit you can walk the paths of those first flights, see a reproduction of the Wright Flyer (the first powered airplane), and visit the hilltop monument erected in their memory. The view from the monument is top notch, and while you’re up there you might spot a huge bronze statue. Pay it a visit. This life size statue marks the very moment the Wright Flyer took flight, from the plane hovering inches in the air to the assistants running alongside to the photographer there to capture history in the making. Be warned: it’s hot in summer, so if you want to climb on, give it a test touch or two before you hop aboard.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

North Carolina Aquarium, Roanoke Island

Take a peek beneath the waves by visiting the North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke Island. Here they tell the story of water, following freshwater tributaries from the headwaters to the rivers to the marshes and Sounds and finally the Atlantic Ocean. Start with freshwater fish and otters; meet alligators and other marsh dwellers; then discover the fish, crustaceans and creatures who live in the surf and the deep waters offshore. Touch tanks with sea stars, horseshoe crabs and other critters let you get close to sea life. Exhibits and live displays of sea turtles, aquariums filled with sharks and rays, and tanks where bright fish swim through shipwrecks give every visitor a look at life under the sea.

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, Roanoke Island

See The Lost Colony and visit the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, Roanoke Island. Way back in the 1580s, an English colony was established at the north end of Roanoke Island. It only lasted a few years before the colonists disappeared without a trace. You can visit the site where their fort stood, learn about their lives and disappearance, then watch The Lost Colony, the longest-running outdoor drama in America, a dramatic interpretation of the events surrounding the mystery of the failed colony.

Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, Hatteras Village

The Outer Banks have a grim nickname: The Graveyard of the Atlantic. The shoals, sandbars and currents here are treacherous and hundreds of ships have sunk here thanks to the weather, the terrain, pirates and war. Blackbeard sailed these waters, the Civil War saw many ships sunk, and in World War II German U-Boats sunk several ships just offshore. At the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, you’ll learn the maritime history of the region, see artifacts from shipwrecks, and discover more about the grim history of these waters.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station, Rodanthe

Lifeguards are a common sight on many beaches today (including many of the beaches on the Outer Banks), but at one time beaches were bare and seafarers took to the waves under great risk. The United States Lifesaving Service was established to rescue shipwrecked passengers and crew and on the Outer Banks that job was ultra-important. At the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station, a collection of historic buildings shows the daily life of these heroic souls and costumed interpreters demonstrate the lifesaving techniques they used. You’ll see a surfboat, the Breeches Buoy (and a demonstration of how it was used) and artifacts from the era.

Two more notes on the U.S. Lifesaving Station. Captain Richard Etheridge, a Black man born enslaved on Roanoke Island, became the first Black Captain of the U.S. Lifesaving Service and he led an all-Black crew who was responsible for some of the most daring rescues along the Outer Banks; a Coast Guard cutter was named in his honor. The U.S. Lifesaving Service was the precursor to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Awesome Experiences 

Wild Horse Tour, Corolla

The Outer Banks is home to the Banker Ponies, a herd of feral horses descended from shipwrecked Spanish Mustangs. Those original Mustangs wrecked here 500 years ago but their offspring live on, surviving in the dunes, marshes, and maritime forests north of Corolla. Book a tour with one of the guide companies and they’ll lead you to some horses.

Pro Tip: Book the first trip of the day and you have a better chance of seeing the herd, of seeing dolphins in the nearshore surf, and for catching other island wildlife on the move. 

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Lighthouse Climbing

Did you know you can climb the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, Bodie Island Light Station and the Cape Hatteras Light Station? There’s a climbing season (fortunately it covers summer entirely) and a small fee to climb each of these, but if the weather’s right, you can. The Bodie Island and Currituck Beach Lighthouses are twins – identical height, identical design – and the view from the top of each is jaw dropping, but the Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest brick lighthouse in the US (and one of the tallest brick lighthouses in the world), and climbing it is a special experience. 

LIGHTHOUSE CLIMBING RESERVATIONS AND CLOSURES

Reservations are required to climb the Bodie Island and Cape Hatteras Lighthouses. Visit nps.gov for more details.

