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8 Apr 2024
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Environment & Nature

Nestled along the beautiful coast of North Carolina, the Outer Banks offers a diverse and exciting kayaking experience for adventurers of all skill levels. From tranquil soundside paddles to thrilling ocean excursions, the Outer Banks boasts a variety of kayaking opportunities that cater to both beginners and experienced paddlers alike. Whether you're seeking a leisurely exploration of coastal marshlands or a challenging journey through dynamic ocean waters, the Outer Banks has something to offer for everyone. Join us as we delve into the unique landscapes, rich wildlife, and vibrant coastal communities that make kayaking in the Outer Banks an unforgettable experience. Embark on your own kayaking adventure and discover the natural beauty and serenity that await you along these picturesque shores.

Why Kayak on the Outer Banks?

Kayaking on the Outer Banks is an experience like no other. The unique landscapes and waterways of the Outer Banks make it prime real estate for experiencing the best of coastal wildlife on the Outer Banks. 

Unique Geography

Experience the thrill of exploring the Outer Banks' unique coastal geography, from expansive soundside estuaries to hidden creeks tucked away among maritime forests. Whether you prefer the tranquility of calm waterways or the excitement of navigating ocean swells, the Outer Banks offers a myriad of kayaking experiences to suit your preferences. With every paddle, witness the ever-changing tapestry of marshlands, dunes, and maritime forests that define the Outer Banks' scenic coastline.

Variety of Wildlife

Immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the region as you encounter an array of local wildlife. Keep an eye to the sky with numerous species of shorebirds, wading birds, and seabirds found throughout the region. Keep an eye out for majestic great blue herons, ospreys soaring overhead, pelicans diving for fish, and elegant egrets stalking the shallows. During your adventures, you're also sure to see mammals like deer or squirrels while a variety of butterflies, insects, and other creatures like frogs, snakes, and sea turtles can be seen enjoying the bounty of nature's gifts in the wild.

Temperate Weather

The Outer Banks enjoys mild weather throughout much of the year. Spring and fall are particularly pleasant with comfortable temperatures ranging from the 60s to 70s Fahrenheit (15-25°C), making it enjoyable to be out on the water without overheating or feeling too cold. As a result, the Outer Banks also has an extended paddling season with cool breezes and limited severe weather that offers a refreshing kayaking experience well beyond the typical summer season. 

Top Kayaking Spots in the Outer Banks

Popular Spots

The Outer Banks of North Carolina offers a multitude of fantastic kayaking spots, each with its own unique charm and natural beauty. Whether you're seeking serene soundside paddling or adventurous ocean kayaking, here are some popular kayaking spots in the Outer Banks:

Currituck Sound: Located on the northern end of the Outer Banks, Currituck Sound is a vast, shallow body of water that's perfect for kayaking. Paddle along the peaceful waters and explore marsh islands while enjoying views of the historic Currituck Beach Lighthouse.

Roanoke Sound: Situated between the Outer Banks and Roanoke Island, Roanoke Sound offers calm waters and picturesque views. Launch your kayak from Manteo or Nags Head and paddle along the soundside shores, where you might spot ospreys, herons, and dolphins.

Pamlico Sound: The expansive Pamlico Sound is a prime destination for kayaking enthusiasts. Launch from locations like Avon, Buxton, or Hatteras Village and explore secluded coves, salt marshes, and Pamlico's unique ecosystem. Keep an eye out for wildlife such as sea turtles and rays.

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge: Just west of the Outer Banks, the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge offers a more remote kayaking experience. Paddle through tranquil waters surrounded by lush forests and keep watch for black bears, river otters, and a variety of bird species.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore: Along the protected shores of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, kayakers can explore untouched beaches, maritime forests, and tidal flats. Launch from locations like Oregon Inlet or Buxton Woods and experience the beauty of this pristine coastline.

Shallowbag Bay: Located in downtown Manteo, Shallowbag Bay provides easy access to calm waters and scenic views of Roanoke Island. Explore the bay's intricate network of creeks and marshes while learning about the area's history and ecology.

