The Outer Banks of North Carolina found a place in the history books with the mysterious Lost Colony of Roanoke Island and the world's first powered airplane flight at Kill Devil Hills. Today, families love the Outer Banks area for its quaint villages, water sports, great golf, wild horses, and photogenic lighthouses. Wide beaches, activities, attractions, and the area's history make the Outer Banks a popular vacation destination for families. From north to south, here's what the area offers for a classic East Coast beach vacation.
Wild horses. Corolla, North Carolina
Twenty-four miles of tranquil shoreline make Corolla a favorite spot for families. If you catch a glance of the magnificent wild horses running along the shore, you are seeing a glimpse of Corolla's history. The horses are descendants of Spanish mustangs, from as long ago as 16th-century shipwrecks. Learn more at the Corolla Wild Horse Museum.
If you enjoy off-road four-wheel driving, you'll love Corolla's 4x4 beach, or for panoramic views, you can climb the 214 steps to the observation deck of Currituck Beach Lighthouse. The historic Whalehead Club, a grand 1920s Art Nouveau mansion, offers ghost tours and kid-friendly tours.
Sunrise. Outer Banks, North Carolina
Named for the plentiful waterfowl quacking around the area since the 1800s, the resort town of Duck is bound to charm. Wide beaches scattered with shells are a kid favorite, and while there is no public access to the beach here, Duck vacation house renters enjoy access.
Music lovers will tap their toes at the annual free Duck Jazz Festival in October. You might kayak or ride watercraft during the day, then head out to great restaurants and shopping along the Duck Trail and the old-fashioned boardwalk through Duck Town Park.
Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
Whether the town of Kitty Hawk is named after a Native American word for a place to hunt geese or an old English name for a dragonfly, people love this beach community for its natural beauty and friendly character. History fans know that the Wright Brothers experimented with their flying machines in Kitty Hawk before making the first powered flight 4miles south at what is now Kill Devil Hills.
You can take a full-moon kayak tour from a local outfitter, or you might rent a bike and meander along the raised walkways of Sandy Run Park or the shady tree-lined trails of Kitty Hawk Maritime Woods Reserve.
Beach homes. Nags Head, North Carolina
With 11 miles of oceanfront and pristine beaches, Nags Head offers plenty of leisure options for everyone. Old cedar shake beach cottages in the Historic District set the picturesque scene, while Gallery Row appeals to art lovers. The bold black-and-white horizontal stripes of the 150-foot-high Bodie Island Lighthouse make for a great photo opportunity! Go fishing from one of the piers, tee off from the Nags Head Golf Links championship course, or hit the hiking and bird-watching trails in Nags Head Woods Preserve.
Jockey's Ridge State Park gives you a chance to clamber across the tallest natural sand dunes in the eastern United States. The wind atop the dunes makes it an exhilarating place to fly a kite or go hang gliding. From Nags Head, it's easy to cross to Roanoke Island to the North Carolina Aquarium, which has the largest collection of sharks in the state.
Kill Devil Hills
Wright Brothers National Memorial. Kill Devil, North Carolina
Kill Devil Hills earned its place in history as the location where Wilbur and Orville Wright achieved the world's first successful airplane flight on a cold December day in 1903. The Wright Brothers National Memorial celebrates the event with a 60-foot granite monument on top of Big Kill Devil Hill and a visitor center. Kill Devil Hills beaches invite you to surf, hunt for crabs, or go fishing by boat or from Avalon Pier.
Many legends exist about how Kill Devil Hills got its name. Ask a local, and sit back for their own version of the story that includes tales of pirates and shipwrecks.
Bodie Island Lighthouse. Hatteras Island, North Carolina
Cape Hatteras is a treasure trove for people who enjoy nature. More than 400 species of birds fly through the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. White-tail deer can be seen in Buxton Woods, and the dark night skies make this a prime spot for star-gazing. The sparkling sands of Cape Hatteras also attract fans of water sports, from surfing to windsurfing to scuba diving, while the long sandbar of Buxton's Cape Point is a popular surf-fishing destination.
Cape Hatteras is home to America's tallest brick lighthouse. The 208-foot-high Cape Hatteras Lighthouse can be seen from as far as 20 miles out to sea. The black-and-white striped lighthouse looks impressive close-up, too. You can climb the 257 steps from the end of April through Columbus Day. The treacherous off-shore waters are called the Graveyard of the Atlantic due to more than 600 ships that have wrecked over the centuries. After a storm, some of the old shipwrecks are sometimes uncovered.
Cape Hatteras includes the villages of Buxton, Avon, Frisco, Hatteras, Rodanthe, Salvo, and Waves.
Wright Brothers Memorial. Outer Banks, North Carolina
A family visit to secluded Ocracoke Island is memorable from the moment you board the free car-ferry ride to reach the island. Ocracoke's broad, sandy beach is an idyllic place to relax, or you can turn up the intensity with parasailing, paragliding, surfing, and kiteboarding.
Ocracoke Lighthouse is the oldest operating lighthouse in North Carolina, built in 1868. Blackbeard the pirate had his camp nearby, and he is now rumored to haunt the island. Learn more about him at the Teach's Hole pirate exhibit.
Rent a bike to explore the shops and Victorian houses in pretty Ocracoke Village, or join a boat tour to uninhabited Portsmouth Island with its rumored old ghost town.