The Cape Hatteras Light Station is currently closed for climbing and will likely not open until the summer of 2026. Visit nps.gov for updates.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Nags Head Woods Preserve, Nags Head

Hike through the maritime forest and interdune ridges at this nature preserve in Nags Head. Trails lead to hidden ponds where ducks and migratory birds dine and rest; one path passes what remains of century-old homesteads as it leads you to the Roanoke Sound; others are short and kid-friendly. 

Bird Watching at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

At the north end of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Pea Island acts as a refuge for migratory waterfowl and songbirds as well as the island’s full-time avian residents. Several manmade ponds offer fresh water, food and a safe place to stay for a while, and wildlife overlooks and trails looping around the ponds offer us the chance to do a little bird watching. Tundra swan, norther pintail, Canadian and snow geese, grebes, coots, White and Brown pelicans, herons, egrets, dozens of species of ducks are some of the birds that frequent Pea Island, and what you’ll see varies by season. Speaking of season, if you’re a duck hunter, you might want to put your name in for the hunting permit lottery. Each season a limited number of waterfowl hunting permits are issued. Permits are tied to a specific blind or area to hunt in, making it safe for hunters and the general public, so if you’re game, come back during duck season (but bring something warm, it’s chilly that time of year).

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Surf School

All over the Outer Banks, outfitters offer surfing lessons. Kitty Hawk Kites, REAL Watersports, and just about every surf shop gets in on the action, so you can find a place where you can learn to surf, brush up on your surfing skills or even train for a professional competition.

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Paddling Around

Kayaks and standup paddleboards are big on the Outer Banks, and with so many miles of sound-side marsh to explore, it’s no wonder. Bring your own boat and head out for a paddle or join one of the local outfitters on a guided paddle, a night paddle, paddleboard yoga or even kayak or paddleboard fishing. For a real taste of adventure sign up for a guided paddle in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, a place where blackwater creeks meet tidal waterways for an environment rich in wildlife.

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Go Hang Gliding

At Jockey’s Ridge State Park, you can go hang gliding (or even get your hang-gliding license) with Kitty Hawk Kites. After a brief classroom safety session, you’ll head to the dunes where instructors (who are tethered to the hang glider, ensuring you can’t fly away) will help you dash down the dunes and take to the sky on your very own first flight. Pro Tip: if you want a retro hang-gliding experience, ask for the Wright Flyer: an updated version of the Wright Brother’s famous first airplane.

Kitty Hawk Kites also offers sky-high hang-gliding experiences. Their tandem hang-gliding flights will see you and an instructor strapped to a hang glider that’s towed as high as a mile into the sky before you’re released and you drift to the ground. It’s a thrilling experience for the daredevils out there.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Take Kiteboarding Lessons

In kiteboarding you strap your feet to something like a wakeboard and then launch a parachute-like wing into the air, allowing it to pull you across the water. Sound exciting? Then you can talk to the folks at REAL Watersports and take a lesson. They’ll teach you the basics of controlling the wing, give you the know-how you need to ride the board, and show you how to put it all together. You can always just find a good spot on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore to watch expert kiteboarders fly and skim and do tricks, we recommend stopping by Canadian Hole to see the biggest crowds.

Best Beaches

How do you pick a best beach on the Outer Banks when there are hundreds of miles of shoreline to choose from? By saying this: on the Outer Banks, your definition of the “best beach” depends on what you want to do with your time on the shore.

Best Beaches for Fishing

If you want to fish from shore, head south to Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The seven villages there are small and there are miles and miles and miles of uninhabited beach where you can fish to your heart’s content. If you’re feeling bold, get an ORV (Off Road Vehicle) Permit from the National Parks Service and take your vehicle out onto the sand to make your day of fishing easy and comfortable. Plenty of anglers head out onto the beach to fish (and surf), so if you have the know-how, by all means, take some air out of your tires and hit the sand.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Best Beaches for Kids

There are several camps in the best beach for kids debate. Some of the beaches at Duck are superb because it’s less crowded up that way. Others swear by the beaches in Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills or Kitty Hawk, which are near the largest concentration of hotels and rental homes, beach shops and restaurants, making it easy to hit the beach, grab lunch, and be back on the shore in no time. 

