Exploring North Carolina’s Outer Banks
By Ron Stern | Global Gumshoe
Extending for more than 200 miles along the east coast of North Carolina, with just a bit of the southern coast of Virginia thrown in, are North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Comprised of a series of barrier islands, this popular vacation spot has long attracted summertime visitors for its scenic beauty and abundance of natural attractions.
The various towns and cities that make up the Outer Banks have an aggregate year-round population of about 50,000 people, but during the summer months that number doubles when tourists come to enjoy the romance and the adventure of these islands.
The Outer Banks (or OBX, as they are now called for short) are connected to each other by a series of bridges except for the islands of Knotts, Ocracoke and Portsmouth, which can only be reached by ferry. Visitors can spend the day driving from north to south, and vice versa, on Highway NC 12.
Honoring the Wright Brothers
The Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kill Devil Hills is a popular stopping place for people interested in the history of flight. It’s open every day except Christmas.
Orville and Wilbur Wright spent three summers at Kitty Hawk, which is located four miles north of Kill Devil Hills. There, they tested their airplane design, first as a glider and then with an engine. Their first powered, controlled flight of a heavier-than-air craft took place at Kill Devil Hills, on Dec. 17, 1903.
The on-site memorial features a monument in the shape of a tower, erected in 1932 on top of one of the hills to honor the Wright Brothers. A Visitors Center was built below the monument in 2001, and features a history of the Wright Brothers as well as full-size replicas of their glider and the Wright Flyer.
Kite flying and hang gliding
Just south of Kill Devil Hills is Nags Head. Visitors come to Jockey’s Ridge State Park for many reasons — to hike on the nature trails, watch birds and climb to the top of the sand dunes. One of these is more than 110 feet tall making it a nice place to fly a kite or try some hang gliding.
Lots of lighthouses
There are four light houses on the Outer Banks. Perhaps the most famous is the Cape Hatteras light. Visitors can climb to the top this 208-feet-tall lighthouse but one should be in good physical shape to do so. At the top, however, you are rewarded with a grand aerial view of the islands.
Each of the four lighthouses has its own individual paint design with the Hatteras light wrapped in a black spiral stripe. Lighthouse lovers will also want to visit the lights at Currituck Beach, Bodie and on Ocracoke Island.
Continuing south from Nag’s Head, cars will drive over a causeway onto Roanoke Island.
The “Lost Colony of Roanoke” was founded in 1587 by Sir Walter Raleigh, and consisted of 117 men, women and children. The three ships that had brought them returned to England for supplies, and when they finally returned to Roanoke there was no sign of the colonists.
Each year during the summer, a play based on this tragic and mysterious story is performed outdoors at the Waterside Theater in Manteo.
Right next door to the theater is the Elizabethan Gardens. These gardens were first planted in 1951, as a way to honor the 117 members of the Lost Colony. The Garden Club of North Carolina maintains the grounds, which can be visited year round. What’s in bloom varies by the season, of course.
Nearby is the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, which features exhibits on the Native Americans of the region and tells the story of a Freedman’s Colony established here during the Civil War.
Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
The Graveyard of the Atlantic museum is located on Hatteras Island. Open Monday through Friday, the museum has displays on many of the over 500 ships that have sunk off the coast of the Outer Banks over the course of hundreds of years due to storm, war and piracy.
Blackbeard is perhaps the most famous pirate who plied his trade around the Outer Banks. There’s also an exhibit on the Life Savers which tells the story of the brave men of the life saving stations who would row out to foundering ships during storms in order to rescue the crews.
More than a weekend getaway
Residents of the East Coast love to visit the Outer Banks for a weekend getaway. However, there’s so much to see and do here that you might consider renting a vacation home for a week’s stay, or even longer.
As visitors drive along NC 12, they’ll see the characteristic beach houses standing on stilts to protect them from the relentless waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
—Contact Ron Stern at email@example.com.