A Weekend in the Outer Banks

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A Weekend in the Outer Banks
Whether you only have a week or a long weekend here are a few things to do in the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

Cape Hatteras

Lighthouse

One of the best things to do in the Outer Banks is enjoying all the lighthouses it has to offer.

This is recorded to be the tallest brick lighthouse in America. The structure was officially completed and lit for the first time in December 1870. Currently, the black and white lighthouse one that you see standing is actually the third to have been built. Originally it was a 90-foot tall sandstone structure that produced insufficient light using Argand lamps and reflectors. In 1854, sixty feet of height was added and a Fresnel lens, the most powerful in its day, was installed.

Lighthouse

During the Civil War, Confederate soldiers who were retreating from battles with the north dismantled and seized the lamp to keep it out of the Union’s grasp. The lighthouse was damaged beyond repair during the Civil War causing a need for a new one to be constructed. 

In 1870 the current one was built and in 1871 the original one was demolished. Should you decide that you need to climb the 257 steps to the top it is open for visitors. Be forewarned, there is little to no airflow and no air conditioning.

Visitor Info

  • Hours: Open from 9 a.m. to 4:25 p.m.
  • Tickets: Adults $8 / $4 senior citizens (62 or older) and children. Ticket holders should arrive at the base of the lighthouse five minutes prior to their ticketed climb.
  • Address: 46379 Lighthouse Rd, Buxton, NC 27920

Beaches

Beaches

Cape Hatteras is the country’s first National Seashore and is the site of sea turtle nesting during the summertime. Please treat these sites with respect and stay away from the any roped areas. 

Fishing and camping is allowed in four campgrounds scattered across the seashore and the use of off-road vehicles is allowed in certain areas.

Currituck Lighthouse

This is one of my favorite lighthouses! It is located in Corolla and is still in operation. It uses the largest First Order Fresnel light available for lighthouses and the light can be seen for 18 nautical miles. While most lighthouses are painted, this one was left as constructed allowing visitors to marvel at the sheer volume of bricks used in its construction.

Currituck Lighthouse

The Outer Banks is known for having treacherous waters and for centuries ships were easily wrecked on the shoreline trying to avoid the turbulent Gulf Stream. Since most of the coastline was uninhabited at the time of construction it was quite easy for the sailors to become disoriented and run aground. In reaction to this, the building of the lighthouse began in 1872, and in 1875 it was finished and lit.

A lighthouse keepers’ home was built in Victorian style one year later and provided housing for the keeper and two assistants’ families. In 1933 the lighthouse was wired for electricity and the keeper’s employment was terminated in 1937. Unfortunately, over the next forty years, the home fell into disrepair. However, in 1980, the non-profit organization, Outer Banks Conservations, Inc., and the state of North Carolina began a complete restoration of the home and lighthouse grounds.

Visitor Info

All buildings can be visited and now function as a gift shop, information center, and storage area. Be prepared to climb 220 steps to the top for stunning 360-degree views of Corolla, the Atlantic Ocean, and Currituck Sound.

  • Hours: Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Tickets: Adults $10 / $5 senior citizens (62 or older) and children over 7, children under 7 are free. Tickets holders should arrive at the base of the lighthouse five minutes prior to their ticketed climb.
  • Address: 1101 Corolla Village Road, Corolla, NC 27927

Wright Brothers National Memorial

Wright Brothers National Memorial

If you are interested in aviation then stop in at the memorial to see the visitor center, interactive exhibits and historical information on this momentous achievement. The visitor center focuses on the lives of Orville and Wilbur Wright and the methods they used during their attempts to fly.

They accomplished this task on December 17, 1903, when they successfully completed their first flight. The Flight Room portrays the reproduction of the 1903 Wright Flyer that made history during its first flight on a sixteen-screen video wall.

Visitor Info

After your time in the Visitor Center, find the boulder that is located in the field outside which marks the first flight location. The line that stretches from the rock is the Flight Line of the Wright brothers’ first flight.

  • Hours: Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Tickets: Adults $10 (over the age of 16), children 15 and under are free
  • Address: 1000 N. Croatan Hwy, Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948

Shipwreck on Oregon Inlet

Shipwreck on Oregon Inlet

The scalloping fishing vessel, Ocean Pursuit, ran aground on March 1, 2020, and the crew was rescued. It is now slowly being covered in sand on Bodie Island despite efforts from the government to get the owners of the ship to tow it away from the beach. The ship was originally trying to reach Morehead City when engine trouble caused the vessel to wreck.

Visitor Info

  • To Visit: Head south on Highway 12 towards the bridge, turn left at the Oregon Inlet Campground sign and look for the sign for Ramp 4 which should be on the left directly after the campground. Walk down the path to the beach and turn right (towards the bridge), the vessel is about a half-mile down the shore.

Bodie Island Lighthouse

Bodie Island Lighthouse

In 1837 it was determined that southbound ships were in great need of a lighthouse and Lieutenant Napoleon L. Coste determined the location of the first two Bodie Island lights on Pea Island. Construction began in 1847 with engineer, Francis Gibbons, and project overseer, Thomas Blount. 

Issues with the build came very quickly because Blount had no lighthouse experience. Despite Gibbons’ argument, Blount ordered an unsupported brick foundation laid. Within two years the 54-foot tower began to lean. After numerous repairs failed to fix the issue, the lighthouse had to be abandoned in 1859.