Others swear by the beaches that line the sounds. At Jockey’s Ridge State Park there’s a sound-side access point that leads you to a small beach on the Roanoke Sound. Here the water’s shallow, the waves are just about non-existent, and there’s just enough beach to spread out your things. The littlest kids love it, toddlers and school-aged kids can frolic in the water and see crabs and other wildlife at their feet, and adults can rest easy that at this beach.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Best Beaches for Shelling

Hands down the best spot for shelling is around Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Here the Outer Banks stretches far out to the east and ocean currents carry shells and all sorts of treasures to the shore here. Don’t be surprised if you find huge whelk shells (they look like conch shells), the Scotch Bonnet (an odd little shell that’s the State Shell of North Carolina), scallops, oysters, clams and more shells that we can name.

Another hot spot is near Oregon Inlet at the north end of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, or Hatteras Inlet at the far south end, where outgoing and incoming currents are strong and carry shells and other curiosities to the beach.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Best Beaches for Flying a Kite

It’s windy on the Outer Banks, so you won’t have a problem launching a kite except on the rare day the wind decides not to show (trust us, those days are few and far between), making it easy to fly a kite on any beach. But instead of launching your kite from the shore, we recommend heading to Jockey’s Ridge State Park to fly your kite. Right across the street from Kitty Hawk Kites, tall enough to always catch a breeze, and large enough to fly your kite without worrying about interfering with another kite lover, it’s the ideal spot.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Best Beaches with Lifeguards

Lifeguards are a group of people we hope we don’t need but we sure are happy when they’re around, and on the Outer Banks, several beaches have lifeguards. Outerbanks.org updates their list of beach access and amenities – including lifeguards, changing stations and showers, but for ease of planning, here are our favorite beach accesses with lifeguards. 

  • Duck: there’s no public access to the beaches here, it’s limited to residents and renters only, and each of the nine access points have lifeguards.
  • Kitty Hawk: this busy town has several public beach accesses, but only three have lifeguards: Byrd Street, Eckner Street and the Kitty Hawk Bathhouse at Milepost 4.25.
  • Kill Devil Hills: most of the beach accesses here have lifeguards, but our favorites include 5th Street (near Target), Asheville Street, Lake Drive, Neptune Drive, Ocean Bay Boulevard and Oregon Avenue.
  • Nags Head: Gray Eagle Street and Gulf Stream Street (near Jennette’s Pier), Hargrove Street and Indigo Street.
  • Cape Hatteras National Seashore: the Coquina Beach Access (near Bodie Island Light Station), Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Beach Access and Frisco Village.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Best Beaches for Surfing

There are reliable breaks all along the Outer Banks, and it’s one of the reasons so many surf shops run classes and camps to help novices hang ten for the first time. You’ll find the best breaks near Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. There the island takes a turn so you’ll have beaches facing east and south, catching swells no matter how they come in. Check with a local surf shop or a website like surfline.com for localized conditions – swell height and frequency, water temperature, forecasts – and make the most of your session on the water.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Best Sunset Spots

Thanks to the series of sounds sitting to the west of the Outer Banks, there are plenty of spots to take in the sunset. 

The Boardwalk, Duck

Pick a place along the one-mile stretch of boardwalk in Duck and you’ve found a fantastic spot to watch the sunset. You’ll find benches in several spots, but you’ll also find a number of restaurants where you can stop for a bite or a drink and take in the sunset. Pro Tip: make a reservation if this is on your must-do list.

Whalehead Club and Currituck Heritage Park, Corolla

North of Duck you can watch the sunset from Currituck Heritage Park, standing between the Corolla Lighthouse and the Whalehead Club. It’s a great place to picnic during the day and an even better spot during sunset. 

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Manteo Waterfront, Roanoke Island

Yes, the waterfront in Manteo faces east, but with Shallowbag Bay there reflecting the sky, it’s a great spot to catch the sunset.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Haulover Day Use Area, Cape Hatteras National Seashore

You can see the sunset from any number of sound access points in Cape Hatteras National Seashore, but at the Haulover Day Use Area there are restrooms and picnic tables, making it easy to spend the early evening there. 

Salvo Day Use Area, Cape Hatteras National Seashore

With easy access to the Pamlico Sound, restrooms and a picnic area, the Salvo Day Use Area seems tailor made for sunset watching. 

