Outer Banks Travel Guide

USA  #1 in Best Family Beach Vacations in the U.S.
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Courtesy of VisionsofAmerica/Joe Sohm/Getty Images

Outer Banks Area Map

Neighborhoods

The Outer Banks are made up of a collection of barrier islands along the North Carolina coast. The area is split into three regions, according to the Visitors Bureau: the Northern Beaches, Hatteras Island and Roanoke Island and Dare Mainland. Further south, you'll also find Ocracoke Island but it's not as accessible and less visited. Every area has sparkling stretches of beaches and affords plenty of opportunities to take in the view and relax.

The Northern Beach region includes the largest beach resort in the region, Nags Head, located in the middle of the island and directly east of Roanoke Island. As one of the most popular areas in the OBX, tourism has taken a toll on the small-town charm of the community. However, the beaches are still beautiful and a visit is still worth the traffic congestion during the summer.

A little north of Nags Head in Kill Devil Hills is where you'll find the Wright Brothers National Memorial, commemorating the first flight in an airplane. In keeping with the flight theme, hang gliding lessons are offered in Kitty Hawk at Kitty Hawk Kites, situated just north of Kill Devil Hills.

Southern Shores and Duck, which are both north of Kitty Hawk, and Kill Devil Hills are also part of the Northern Beaches and are often referred to as Bodie Island. Just north of Duck is the quieter, less visited beach community of Corolla.

Hatteras Island, south of the Northern Beaches, is made up of the communities of Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco and Hatteras, which lie along the length of the island north to south, respectively. Compared to the Northern Beaches, these areas are less developed and have a calmer vibe. The island is home to wildlife preserves like the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and several campsites. 

West of Nags Head and closest to the North Carolina mainland, Roanoke Island is home to the communities of Wanchese and Manteo. The island is also most recognized as the last known location of the Lost Colony, a group of British settlers who seemingly vanished from the settlement in the 1580s. During the summer months, the Waterside Theatre in Manteo puts on a production about the settlement and the events surrounding the disappearance. A branch of the North Carolina Aquarium is located on the northern part of the island and has exhibits that kids would enjoy. The main attraction here is the tank, which contains the actual remains of the USS Monitor. The wildlife – sharks, sea turtles, and more – swimming in and around the wreckage will make your visit worthwhile. Be sure to check out their STAR sea turtle rehab for an up-close look at rare and endangered sea turtles being nursed back to health.

Ocracoke, located at the southern end of the OBX, is only reachable by ferry from Hatteras Island or from the mainland at Swan Quarter. The entire island has a raw and untouched charm about it, and you can frequently see wild horses roaming the area freely.

Only swim in the Outer Banks when a lifeguard is present (here's a chart of where lifeguard stations are). Also pay close attention to any warnings that may be raised about the water conditions. If a red flag is flying, you're prohibited from entering the water; you can even be fined for trying to do so. If there are surfers nearby, make sure that you do not swim too close to them, as this could be dangerous to both you and the surfer. Jellyfish are sometimes a problem in OBX waters. If you are stung, you might want to try a couple of home remedies, such as sprinkling vinegar or meat tenderizer on the affected area.

Crime is low at the beach and in town, but still, use common sense. Keep valuables close to you or locked away.

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