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Your guide to Outer Banks
All About Outer Banks
The Outer Banks, a popular vacation spot off of the coast of North Carolina, isn’t just made up of many barrier islands but many charming towns, each with a distinctive personality. Hatteras, for example, traces its seafaring heritage in the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. Nearby Buxton is known for great surfing and windsurfing, as well as America's tallest brick lighthouse, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Nags Head, founded in the 19th century, boasts galleries as well as great fishing spots from its wooden piers. The Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk preserves the spot where Orville and Wilbur Wright succeeded at sending up the first powered flight in 1903.
Many people come to the Outer Banks simply to lounge on the beach, but there are plenty of opportunities for exploring the wilderness in a more active way. As part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the Outer Banks offers 75 miles of protected Atlantic coastline, with plenty of trails for hikers and bikers. Climb up the East Coast’s highest sand dune in Jockey’s Ridge State Park to watch the sunset from its apex.
The best time to stay in a vacation rental in Outer Banks
There’s something to see and do in the Outer Banks all year long, aided by the weather, which remains consistent due to the Gulf Stream flowing offshore. Peak time for beachgoers is summer, of course, when the weather is hot and humid. Although the air cools in the fall, the water remains warm, making it a great season for fishing, windsurfing, and kiteboarding. The autumn schedule is also packed with events like Hatteras Island’s Day at the Docks a seafood-themed weekend in September that includes a marathon and al fresco dinners. The winter weather here can get chilly, but it rarely snows, so search out a less-crowded beach and build a bonfire. (Get a permit first.)
Top things to do in Outer Banks
The Elizabethan Gardens
Located within the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site on Roanoke Island, the Elizabethan Gardens inspires delight in every season, whether you’re basking in the aroma of winter jasmine in January or admiring the profusion of hydrangeas in June. You can spend several hours strolling along the paths that traverse this 10-acre sculpture garden. Before visiting, you may want to check its website to see if the John White Butterfly Center is hosting workshops (seed saving, floral arrangement) that day.
Hatteras Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
There are well over 2,000 shipwrecks off the coast of North Carolina, and the Hatteras Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum honors their memory. This small, free museum features exhibits on the maritime history of the Outer Banks, displaying artifacts rescued from pirate ships as well as World War II-era German submarines. A fun way to explore the collections is through the museum’s scavenger hunt.
Driving the Beach
The Outer Banks are one of the few spots on the East Coast that allow driving on the beach. You can bring your own four-wheel-drive vehicle or rent one from a local business that outfits cars specifically for beach driving. Before you head onto the sands, though, you’ll need to obtain a beach-driving permit online. While you’re at it, add on a free beach fire permit so you can toast marshmallows by the water. Rules around access differ between beaches and can change over the course of the year, so plan ahead to avoid disappointment.