Plan a family vacation to the Outer Banks with kids

The Outer Banks region is one of the country’s most popular vacation destinations, especially for families. Boasting over 200 miles of shoreline with dramatic dunes, wild landscapes, and charming local attractions, there’s always something to do in the Outer Banks. From wild horses to historic lighthouses to fascinating local museums, you’ll have a range of options to choose from. If you want to make the most of your trip, check out this 7-day itinerary for a family vacation to the Outer Banks with kids to ensure you see all the best sights.

Day 1

See the wild horses at Corolla

The wild horses at Corolla are one of the most-visited attractions in the Outer Banks. The wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs that live on the island were stranded there for centuries, eventually making it their home. You can walk around the island to catch a glimpse of the herds in their natural habitat, but several tour operators offer cruises and off-road tours through the maritime forests, beaches, and dunes. The experienced tour guides are familiar with the areas the horses frequent, so this will be your best chance of seeing them.

Explore the Currituck Beach Lighthouse

The Currituck Beach Lighthouse is a spectacular working 19th-century lighthouse and historic site on the edge of the historic Whalehead in Corolla. Standing at 162 feet, the lighthouse boasts one of the largest lights in the country, shining 18 nautical miles out to sea. The lighthouse is notable for its striking red exterior, which is a departure from the other lighthouses in the Outer Banks. When you visit, you can see the exterior and interior of the lighthouse and the small lighthouse-keeper’s home, which dates to the 1920s. After seeing the lighthouse, take some time to explore the grounds and take in the views.

Day 2

Visit the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse

The Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse is a small, historic lighthouse on the remote edge of the Manteo waterfront. Located in historic downtown Manteo, the lighthouse is perched 40 yards out into the Roanoke Sound and features a red-shingled roof, black shutters, and a tall lens, giving it a quintessential coastal appearance. When you visit, you can tour the grounds and see the exterior of the lighthouse on a boardwalk. During the season, the North Carolina Maritime Museum hosts educational programs and tours for all ages to see the interior lighthouse and exhibits on its history. The grounds are also a popular spot for taking photos of the waterfront.

Tour the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site

The Fort Raleigh National Historic Site is a wonderful attraction for families with kids. The historic site commemorates the Roanoke Colony, the original English settlement in the country that was mysteriously abandoned between 1567 and 1590. You’ll find a museum with exhibits on the lost colony, English expeditions, Civil War history, and the Freedmen’s Colony. Another highlight is the Elizabethan Gardens, a memorial garden for the lost colonists and a period garden. You can walk paths through the garden to see attractions like a replica Tudor gatehouse, scenic waterfront spaces, and hundreds of plants and flowers.

See Island Farm

Island Farm is the perfect attraction for kids. The period farm showcases life in the 19th century with costumed interpreters and live farm animals. When you visit, you’ll take part in caring for animals, helping a farmer hoe corn, hauling water, and doing laundry with an iron pot over a fire. Several demonstrations are available for kids to immerse themselves in the experience, such as woodworking, garden planting, musket firing, folk medicine, and playing with antique toys. You could also take a tour of the 19th-century farmhouse. Throughout the year, the farm offers seasonal themed events like Black Lantern Tours and Sheep Shearing Day.

Day 3

Wander around Rodanthe

Rodanthe is a lovely beachfront destination with coastal attractions, outdoor tours, and charming local shops and restaurants. You’ll find numerous attractions in the area, such as a wildlife refuge, the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station, the Rodanthe Fishing Pier, and Pamlico Sound, which is a hot spot for watersports. Plenty of tour operators offer kiteboarding and windsurfing equipment and lessons to take advantage of the ideal wind conditions. If you have young children or you’re looking for something low-key, Rodanthe’s beaches are perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and beach games.

Day 4

Relax on Coquina Beach

One of the biggest draws of the Outer Banks is Coquina Beach. The windswept beach has dramatic dunes and soft sand with calm waters, perfect for kids to swim and play. The beach has numerous amenities as well, such as picnic tables, playgrounds, grills, bike racks, cabanas, restrooms, showers, and trolleys. You’ll find plenty of walking trails to explore the area after sunbathing and swimming.

Hike in Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is the perfect escape into nature with the family. The refuge covers 13 miles of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and features nature trails to see the unspoiled landscape. Plenty of wild animals call the refuge home, such as hundreds of migrating birds, reptiles, mammals, and amphibians. Many of the animals are endangered, including loggerhead sea turtles and peregrine falcons. You’re welcome to walk through the refuge or spend time exploring the seashore. For more in-depth exploration, you can rent a kayak to glide through the canals on the borders of the refuge. The visitor’s center offers field guides, binoculars, and other gear for your expedition.

Visit the Bodie Island Lighthouse

The Bodie Island Lighthouse is a 19th-century lighthouse on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore that’s known for its striking black-and-white striped design. One of the few remaining brick tower lighthouses in the country, the Bodie Island Lighthouse is a must-see on your trip. You can climb the steps to the top to take in views from a 170-foot vantage point.