Jockey's Ridge State Park: For a unique kayaking experience, paddle along the Roanoke Sound side of Jockey's Ridge State Park. Enjoy stunning views of the massive sand dunes and keep an eye out for ospreys nesting atop the park's iconic dunes.

Ocracoke Island: Take a ferry to Ocracoke Island and explore its secluded waterways by kayak. Paddle through Silver Lake Harbor or venture to Springer's Point Nature Preserve to discover pristine beaches and maritime forests.

Kayaking Tips for Beginners

Best OBX Spots for Beginners

For beginners looking to enjoy kayaking in the Outer Banks (OBX), it's important to choose calm and beginner-friendly spots that offer relatively easy paddling conditions. Here are some of the best OBX locations ideal for novice kayakers:

Whalehead Club in Corolla (Currituck Sound): If you're looking for a safe spot on the northern end of the Outer Banks to launch your kayak, the Whalehead Club is prime real estate. Near enough to a popular attraction for safety while still offering the secluded experience of paddling out into the marshes and wetlands for the day, you'll be able to see lots of natural wildlife and plant life growing in these protected regions. 

Duck Soundside Park (Currituck Sound): The Duck Soundside Park is a great spot to launch your kayak in a safe, open area while offering the chance to enjoy the Currituck Sound. Make your way around the marshes for the chance to see waterfowl, fish and crabs, lots of plant life!

Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Reserve: When crossing over the Wright Memorial Bridge on your way into town, it's hard to miss the kayak launch point to your right. With more than 1,800 acres of hiking and biking trails, as well as easy access to the sound and the bay, you'll find the Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Reserve is ideal for exploring the maritime forest ecosystem that is so unique to the region. With small channels and an easy to follow route, this is a great place to get your paddles wet and make the most of your first kayaking adventure. 

Jockey's Ridge State Park: Jockey's Ridge is a great spot for any beginner kayaker. Not only is the area safe and shallow, but you can also part at the Sound Access where there will be plenty of people, parking, showers, a porta-potty, and wooden walkway. Take in the magnificent views of the dunes as well as a gorgeous sunset over the water. This wide, open space makes a pretty easy paddle while still giving you the chance to see lots of wildlife that call this area of the Outer Banks home.

Safety Tips

Here are some essential tips to ensure a safe and enjoyable kayaking adventure in this beautiful coastal region:

Check Weather Conditions: Before heading out, always check the weather forecast and tide information for the area where you plan to kayak. Avoid paddling in strong winds, thunderstorms, or rough seas, especially if you're kayaking in the ocean. Check out our Tide Tables and Weather forecast for the week to make sure nothing interferes with your paddle out! 

Choose the Right Kayak: Select a kayak appropriate for your skill level and planned activities. Sit-on-top kayaks are popular for recreational paddling in calm waters, while sea kayaks are ideal for longer trips and ocean kayaking.

Wear a Personal Flotation Device (PFD): Always wear a properly fitting PFD (life jacket) while kayaking. Even strong swimmers should wear a PFD as it can save your life in the event of an accident or capsize.

Sun Protection: The sun can be intense on the water, so wear sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses to protect yourself from sunburn and glare. Consider wearing quick-drying clothing and bring a long-sleeved shirt for additional sun protection.

Stay Hydrated: Bring plenty of water to stay hydrated, especially on hot days. Dehydration can occur quickly when paddling, so drink water regularly throughout your trip.

Respect Wildlife: Observe wildlife from a distance and avoid disturbing animals or their habitats. Do not approach nesting birds, sea turtles, or other wildlife you encounter while kayaking.

Pack Essential Gear: Bring a waterproof bag or container to protect your belongings from water splashes or capsizing. Essentials may include a first aid kit, snacks, navigation tools (like a map or GPS), a whistle or signaling device, and a cellphone in a waterproof case.

Plan Your Route: Plan your kayaking route in advance, considering the wind direction, currents, and tide. Be aware of any potential hazards such as submerged objects or strong currents.

Inform Someone of Your Plans: Before setting out, let someone know your kayaking itinerary, including your planned route and estimated return time. This ensures that someone can raise the alarm if you do not return as expected.