A Weekend in the Outer Banks

A second lighthouse was constructed at a nearby site in 1859, but Confederate troops exploded the building in 1861. After several years of no lighthouse assistance for passing ships, in 1871, construction began on a 156-foot tower at it’s current location. 

The powerful first-order Fresnel lens was installed on October 1, 1872 and the keeper’s house was completed soon after. The light was electrified in 1932 and the need for keepers became obsolete. Ownership was transferred to the National Park Service in 1953.

Walk along the boardwalk out to the marsh where crabs and heron can be seen in the water scuttling about. The pavilion overlooks the marsh and waterways of the Outer Banks.

Visitor Info

  • Hours: Cannot visit the interior of the lighthouse
  • Tickets: N/A
  • Address: 8210 Bodie Island Lighthouse Road, Nags Head, NC 27959

Jockey’s Ridge

Jockey’s Ridge

This amazing 426- acre landscape is the location of the tallest living sand dune on the Atlantic Coast. The blowing sands are constantly changing the height of the dunes. The tallest recorded height is over 60 feet tall.

 It is also the best spot for flying kites and hang-gliding. Should you decide that you wish to dangle from a horizontal pole and rely on the wind to lift and push you around… (not my thing) then check out the lessons that are available from Kitty Hawk Kites at the hang-gliding facility located near the Visitor Center.

Sandboarding is a great way to experience the dunes while staying on the ground. Shoes and sun protection are definitely recommended during this sport.

A 1.2-mile self-guided trail loop is also at your disposal. This begins at the parking lot and takes the hiker over the dunes, to the Pamlico Sound. Just make that more clear) and back to the parking lot. Shoes are a must. If you are wanting a shorter stroll, then check out the 360-foot boardwalk that offers informative displays about plants and animals that can be seen along the path.

Visitor Info

  • Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. during most months
  • Tickets: N/A
  • Address: 300 W. Carolista Dr., Nags Head, NC 27959

Ocracoke Island

Take one of the four ferries from Highway 12 over to Ocracoke Island. The Hatteras Ferry crossing is $10 round-trip, per person, and takes about one hour. Other options are more expensive and take over 2 hours to arrive in Ocracoke.

Edward Teach, aka, Blackbeard, was a notorious pirate who used fear, violence and extortion to plunder ships along the Atlantic Coast and the Caribbean. His favorite hideaway and hunting ground was the area between Ocracoke Island and the inland town of Bath. An inlet on Ocracoke Island is still called “Teach’s Hole”, after him.

There is also a small museum near the inlet which hosts the largest collection of pirate paraphernalia with over 2,000 artifacts including flags, swords, amps, weapons, etc. Blackbeard died from 25 wounds, including 5 gunshot wounds, on the Pamlico Sound side of the Outer Banks in 1718.  He was hunted by Lt. Robert Maynard who had been hired to do so by the governor of Virginia.

Wild Horses of Corolla

One of the main pulls to the Outer Banks are the wild horses that still inhabit the Corolla area. The horses are the descendants of the original steeds that were brought over by Spanish explorers in the 1500s.

Wild Horses of Corolla

It is possible to see these beautiful creatures on your own, but should you want a better chance of catching a glimpse of the horses, book a tour with a reputable company such as Wild Horse Adventure Tours. These tours typically last approximately 2 hours and are guided by someone with knowledge about the horses and their history. This particular tour group was ranked as the #1 tour in the United States by TripAdvisor and was the 2018 Business of the Year by the OBX Chamber of Commerce.

These animals are protected by law and are preserved by the professionals that work for the Corolla Wild Horse Fund. Do not try to approach or interact with the horses.

Wild ponies are often seen around the Shackleford Banks near Cape Lookout. These cuties are under the protection of the National Park Service.  So, again, do not approach or interact. These ponies are smaller than the Spanish-bred wild horses but so much fun to watch.

This is one of the best things to do in the Outer Banks!

Restaurants

Restaurants
  • The Spot – This place hits the spot with their acai bowls that are refreshing and a healthier option to the ice cream that they also offer. Locations in Kitty Hawk and Nags Head
  • Off The Wall Tap House – If you enjoy a tall cold one, then this is the place! They even have a beer wall where you can mix and match over 20 craft beers! Located at 603 G. Currituck Clubhouse Drive, Corolla
  • The Dunes – This is a local favorite that has been around since 1982. It uses locally sourced produce and seafood in its tasty dishes. Located at 7013 S. Croatan Hwy, Nags Head
  • Black Pelican – Originally constructed in 1874 was the Kitty Hawk Lifesaving Station.  It was manned by a crew who rescued individuals from dangerous waters along the Banks, but is now an oceanfront restaurant serving a little bit of everything from fried chicken to seafood risotto. Located at Milepost 4 on Beach Road, Kitty Hawk

Where to stay in the Outer Banks

There is no shortage of great places to stay in the Outer Banks. Here are a few of my favorites.

Luxury: The Inn at Corolla Lighthouse 

Mid-Range: Cape Hatteras Motel

Cheap Stays: Hatteras Island Inn

Of course these are just a few things you can see and do during a weekend or short trip in the Outer Banks.  Don’t forget to bring a book and relax on the gorgeous sandy beaches!

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Kristal Ham

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