Bodie Island Light Station, Cape Hatteras National Seashore

With a dramatic and colorful sky as the background, your shots of the distinctive black and white Bodie Island Light Station are guaranteed wow-worthy. This is also a great spot to come for astrophotography: the summer Milky Way filling the sky behind the lighthouse is a classic shot. 

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Cape Point, Cape Hatteras National Seashore

 You’ll need an ORV (Off Road Vehicle) Permit and the know-how to drive on the sand for this one. At the far end of Hatteras Island, head out onto the sand and make your way to the point, the southernmost part of the island, for a spectacular, secluded sunset. For a little added fun, come out early and do some fishing.

Jockey’s Ridge State Park, Nags Head

Taking in the sunset from the top of the highest point in the county is a must for any Outer Banks visitor.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Best Sunrise Spots

Given that the beaches on the Outer Banks are all eastward facing, you can catch a great sunrise from anywhere. That said, here are some of our favorite spots to watch the sunrise. 

Jockey’s Ridge State Park, Nags Head

From atop Jockey’s Ridge you’ll have a seagull’s eye view of the sunrise and you’ll be able to snap a few great pictures to show the folks back home why you fell in love with the Outer Banks. 

Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, Manteo, Roanoke Island

The Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse stands in Shallowbag Bay as a reminder of the days when these inland waters were critical waterways, but its most important duty for us is to be photogenic – and it sure is. You’ll be able to grab a beautiful photo of the sunrise, the lighthouse and Shallowbag Bay reflecting it all if you arrive at the Manteo waterfront a bit before sunrise. 

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Jennette’s Pier, Nags Head

At 1,000 feet (305 meters) long and made of concrete, Jennette’s Pier has a very different look than the other piers, which are wooden and crooked and full of charm. If breakfast influences your sunrise decisions, take note: across the street from Jennette’s Pier, Sam and Omie’s is an Outer Banks classic and their breakfast is a favorite of locals and visitors.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Bonner Bridge Pier, Cape Hatteras National Seashore

At the south side of Oregon Inlet, a piece of the old bridge was retained and reused as a fishing pier. It’s a great place to catch the sunrise. To get there, head to Oregon Inlet, cross the Bonner Bridge, and take an immediate left as soon as you’re off the old bridge. Around dawn you’ll find anglers on the pier, boaters fishing inshore waters and a few boats from the Oregon Inlet Fishing Fleet heading out to the Gulf Stream. 

More Piers

Other top locations include the Outer Banks Fishing Pier in South Nags Head, Avalon Pier in Kill Devil Hills, and Rodanthe Pier in Rodanthe. Any of the piers make for a great sunrise photo opportunity whether you’re on the shore near the pier or are standing on the pier proper watching the fishermen and surfers in the morning light. Each of the piers has its own vibe and its own look. At Avalon Pier there’s often a food truck with great breakfast burritos or biscuits or sandwiches (it all depends on the day). 

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Bodie Island Light Station, Cape Matteras National Seashore

At the north end of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, sunrise at the Bodie Island Light Station can be a stunner. Head over to the wooden walkway and wildlife overlook at the north end of the parking area for a great view of the lighthouse. 

Cape Hatteras Light Station, Buxton, Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Many lighthouses have a distinct paint pattern, and the Cape Hatteras Light Station’s black and white spiral is as distinctive as they come. Be here an hour before sunrise and set up in a spot where you can see the shore, the surfers, the surf fishermen and the lighthouse. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a few dolphins in the morning surf and a few shrimp trawlers just offshore. 

Your Beachfront Balcony

If you rent something oceanfront, you’ll no doubt have a deck or balcony or even a widow’s walk (those are the small rooftop decks you’ll see on some houses), and they make the perfect spot for taking in the sunrise.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Food You Have To Try

One word: seafood. The Outer Banks is known for its seafood, so get ready to feast. You’ll find restaurants offering up belly-busting seafood buffets, fine-dining seafood experiences, simple fried seafood delicacies, and even fish markets where you can grab something to make at your home base. 

On Roanoke Island, head to Wanchese where O’Neal’s Sea Harvest supplies locals (and plenty of restaurants) with the day’s fresh catch, and offers up something delicious from their kitchen. Their soft-shelled crab sandwiches, steamed shrimp, seared tuna, fried flounder and hush puppies only scratch the surface of what you’ll find to eat there. Restaurants like Café Pamlico at the Inn on Pamlico Sound and Pop’s Raw Bar in Buxton, Basnight’s Lone Cedar Café and Single Fin Thai-Sushi Restaurant in Nags Head, and Aqua Restaurant in Duck are just some of the places that specialize in the very best of local seafood. 

