As you all know, Bill & I spent the end of June enjoying the sun, surf and sand in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. And it honestly is my happy place. And after our recent fun, we thought we’d share with you why we love it so much.
Let’s start with some of the obvious reasons, like the surf and swimming! OBX is one of the top destinations in the USA for surfing, especially for the east coast, and there’s a reason. With the Gulf Stream curving around and kissing the coast, waves can get pretty big and are a blast for surfing of all kinds. However, if you prefer to wade and enjoy gentler water they have that too. You can enjoy the smaller surf of the Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds on the West side of the islands. OR you can time your beach day right and be on the ocean side for low tide. The way the beaches are carved, much the the ‘Banks have a handy sand bar that breaks the water into a closer, shallower channel. At low tide in some places this channel is only about 3 feet deep allowing for easy wading. (Just always be aware of rip tides – no matter what beach you are on!)
This one is also a no-brainer. Beaches often have lighthouses. But The Outer Banks have 5 lighthouses in total beginning with Currituck, Bodie Island, Cape Hatteras (the most iconic in the nation), Ocracoke, and finally Cape Lookout light.
They have so many because the band of sand and scrub that comprises the islands has a tendency to ebb and flow like the ocean around it, causing many shipwrecks and giving the area the nickname of the Graveyard of the Atlantic. These beacons were the early attempts at creating navigators’ aides for ships.
They are all open to some degree for visits, though Ocracoke is too small for public tours. And Bodie (pronounced ‘Body’) Island light was just opened for climbs this summer, which was a first for us this past trip.
Like I mentioned above, the whole length of the area is also known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Hundreds of ships have run ashore along the coast, especially in the Diamond Shoals just off the shore from Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. There are all kinds of fantastic stories and tales about ghosts from the ships. And there are even some true accounts of pirates too, especially Blackbeard himself who supposedly buried his treasure not far away. For a quick read, check out Stories from the North Carolina Coast.
One of the best ways to enjoy the tales of OBX is over s’mores on the beach around a bonfire. As most of the coast is part of the National Parks system, beach fires are allowed so long as you get a permit (printable from the NPS website here.) and follow the safety guidelines listed on the permit. But on a clear night there’s no better way to end a perfect beach day than star gazing around a blazing fire on the beach. Just watch out for ghost crabs!
Sunrises on the east coast are spectacular over the ocean, and they’re especially beautiful in OBX. The added bonus here is that you can also enjoy a beautiful SUNSET over the sound too, giving you two opportunities each day to enjoy nature’s fireworks.
The Outer Banks are a loooooonnnng stretch of islands. If you’re headed in from points north, once you cross on near Kitty Hawk, you still have at least an hour’s drive due south on Highway 12 to get to the more laid back and local areas of Buxton and Frisco. But the drive is so fantastic. For whole stretches there’s a little dune to your left that you can hear the ocean crashing on the other side, while the sound spreads out to your right. You can’t help but get excited as you near your final destination! And for those who have the proper vehicles, there are many points along the islands where you can drive ON the beach. A permit is required, and they don’t take lightly to fools who try and take their wimpy rav4 over the dunes (just don’t do it.) but if you’ve got the right truck for the job, you can have an awesome adventure!
Maybe you’re an avid fisherman and know all the ins and outs and have your own super awesome tackle, reel and rod and are ready to catch some Red Drum. ……ooorrrr maybe you’re more like Bill & I and just want to give it a shot for the day. There are several fishing piers along the coast where you can buy a pass and even rent equipment for a reasonable price. Our favorite spot is Avon Pier where your pass is good all day. That way you can stop by for a few hours in the morning, spend your afternoon on the beach, then come back in the evening and fish until they close around 10pm. The people who work there are friendly and will give you tips and pointers if you need help. Plus the people around you on the pier are great to talk to and learn their stories as well.
As you head south you’ll eventually run out of island. From there you can take the Ocracoke Ferry over to Ocracoke Island, a quaint little place with their own lighthouse and all kinds of art shops and Inns. But on your way down the road to town, you’ll pass the Ocracoke Ponies. They’re descendants of the stallions that came ashore after ships carrying them wrecked, and have been a big part of the island’s history every since. If you’re not headed south, you can also catch wild ponies by heading north on the islands to the points where Highway 12 ends and 4×4 vehicles are required. Either way they’re a beautiful sight to see!
We’ve talked about the Passport to Our National Parks before here on B&B, but we cannot emphasize enough just how addictive collecting stamp cancellations can get. And in the Outer Banks, there’s a stamp for each light, and even a few other places too like the Wright Brother’s Monument. But once you start there, you can always take a detour to Yorktown and Williamsburg, and if you’re coming in from western PA then a detour down Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive can also get you a few stamps too. Soon enough you’ll be finding all kinds of detours to take. Just imagine how much of this great country you haven’t seen. And how much of it is simply astounding. There’s no other country in the world that has ancient natural arches, trees that date back to Christ, AND a mountain with the faces of past presidents on it. The whole concept of the National Park was born in America. So why not start your journey for stamps in OBX?
I mentioned it before when talking lighthouses, but the Outer Banks are ALWAYS changing. The bridge in the picture above is ‘temporary bridge’ and was installed after Hurricane Irene ripped open this area carving an inlet where there once was island. This particular point has opened and closed a few times over the past 100 years. So it may be there a few years, it may be there for 50 years, or it may close after the next hurricane sweeps by. But you’re always kept on your toes in OBX.
This one is my favorite thing about OBX. The beaches are CLEAR. And by that I mean both CLEAN of trash (no worrying about finding dirty needles and medical waste, or worse, used condoms! EW.) and CLEAR of bodies. Sure, you’ll share the beach with the family or two in the houses immediately around you, but if you’re willing to hold out and drive out of the Nags Head / Kitty Hawk area and head north or south of that, you will be rewarded with limited crowds and true relaxation. When I go to the beach I expect to see sand, not bodies around me!
So there you have it, 11 of the many reasons why we love OBX!
- Top 10 US Family Beaches (local.answers.com)