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6 Jul 2022
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Travel Tips

10 Inexpensive Outer Banks Vacation Activities

Taking a vacation to the Outer Banks is guaranteed to be an amazing experience. With pristine beaches, gorgeous places to stay, and endless restaurants and shopping experiences just waiting for you, every day spent in the OBX is bound to be a good time. However, treating yourself to an Outer Banks retreat doesn’t have to break the bank. In fact, there are plenty of great ways to enjoy your Outer Banks vacation without going over your budget and, in some cases, without spending anything at all. Enjoy gorgeous beaches, public parks, and affordable museums that make sure you can do plenty of different things while here without worrying about your wallet.

Keep reading for 10 Inexpensive Outer Banks Vacation Activities to enjoy with the whole family!

Jockey’s Ridge State Park

A visit to the Outer Banks isn’t complete without a visit to Jockey’s Ridge State Park. This eyecatching dune, the largest living sand dune on the East Coast, boasts amazing views, a 384-foot boardwalk, and an endless list of festivals and events for every season, so be sure to check any upcoming events before your trip. Race your family members up to the top of the dune before rolling down in a fit of giggles or pick up a kite on your way onto the island and watch the wind whip it around in the air like it’s alive. Be sure to plan a picnic on the dunes and take a walk on the soundside for some peace and quiet unlike anywhere else on earth. And the best part? Jockey’s Ridge State Park is entirely free, so you can guarantee memorable fun for the whole family without having to spend a dime

Go Ghost Crabbing

Hunting for ghost crabs as soon as it gets dark is undeniably one of the most fun things to do at the beach, especially for families with kids. Ghost crabs, or sand crabs, are tiny crabs with white claws and are known for coming out onto the beach at night, scampering back and forth across the sand as the waves come in. All you have to do is head out onto the beach as soon as the sun goes down and be sure to bring a flashlight, a headlamp, or even the flashlight on your phone. As you scan the sand with your light, chances are you’ll many of these little fellas running back and forth in front of you. When you shine the flashlight beam on them, they tend to freeze for a few seconds, meaning that you’ll have a chance to get a quick picture before watching them disappear down into the sand. This is a free, easy, and fun activity that everyone in the family will undoubtedly enjoy during your vacation.

Take the Free Ferry to Ocracoke

Ocracoke Island is, arguably, one of the most beautiful places in the world and it's so easy to get there by hopping on the free ferry run by the NC Department of Transportation out of Hatteras Island. The Hatteras Island Ferry takes about an hour and you can even bring your car or RV along for the ride, so be sure to bring the whole family and enjoy the beautiful beaches, amazing history, and delicious restaurants that Ocracoke has to offer. Enjoy fishing, pottery art, and a wide variety of music and entertainment on this perfect Outer Banks day trip that doubles as a small slice of heaven on earth. Once you spend a day on Ocracoke Island, you're sure to want to come back year after year to enjoy this paradise off the beaten path.

Visit Carova Beach

One of the most spectacular areas on the Outer Banks is Carova Beach north of Corolla, an undeveloped set of beaches that are only accessible by vehicles with 4-Wheel Drive. See the famous Corolla Wild Horses, drive on the beach to find the perfect spot to build a sandcastle, or visit the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge where you will find 13 acres of untouched beach, maritime forest, and brackish marsh, perfect for photographers, hikers, and anyone who wants to enjoy the untouched beauty of the northern Outer Banks, all without going over budget.

Go Geocaching 

If you’re looking for something fun and inexpensive that the entire family can enjoy during your Outer Banks vacation, try the international phenomenon known as geocaching. Also known as the world’s largest treasure hunt, “geocaching” is a fun, outdoor, treasure-hunting game that only requires a mobile phone and the Geocaching App (or a GPS receiver, if you already have one). Players can use their phones to find and track GPS coordinates that lead to a “geocache” or “cache,” which is often a waterproof container with a logbook and anything from small toys to stickers to trading cards. Once you find your cache, you sign a code name (of your choice) and the date to the logbook, then put it back for the next hunter to find! Be sure to log your finds on the app and see how many of these hidden containers you can find. There are more than a dozen caches to be found up and down the Outer Banks, so there’s a good chance you’ll find one wherever you’re already planning to go. And not only is geocaching free, fun for the whole family, and a great way to get outdoors and see the best of what the Outer Banks has to offer, but Geocaching is an international activity, meaning that you can keep playing this game once you get back home, as well as anywhere else you and your family go on vacation!

