by Neeraja (with Kula)The Outer Banks (OBX). A thin ribbon of sand, snaking down North Carolina’s coast. Full of pristine beaches, historic sites, and tons of fun! Lots of famous legends and mysteries took place here as well, such as Blackbeard’s death and the Lost Colony.
We visited the Outer Banks first for a short trip in 2011 and followed up with a 5-day trip in the summer of 2015. There are two causeways-bridges for reaching the Outer Banks by land, both terminating in the Kitty Hawk – Nags Head area. There are also several ferry routes to cross the inland seas called “sounds” that separate the Outer Banks from the mainland.
Roanoke Island and the Lost Colony
Driving to the Outer Banks via the Washington Baum Bridge, you will cross the Roanoke Island. The famous legend of the Lost Colony shrouds Roanoke Island in mystery. At Roanoke Island Festival Park, you can see replicas of Native American villages and the Settlement Site. In both areas you can see what daily life was like, and interact with people dressed up like the colonists. Go inside the museum and learn about the Outer Banks history before and after the colonists. You can also climb in and explore the Elizabethan ship replicas and see where the colonists and crew stayed. We did not see the actual site of where the colonists carved CRO and CROATOAN into 2 trees, but the trip was still a ton of fun! Also check out Fort Raleigh, where it is believed that the Lost Colony lived, and the birthplace of Virginia Dare the first English child born in America according to the legend. The site tells the story of the many attempts to colonize America.
Nags Head is a great place to stay while visiting the outer banks. It has an amazing beach, and many places to eat and shop. Nags Head is also a perfect location because of its close proximity to the Wright Brothers Memorial, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Jockeys Ridge. Within short driving distance is Cape Hatteras, Roanoke Island, and other lighthouses and attractions. Unlike other areas of the Outer Banks that started developing in the late 1900s, Nags Head remained popular for well over a century.
Nags Head itself also has lots of history and legends in its past. The legend that named Nags Head has it all: pirates, huge ships, and reckless sea storms. The locals made their living from the barren land, but it often wasn’t enough. So they turned to the many ships sailing past their coast. At night, they tied a lantern to the neck of an old horse, or nag, and walked it up and down the dunes. Captains at sea mistook the bobbing light for the light from an anchored ship. But when they sailed closer to what they assumed was a safe harbor, the ship was wrecked on the shoals. Then, out of the blue, the “pirates of the land” swoop down on the unsuspecting ship and robbed the ship of all treasures. Now, you can just kick back and enjoy the beach and surrounding attractions.
Jennette’s Pier is a great place to go fishing, and is a very unique pier due to its eco-friendly wind turbines and solar panels. Inside, you can look at all the marine life exhibits and learn about the sea and animals in the area. You can also go outside and just enjoy the panoramic view. As you walk down the pier, you will see signposts about the wind turbines and marine life in Nags Head, where it is located.
Kill Devil Hills and Kitty Hawk – First in Flight
Everyone probably has heard of the Wright brothers. But not everyone knows how Kitty Hawk falsely got credit for the location where the flight took place. Kill Devil Hills is where the flight originally took place, but when they sent a telegraph from Kitty Hawk, the media informed the world that the flight took place at Kitty Hawk, when in truth it was at Kill Devil Hills. At the Memorial, you can see a replica of the flyer they used in the first flight, see the markers showing where they landed on the first 4 attempts, and walk along the path up to the top of the monument and look down the location of one of the most revolutionary achievements ever. Please check out my brother’s post about this in our blog.
Jockeys Ridge State Park is the perfect place to end your day. Kick off your shoes and run wild and free through the endless expanse of sand! Jockeys Ridge is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and the Roanoke Sound, both of which look stunning from atop a sand dune. If you are looking for thrill, try the Dune Hang Gliding lessons and sail off the dunes! Keep in mind that usually the sand is about 25 degrees warmer than the air temperature, so be careful before you take off your shoes. There is a 360 ft. boardwalk, with signs about the ecology, as well as a visitor center and a museum. Watch the sunset from the tallest hills and just revel in the sheer beauty. We also flew a kite, that actually went quite high. The winds pulled the kite in all directions. The hardest part about flying the kite was getting it in the air! Our kite was falling down and we had to chase after it. The design was not all that aerodynamic, but it was still very fun! Jockeys Ridge has amazing views of the famous sunsets of the Outer Banks.