You need to try some donuts too. Duck Donuts makes theirs to order, offers a long list of toppings and frostings, and is a hit with locals and visitors.

Outer Banks Packing List

Clothing: Casual is the dress code here. Outer Banks Casual consists of flip flops or sandals and some type of loose and comfortable clothing such as shorts and short sleeved shirts or tank tops. For restaurants, you may want a clean shirt and possibly jeans (instead of shorts), but otherwise, you’re fine. You’ll also want a light jacket, a sweater or sweatshirt, and a rain jacket.

Footwear: Sandals or flip flops are your daily footwear here!

Swimwear: Make sure to pack your swimsuit or swim shorts ready for days by the beach or pool. A cover up or rash guard can also come in handy.

Beach Supplies: Come prepared for full days spent at the beach! You’ll want a beach bag, beach chair or mat, umbrella, towels, beach games such as bocce ball or corn hole, water toys and inflatables, and a cooler for all your drinks and snacks (avoid glass bottles if possible) – and a wagon to pull everything in.

Sun Protection: Cut down your exposure to the sun with a broad-brimmed hat, sunblock, lip balm with SPF, and sunglasses. Even on cloudy days, wearing sunscreen is important because of the reflection of the sun on the water.

Water Bottles: Bring reusable water bottles, and make sure to keep them filled.

Portable Phone Charger and Cable: If you’re taking pictures with your phone, running out of batteries may result in missed opportunities. A DC car charger is best, so that you can charge your phone while driving.

Plastic Bag: We always carry a plastic bag, so we can do our part and help keep the beaches and waterways clean. If you see some trash along the way, pick it up, drop it in the bag. When you get back to the parking lot, simply drop your bag in the recycling or trash bin and voila! You’ve helped keep the area beautiful for everyone who visits.

Outer Banks Audio Driving Tour with GuideAlong

Top Tips for the Outer Banks

  • Book Your Room Or House Now: If you want your choice of hotel rooms or rental homes, book as early as possible and enjoy the benefits of being first.
  • Make Restaurant Reservations: Not all restaurants take a reservation on the Outer Banks, but you’ll find many that do. Save yourself the standing around and make a reservation a time or two while you’re here.
  • Lighthouse Climbing Reservations: Reservations are required to climb the Bodie Island and Cape Hatteras Lighthouses. Visit nps.gov for more details.
  • Banker Ponies: If you'd like to see the wild Banker Ponies, it's best to book a guided tour. You can still search for them on your own (be sure to stay a safe distance away), but it's quite unlikely that you'll have any luck.
  • Dine Like A Local: Pick up some local seafood (shrimp is easy, tuna is great, but let the fish monger guide you) and cook dinner at your house. Provided you have a kitchen, that is. Otherwise ask about local seafood at every restaurant and dine on something that supports local fishermen.
  • Relax And Be Patient: The Outer Banks is a popular vacation spot, which means traffic can get heavy and you might be in for a wait at dinner a few times. But be patient. Enjoy the beautiful place you’re in. Relax and soon it will be your turn.
  • Rain And Storms: Thunderstorms and squalls will pop up throughout the year, but it’s not a daily occurrence. You can bring an umbrella or raincoat with you, or you can take your chances. Pay attention to lightning, though. If you’re on the water, on the beach, or in a place like Jockey’s Ridge State Park (where you’re one of the tallest things around and thus a target for lightning), and you see lightning, head back to a safe, sheltered area with haste.
  • Be Curious: Remember to leave room to satisfy your curiosity and be surprised while you’re here. Take a tour to look for the Banker Ponies. Go see The Lost Colony. Join a dolphin cruise or sunset cruise. Take a drive down that side street. Ask someone what that shell is or what kind of fish they caught. Open yourself to the world and let it delight you, the Outer Banks surely will.
  • Services: Services like gas are readily available along most of the coast, but if heading down the Hatteras Seashore, it's best not to run below 1/4 tank. EV chargers are available but not in great numbers just yet.