Roanoke Island Festival Park


The Outer Banks is also known for its fascinating history and one of the best ways to introduce your family to the many amazing things that happened here is by visiting the Roanoke Island Festival Park. Admission for adults is $11, youth is $8, and children ages 2 and under are free and admission includes a full day’s worth of activities and adventures. Hop aboard the Elizabeth II, a traditional 16th-century sailing ship, visit the Settlement Site to imagine what life would have been like for John White and the other explorers, tour a replica of an Indigenous village, and visit the Adventure Museum. Play historical games and enjoy the fun of reenactors immersing you into the world that existed over 400 years ago. Learning has never been more fun than this affordable visit that promises memories for the whole family!

Visit Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve

Hidden in the heart of Kill Devil Hills, the Nags Head Woods Preserve is one of the largest maritime forests along the East Coast. With over 1,400 acres of woodland spanning both Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head, the preserve features sound waters, dunes, wetlands, a vast deciduous forest, and beautiful tree canopies interspersed with sand dunes in an untouched location that really does exist apart from the rest of the Outer Banks. For the hikers in your group, there are multiple trails and plenty of wildlife to keep everyone busy and having fun while taking in the fantastic, untouched splendor of the Outer Banks in its natural state.

Look for the Winged Horses Statues

If you enjoyed geocaching and want to add another scavenger hunt to your list, why not go on a search to see how many of the Winged Horses statues you can find during your stay? These beautiful pieces of art were erected during the 2003 Centennial of Flight celebration commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first flight in Kill Devil Hills. 99 horses were installed during the Winged Horse Extravaganza and many of them are still standing outside of shops, schools, restaurants, and many different other places on the Outer Banks. The statues are shaped like horses with wings and are decorated in elaborate styles, with everything from lighthouses to glitter adorning these beautiful fixtures. There’s no official record of which horses are still standing and where they are located, but it’s hard to miss thefun, vibrant art pieces up and down the island. Take the family out and try to find as many as you can!

Walk Along a Pier (or Go Fishing)

Up and down the Outer Banks, you will find a variety of piers, many of which are open to the public (with one exception) for free or at a minimal cost. These are amazing places to take a walk over the water, for fishing, or watch other people fish and take in the amazing views of the Atlantic Ocean. Some of the piers even have arcades and aquariums, so you’re definitely going to be getting your bang for your buck. Find out more about specific piers by taking a look at our Outer Banks Piers Guide, which has information about all of the piers on the Outer Banks as well as prices and the fun things that you can do and see at each.

Spend the Day at the Beach

At the end of the day, one of the best parts about staying on the Outer Banks is enjoying the surf, sand, and sun of the beautiful beaches. Many Outer Banks beaches even have free lifeguard stands and bathhouses, so all you’ll need to have a good time is a beach towel and an umbrella. Enjoy the rolling surf or take a casual stroll along the water looking for shells and stones. Frolic in the waves or relax on the sand with your favorite book. No matter what sort of vacation you’re looking to have, whether it’s exciting or relaxing, a day at the beach is exactly what you need to have the best vacation possible without having to spend any extra money. Take a look at our Beach Safety Guide, which has information about rip currents as well as Outer Banks Beach Accesses and their available amenities.


With all of these fun and affordable ways to spend your vacation, what are you waiting for? Check out our available vacation rentals and book your Outer Banks vacation today! 

About the Author: Lauren is the author of two books and a travel enthusiast. She grew up on the Outer Banks and only left for a few years to get her degree at UNC-Chapel Hill and complete a tour in the Coast Guard before making her way back to the beach in 2017. The only thing Lauren loves more than writing is sharing her love of the Outer Banks and its rich history with visitors and locals alike. When she isn’t writing for the Seaside Vacations Travel Blog, Lauren can usually be found with a book and cup of tea in hand, planning her next travel adventure and trying to figure out what happened to the Lost Colony.