Exploring the Outer Banks
By Edree Hovey
If you want to break out of the same old Ocean City and coastal Delaware routine for Summer vacation, how about the Outer Banks of North Carolina? It’s not that much farther. If traffic isn’t too heavy it can take as little as five hours from the D.C. area. If you’ve never been there, you’re in for a treat. The beaches stretch in one long unbroken span of endless shifting sands, reaching from the north end in Virginia to the Oregon Inlet.
If that’s not enough sand and surf, head farther south on Route 12 to Pea Island, where you’ll access a 12-mile stretch of wild, undeveloped shoreline that ends in Rodanthe. If you were to continue south, there’s an additional 30-plus miles of beach, which ends at a terminal where you can hop the free ferry to Ocracoke Island.
There is one main road that stretches the full length of these barrier islands and it can all be explored in a day. Should you tire of the miles of sandy beach, the area offers a wide and varied assortment of treats to satisfy nearly every interest. For history buffs there’s the story of Blackbeard and his many adventures, there’s also the tale of how the Hatters Light was moved to its current location. There are countless stories of devastating hurricanes and pirates and wrecker gangs who lured ships onto the rocks. Museums depicting the history are scattered throughout the “Banks” such as the Graveyard of the Atlantic or the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station.
For first-class entertainment, don’t miss “The Lost Colony,” an outdoor performance depicting the fate of the 116 English settlers, which is reenacted most nights during the Summer months. This takes place in the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, a quiet rolling acreage that features a visitor center and walking trails.
For places to stay, either lease an entire house for a week or two, or try one of the many hotels in the area. The island is unofficially divided into two areas, which makes the decision easier on where to stay. For a family area, after crossing the Route 158 Bridge that connects the island to the mainland, head north to Duck, Southern Shores and Corolla. Here you’ll find lots of family-focused fun such as water sports, miniature golf, batting cages, outdoor concerts and other kids’ activities. If it’s group housing or a younger crowd that appeals, then head south on 12 to Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills, an endless playground of hang gliding, SUP boards, kayaking, etc. Rental homes on the south end of the island cost a bit less. The north end of the island features more glamorous digs with homes featuring up to 15 bedrooms. Both oceanfront and soundfront are offered. They do allow family groups as many choose the Outer Banks for their reunions packing in more than one family per house.
At the height of the season, a four-bedroom (nonwaterfront) would start at $2,000 per week. Prices go straight up from there, but with careful planning, sharing in the costs among families does make it more realistic.
There are more remote areas further south on Route 12 such as Avon, Buxton, and Cape Hatteras. It will add a bit more time to your travel, but if it’s getting away from it all, this may be the ticket. Campgrounds are also available. Four-wheel drive vehicles, with a permit, are allowed on many of the beaches to the south. For some beach goers, this is an annoyance, so check before you make plans.
Most all of the areas in the Outer Banks offer endless bike trails, as well as walking paths such as the one that winds along the inlet in Duck for nearly a mile. There are more lighthouses than you’ll have time to explore and lots of low-key fun such as observing the fauna and flora and wild horses up in Currituck (a four-wheel drive area). Outdoor concerts can be found at different locations such as the Whalehead Club in Corolla. Kitty Hawk claims the highest sand dune on the East Coast, which needs to be seen to be believed, and it invites you to climb it. A museum is located at the base of the dune that depicts the first flight of the Wright brothers. There are opportunities to join a fishing party for a day or, if you prefer, cast a line from the shore. Hang gliding is available and plane rides to get a bird’s eye view of the Banks are available. With restaurants, shops and entertainment, there’s more than enough to keep vacationers happy and busy. Make your plans early, as the area gets booked quickly. Log onto www.OuterBanks.org for more information.