Day 5

Sightsee at Kitty Hawk

Kitty Hawk is a lovely destination for a family day out. You’ll find plenty of shops and restaurants, beaches, and outdoor areas to explore with the kids. The Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Reserve offers over 1,800 acres of forests and marshes with birds and wildlife like deer and foxes. You could also spend time swimming and sunbathing on the beach. For food, stop in one of the many seafood restaurants in the area, and treat the kids to some ice cream for a snack.

Explore Kill Devil Hills

Kill Devil Hills offers a wealth of attractions, historic sites, shops, and restaurants. One of the oldest towns in the Outer Banks, Kill Devil Hills is home to the Wright Brothers National Memorial. You can visit the replica plane and camp buildings where the Wright Brothers engineered the first flight. You’ll also have numerous beaches where you can swim and play beach games, as well as seaside shops with souvenirs, ice cream, and snacks. One of the most popular activities at Kill Devil Hills is surf fishing, and you’ll find tackle shops throughout the area for supplies and rentals.

Day 6

Tour Hatteras Village Park

Hatteras Village Park is a tranquil nature reserve with maritime forests and salt marshes you can explore. The park has boardwalks throughout, so you can walk above the marshlands and see local wildlife. Nearby, you’ll find the Hatteras Village Library, which is home to a vast collection of local historical documents, and a playground with swings, slides, and other playsets. Other fun activities in Hatteras Village Park include biking, riding horses on the beach, and bird-watching.

See the Futuro House

The Futuro House is a unique house designed between the late '50s and early '70s. The house is notable for its flying saucer shape, futuristic design, bright colors, and airplane hatch. With few like it remaining in the world, the Futuro House at the Outer Banks features a collection of memorabilia, books, newspaper articles, and other historic information to learn all about the historic and cultural significance of the house.

Explore the Frisco Native American Museum & Natural History Center

If you want to give the kids of an educational experience, visit the Frisco Native American Museum & Natural History Center. The museum features galleries filled with native art and artifacts from the first inhabitants of the islands. You’ll see displays like basketry and pottery, native thread designs, a historic canoe, and tons of other native cultural artifacts. The museum also has miles of nature trails that travel through a lush maritime forest, showcasing streams, ponds, wildlife, and greenery. The trails also pass a fossil pile with artifacts from deep-sea dredging, such as fossilized shells and shark teeth.

Day 7

Take a ride on the Ocracoke Ferry

Ocracoke Island has a ton to see and do, and the best way to get there is via the Ocracoke Ferry. You’ll not only take in the incredible views of the islands on the way, but the kids will love taking a fun boat ride. You’ll have several ferry options to get to the island, including the Cedar Island Ferry and Swan Quarter Ferry.

See the Banker Ponies

One of the highlights of visiting Ocracoke Island is seeing the Banker Ponies that roam the island. The wild ponies live in a protected area on the south side of the island, but you can see them by visiting the area. Though the ponies are feral and interactions are off-limits, you can view the majestic animals from the fenced area that separates them from the rest of the island. The fenced area is located on NC Highway 12 and has a sign that reads “Pony Pen.” You can pull along the side of the road and get out to see them.

Dine at Howard’s Pub & Raw Bar

Howard’s Pub & Raw Bar is a popular restaurant that’s perfect for a family dinner. The casual restaurant serves fresh local seafood, such as oysters, shrimp, and fresh-caught fish. If your kids are picky eaters, the restaurant also offers kid-friendly menus with chicken fingers and mac and cheese served on a Frisbee they can take with them as a souvenir. Dining in the restaurant is an experience in itself, thanks to the decor of college pennants, neon lights, and license plates from all over the world. You can dine on the porch to see the views of the island and sound. Be sure to stop in the Pub shop to pick up souvenir tees, sweatshirts, or memorabilia.

See the Ocracoke Lighthouse

The Ocracoke Lighthouse is a beautiful 18th-century lighthouse on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The lighthouse features solid white brick, an octagonal lantern, and a height of 75 feet. The grounds also have a lighthouse keeper’s house, a generator house, and other maintenance buildings. While you can’t enter the lighthouse to climb to the top, you can visit the grounds to see the views, take pictures of the historic lighthouse and buildings, and learn more about the area’s history.

Relax on Ocracoke Beach

Ocracoke Beach is a wild beach with wide-open spaces for all kinds of outdoor activities with the kids. The beach is popular for surf fishing, flying kites, beachcombing, kiteboarding, boogie boarding, and building sandcastles. Some parts of the beach are open for off-roading for a little more adventure. Near the beach, you’ll find undeveloped areas of wetlands, marshes, and marine estuaries that provide a home for fish, birds, turtles, and other wildlife. You may even see dolphins frolicking offshore.