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Where is the Outer Banks?

Stretching from Corolla to Ocracoke, North Carolina, the Outer Banks spans 200-miles along North Carolina's Eastern coast and are a string of barrier islands connected to the mainland by bridges and ferries. Like any popular island vacation mecca, the Outer Banks boast all the modern bells and whistles: lively shops, fine restaurants, fun nightlife, and kid-friendly attractions. But it's the Outer Banks rustic and untamed side, as much as any of its amenities, that attracts thousands of vacationers each year. Windswept beaches, wild horses, historic sites, and pristine maritime forests beckon visitors to get out and explore.

What are the Outer Banks (OBX)?

The Outer Banks are a series of barrier islands made up entirely of sand (undersea sand bars). The Outer Banks covers approximately half the northern North Carolina coastline separating the Currituck Sound, Albemarle Sound, Roanoke Sound, Croatan Sound and Pamlico Sound from the Atlantic Ocean. These islands are known for being a vacation destination while also being home to important ecosystems that blend marshland and beach. It is also known for its rich history as the place of the first attempted settlement by the English and the site for the first powered flight by the Wright brothers.

Outer Banks History

Dubbed "The Graveyard of the Atlantic," the waters of the Outer Banks have claimed hundreds of shipwrecks, from pirate rigs to Spanish galleons. It was from one of these wrecks, centuries ago, that the area's famous wild horses of Corolla are thought to have first come ashore. Thanks to numerous OBX lighthouses and modern-day technology, shipwrecks are largely a thing of the past, but the two thousand known ships permanently entombed here now make for incredible scuba diving and fishing adventures.

The Outer Banks has an exciting and transformational history since the first English settlers arrived on Roanoke Island in 1587. This group of settlers disappeared after their governor left on a supply run to England, thus earning them the nickname the “Lost Colony.” Fast forward a hundred years, and the banks and shifting sands created the perfect haven for pirates and smugglers, including the infamous Blackbeard who spent much of his time on Ocracoke. As the community grew, fishing and boating became the foundation of Outer Banks society.

After the Great Depression, the building of highways under the New Deal and the building of the Herbert Bonner Bridge (now the new Marc Basnight Bridge) opened the way for growth and expansion on the Outer Banks as people saw the joy of vacationing on our pristine beaches and taking advantage of the abundant wildlife and waterways on the Banks. Progressing technology and innovation connecting the banks to the rest of the country eventually turned it into the hot-spot tourist destination that it is today!

Fishing in the Outer Banks

Just 12 miles off the coast, the warm waters of the Gulf Stream rub elbows with colder Atlantic currents to create one of the most fertile estuaries on the Eastern seaboard. Fishermen flock to the Outer Banks from all over the world, eager to reel in mackerel, cobia, bluefish, tuna, and other monster trophies that swim these waters. A number of Outer Banks marinas and fishing piers cater to the crowds with charters, bait, tackle, and all the necessities.

Outer Banks Sports

The Atlantic's fierce currents have also created a bounty of wide sand beaches in the Outer Banks which draw thousands of visitors annually for swimming, sunbathing, paddleboarding, and surfing. Bike paths and nature trails wind through the islands allowing cyclists, joggers, birdwatchers, and other outdoorsy types to explore the rugged terrain. Visitors can also soak up the Outer Banks views at a number of top-rated golf courses on the islands including the Nags Head Golf Links, with several holes that finish on the Roanoke Sound.

Outer Banks Views & Wildlife

A large portion of the Outer Banks has been designated as National Seashore to preserve the fragile sand dunes, salt marshes, and tranquil woodlands that line the coast. On any given day, beachgoers might spot a rare seabird or a nesting sea turtle while this unique ecoystem is the perfect haven for an abundance of plant life and wildlife. People come from all over the world for a spectacular birdwatching experience and when the tides are just right, you'll see jellyfish floating near the shore - just be sure to avoid the stingers! 

Outer Banks Quick Facts

  • The Outer Banks is considered to be the areas of coastal Currituck County, Dare County, and Hyde County.
  • Dare County covers 800 square miles comprising 391 square miles of land and 409 square miles of water.
  • The Outer Banks are 200 miles long.
  • It is 3 miles wide at the widest point and 150 yards at the narrowest.
  • There is no fee to access any of our beaches.
  • "The Lost Colony" is the world's longest-running outdoor smyphonic drama.
  • Virginia Dare was the first English child born in what would become America in 1587.
  • You can take a free ferry from Hatteras to Ocracoke Island. This ferry runs multiple times throughout the day.
  • The closest commercial airport is Norfolk International Airport, which sits 82 miles away in Norfolk, VA. There are private airports in Maple, Kill Devil Hills, and Manteo.

The North Carolina Outer Banks is a favorite destination for families… and for good reason. Besides relaxing on our beautiful pristine beaches and delighting in our savory local seafood, there are some fantastic things to do on the Outer Banks - and some fantastic places to stay. View our selection of Outer Banks rentals to get started on your own OBX story.

Plan Your Outer Banks Vacation