Bodie Island is a peninsula South of Nags Head and North of the Oregon Inlet. It is the home of the Bodie Island Lighthouse. The bridge over the Oregon Inlet, which has been rebuilt few times due to the powers of nature that keep moving the thin ribbon of sand that makes the Outer Banks, also starts here. Bodie Island Lighthouse looks like a classic lighthouse. From its green, neatly mowed grass, to its white fence and thick stripes, it looks very neat.
But its past is far from perfect. The lighthouse has endured having a weak foundation, causing it to lean sideways, and being blown up during the Civil War. But the third lighthouse remains intact, and has very nice views. Bodie Island lighthouse is not open as much as other lighthouses, so it would be best to call ahead. It is surrounded by marshy land and has a boardwalk that takes you to a nice place to sit and relax.
The beautiful Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge covers the area from the Oregon inlet to the Rodanthe. Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, and Frisco are towns and villages you will pass as you proceed towards Cape Hatteras.
In Cape Hatteras you will find the legendary lighthouse that presides over “the Graveyard of the Atlantic”. We didn’t get a chance to go inside as a thunderstorm was approaching. But as the mighty lighthouse towered over us, with its black and white splendor, facing the storm, it was still very impressive. The stripes are called a daymark pattern-every lighthouse has a distinctive pattern for day, and for night, a flashing light sequence unique to only one lighthouse.
This lighthouse is perhaps best known not for aiding sailors, but for the engineering feat that moved the ENTIRE lighthouse in one piece, 2,900′ from the shore! To add to the amazement, this is the tallest brick lighthouse in the U.S. When it was completed in 1870, Hatteras lighthouse was located a safe 1,500′ from the shore. Over time, the storm-powered waves washed over Hatteras Island, eroding away sand, and leaving the lighthouse only a mere 120 feet from the oceans edge, and the target of brutal storms. Moving the lighthouse however, was tedious work. Every five feet the hydraulic jacks had to be retracted and reset! There is so much more to this amazing lighthouse, and the engineering marvel around it.
There is a chance that Hatteras will be closed when you go, if the weather is bad. If there is even a hint of a storm, by safety conditions, the lighthouse must be closed. But it is still amazing to just stand in front of the lighthouse and admire its beauty.
Ocracoke is well known for many things. It could be the wild ponies, or the lighthouse, and maybe the unusual name. Legend has it that the ponies were abandoned by shipwrecked explorers sometime in the 16th and 17th century. The ponies have played a major role in the island’s development, by pulling carriages and heavy loads. There was up to 300 ponies at the height of the herd, but now there are 17, all penned up by law to prevent overgrazing and traffic incidents.
The lighthouse is a plain white lighthouse, that stands out from the typical black and white lighthouses of the coast. It is the second oldest operating lighthouse in the U.S., and while it is not open for climbing, the site can still be visited.
There are various theories about how the name came about. One involves Ocracokes most famous resident-Blackbeard. Before the dawn of when he was beheaded, he was heard to shout “O cock crow”. Another speculation is that the name comes from the Woccon Tribe, which lived in the general area. Over time, the spelling and pronunciation changed to Ocracoke. It is pronounced like the vegetable okra, and the soda-Coke.
Duck and Corolla – The Northern Outer Banks
Duck and Corolla two Northern Outer Banks towns. The boardwalk over the Currituck sound near the town of Duck is a beautiful spot to take a walk and relax.
Due to our bad luck and the weather at the other lighthouses, Currituck was the only one we could climb. We got up the 220 steps just as the sun was setting. It may not be a very tall lighthouse (162′) but when you look down you can see the ribbons of sand that make up the Outer Banks, people strolling around, and the waves splashing on beaches, it was worth the whole climb. This lighthouse was also left unpainted to distinguish it from other regional lighthouses. This lighthouse may not be as well known, but the panoramic views and rich history are definitely worth exploring. We also walked to a pier nearby and saw parasailers doing all sorts of cool tricks!
- Always check the weather and be prepared for changes
- Read about times and schedules for attractions and plan
- Bring flip-flops to change into if you want to stop at a beach
- Sand in the Jockeys Ridge State Park can be very hot during the day. Plan to visit during early morning or late evening hours.
- There are four light houses in the Outer Banks. Your best chances of being able to climb up a light house are at the privately managed Currituck Lighthouse near Corolla and the state run world famous Hatteras Lighthouse. Call before you go. Any sign of lightening, high wind, or hot temperatures are all reasons for not allowing visitors to climb.