Practice Paddling Techniques: If you're new to kayaking or unfamiliar with the area, practice basic paddling techniques such as forward strokes, turning, and bracing before venturing into more challenging waters.

Respect Local Regulations: Familiarize yourself with local kayaking regulations, including any restricted areas, navigation rules, or permits required for certain locations.

Water & Weather

Understanding weather and water conditions is crucial for kayakers planning to explore the Outer Banks. Here are some tips to help kayakers assess and navigate weather and water conditions effectively:

Check Weather Forecasts: Before heading out on a kayaking trip, always check the local weather forecast. Pay attention to predicted wind speeds, gusts, precipitation, and temperature changes throughout the day. Use reliable weather sources such as the National Weather Service or weather apps designed for marine forecasts.

Understand Wind Conditions: Wind can significantly impact kayaking, especially on open waters like sounds or the ocean. Learn how wind direction and speed affect water conditions. As a general rule, it's safer to paddle into the wind when starting your trip, so you can return with the wind at your back.

Be Mindful of Tides and Currents: The Outer Banks experiences significant tidal changes, especially in areas like sounds and estuaries. Consult tide charts to understand the timing and magnitude of tidal fluctuations. Plan your kayaking trip to take advantage of favorable currents and avoid paddling against strong tidal flows.

Monitor Wave Heights: If kayaking in the ocean or exposed areas, monitor wave height forecasts. Waves can impact stability and maneuverability, especially for beginners. Avoid kayaking in rough conditions beyond your skill level.

Check Water Temperatures: The water temperature in the Outer Banks can vary seasonally. During cooler months, wear appropriate clothing or a wetsuit to prevent hypothermia in case of unexpected immersion.

Assess Water Visibility: Clear water conditions are ideal for kayaking, as they allow you to see underwater hazards or marine life. Heavy rainfall or strong winds can reduce water clarity, affecting visibility and safety.

Learn Local Conditions: Talk to experienced kayakers or local outfitters to gain insights into specific water conditions and potential hazards in different areas of the Outer Banks. They can provide valuable advice on safe paddling routes and recommended launch sites.

Be Prepared for Changing Conditions: Weather and water conditions can change rapidly in coastal environments. Carry essential safety gear such as a marine radio, GPS device, and signaling equipment. Have a plan in place for seeking shelter or assistance if conditions deteriorate unexpectedly.

Practice Situational Awareness: While kayaking, remain vigilant and observant of changing conditions, including wind shifts, currents, and approaching weather systems. Stay close to the shore or protected areas if conditions become challenging.

Exercise Caution and Use Common Sense: If conditions seem unsafe or beyond your comfort level, err on the side of caution and postpone your kayaking trip. Safety should always be the top priority when exploring the waters of the Outer Banks.

Kayak Rentals and Guided Tours

Explore the Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Preserve or take a sunset paddle from the Sanderling Resort, Bodie Island Wildlife Refuge, or the sheltered waters around Roanoke Island with this exclusive discount through Kitty Hawk Kites!

Schedule this tour and save $10 per person! This is a great deal for the family ... bring 4 people and the 5 person is essentially free!

Tour Pricing
  • KH Maritime Forest - $39 ($10 Savings)
  • Bodie Island - $45 ($10 Savings)
  • Roanoke Island - $39 ($10 Savings)
  • Sanderling - $49 ($10 Savings)
  • Child (5-12) - $30 ($10 Savings)



Book your stay today in one one of our cozy vacation rentals and exploring all the best and brightest that the Outer Banks has to offer. Give our wonderful Guest Services Team a call today at (866) 884-0267 or take a look at our available rentals to get started planning your next historic adventure to the Outer Banks.

And don't forget about our layaway plan, which makes booking your dream vacation easier than ever. So don't wait. We're booking Outer Banks vacation rentals year round and we're excited to help you create memories to last a lifetime. We're here to help make your OBX vacation fun, exciting, and hassle-free. Give us a call today! Be sure to provide accurate information and make any necessary payments. 


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About the Author: Lauren is an Outer Banks local, mom, trained historian, and travel enthusiast. When she isn’t writing for the Seaside Vacations Travel Blog, Lauren can usually be found with her nose in a book or cuddling with her cats.