Relax and Play on Outer Banks Beaches in North Carolina

Outdoor NC has partnered with local tourism organizations across the state to help promote the protection of North Carolina’s stunning and diverse outdoor spaces by practicing the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace. Here are some insider tips if you're visiting the Outer Banks.

Q&A host: Outer Banks Visitors Bureau
Outdoor passion: Beach bummin'
Where in NC: 100 miles of northeast North Carolina coastline

Best places on the Outer Banks to spend outdoors? 

The northern beaches of the Outer Banks, which include the towns of Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head.

Best season to spend in NC?

Fall season from September to December is remarkable on OBX. The crowds thin along Highway 12, the humidity clears to make room for sweater weather and you are left to wide-open natural shoreline bursting with vibrant sunsets.

What level of experience is needed for outdoor activities?

Novice to advanced. Passive to active. No matter your level of experience, you will find adventures and things to do on the OBX. Stroll through Nags Head Woods Preserve and see how many bird species you can identify. Try your hand at cast fishing from Avalon, Jennette's or Nags Head piers. Take a class from Kitty Hawk Kites to learn a new water sport including kayaking, SUPing, kiteboarding or surfing. Tee off at one of three golf courses on the northern beaches, or find family-friendly putt-putt and disc golf spots.

How long should you plan on visiting the Outer Banks?

Whatever suits your schedule. If you can manage the time, a weeklong stay is typical. However, an extended weekend escape can breathe life back into your normal routine. Getting here is easy – leaving is the hard part. 

What attracted you to North Carolina or the Outer Banks?

The northern beaches are home to the largest living sand dunes on the East Coast. The preserved refuges of Kitty Hawk Woods teeming with wildlife and the maritime forests of Nags Head are home to ponds, marshes and wetlands.

What is unique about the Outer Banks?

Wilbur and Orville Wright had a dream of flight when they arrived in Kitty Hawk. After four years of experimentation on OBX wind and sand, they achieved the first successful powered flight Dec. 17, 1903.

How do you plan or prepare for your outdoor activities?

Outerbanks.org has great resources for local things to do that can be categorized by preference. The site gathers all the businesses in Dare County into one convenient location, filtered into categories such as land, air, water, historic, tours and lessons, and so on. Before heading on any adventure, it's important to check the weather and call ahead to make reservations or confirm business hours. 

What piece of gear is your must-have? 

Sunscreen is still a necessity when visiting the beach in the shoulder season. Also recommended is a light sweater for those refreshing evening breezes.

How do you practice the Leave No Trace principles?  

There's a saying here on the beach, "Leave only your footprints." This means discarding trash properly; covering holes in the sand; removing any items you use during the day; being respectful of wildlife such as birds, turtles or seals; learning beach fire rules and safety; avoiding the fragile sand dunes; and being respectful of others around you.

Best places for breakfast/lunch or dinner? 

Duck Donuts is a staple for that morning sweet tooth fix. There are locations in nearly every town, so you won't have to go far. Front Porch Café has your caffeine solution.

For lunch, we like to keep it light and recommend some quick and healthy choices such as Red Sky Café in Duck, Outer Bean Café in Kitty Hawk or Freshfit Café in Nags Head - all with locally sourced ingredients and health-conscious menu options. 

For a finer dinner date, The Blue Point in Duck cannot be beat with fresh daily specials and hand-crafted cocktails. But sometimes after a long day of big adventures, we crave a greasy burger from Art's Place in Kitty Hawk. 

Where do you like to go after outdoor fun? 

If you fancy an ice-cold beverage, Fish Heads Bar & Grill is an ideal spot with a front-row view of the Atlantic. Live music is the perfect ending to any day, so we head to The Roadside's Backside Bar in Duck or over to TRiO in Kitty Hawk to hear some jams and chow down on a charcuterie spread (also with jams). 

Cool places to stay? 

Rental homes can be a great way to bring multiple or extended families together for shared experiences while also giving people their own spaces for privacy. If you are looking for flexible options, our hotels and motels allow shorter stays with beautiful oceanfront views. Bed & breakfasts can provide the intimate and hometown charm you seek on a romantic getaway, or a favorite is to book a campsite underneath the stars and fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves.

Other sites to see while on the Outer Banks? 

Shop along Duck Boardwalk, visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial, climb or drive to Bodie Island Lighthouse, rent a bike and tour Bay Drive. Check out the Dare mainland/Roanoke Island and Hatteras Island itineraries for more ideas nearby.

What is your can’t-miss experience on the Outer Banks? 

Jockey's Ridge should be at the top of your list. You can hang glide, explore walking paths, wade in the sound waters, fly a kite or simply sit with your toes in the sand. The immense sand dunes make you feel teeny tiny, especially when you stare into the expansive sea from the highest point on the ridge.

Insider tip!

Great additions to get outside during a fall trip on the OBX are beach fires and 4x4 beach driving.

This article was produced in partnership with the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau.

Updated September 2, 2021
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