Experience Your One of a Kind OBX Moment
by Jessie S.
If you’re reading this post, you’re probably already a fan of the Outer Banks. If not, a beloved friend or family member likely sent you this article to try to show you what you’ve been missing all these years. I know it happens because I used to do the same thing to anyone who told me they had never been to the Outer Banks. And I know exactly what you’re thinking – “I’ve been to the beach, what makes the Outer Banks so special?”
That’s easy. Everything.
The Outer Banks isn’t just a beach. It's a coastal community steeped in history and perfectly crafted for making memories. It's a place where your stress floats away on the ocean breeze. It’s a way of life and a state of mind. The adventures you'll have here are incredible and the sights you'll see here can't be seen anywhere else. These one of a kind experiences, or OBX moments, are the moments you'll cherish the rest of your life. Whether you’re a long-time visitor ready to discover something new or you're thinking about coming here for the first time, the following suggestions of local activities unique to the Outer Banks are designed to help you experience your one of a kind OBX moment.
A Unique Geography
There are very few places in the United States that can claim a similar geography. The Outer Banks is a string of barrier islands jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of mainland North Carolina. At around 200 miles long, these islands are actually very narrow only stretching a couple miles wide. The islands are split into a series of small towns surrounded by the ocean to the east and a series of sounds (Currituck Sound, Albemarle Sound, Roanoke Sound, and Pamlico Sound) to the west. That means there are literally miles and miles of coast all around, perfect for watching sunrises over the ocean in the morning and sunsets at night over the sound.
In 1587, the first English Settlement in the “New World” was established on Roanoke Island. The colony, made up of 117 English men, women and children, was governed by John White. When his daughter gave birth to Virginia Dare, she became the first English child to be born in the Americas. Within a few months, Governor White sailed back to England for supplies but naval war prevented him from returning back to the colony until 1590. When he returned, the colony had disappeared and there was no trace of the colonists aside from a couple clues. Many centuries later, the mystery of The Lost Colony remains unsolved. Although new evidence is being discovered all the time and there are plenty of theories as to what likely happened, no one truly knows the fate of the colonists. The site of The Lost Colony sits in the modern-day town of Manteo where visitors to the OBX can explore the grounds and watch a performance about the Colony where they “become immersed in epic battles, haunting Native American dances, elegant costuming and beautiful music in this enormous stage production.” -The Lost Colony
First in Flight
On December 17, 1903, brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright launched the famous Wright Flyer I into the skies of Kill Devil Hills, NC where it flew for 59 seconds and traveled an impressive 852 feet. An incredible accomplishment in the aeronautic world, the brothers had achieved the world’s first flight with a heavier-than-air powered aircraft. On November 14, 1932, the Wright Brothers National Monument was opened in honor of their work. The national park has undergone many additions and restorations since then and now includes a 428-acre park, aircraft reproductions, a visitor’s center and museum, replicas of the Wright Brothers’ hangar and living quarters, a marker of their flight path, and the giant monument that visitors can explore while learning about our nation’s history of flight at the place it was first achieved. Read more about experiencing the Wright Brothers Memorial.
Perilous Diamond Shoals
The Outer Banks may be beautiful but the unique formation of the islands’ sandbars, known as the Diamond Shoals, stretches miles out into the sea surrounding Cape Hatteras and has long been a treacherous stretch of sea for sailors. Throughout history, thousands of ships and lives were lost in these waters due to shifting sands, unpredictable currents, rough weather and strong waves. In fact, over 2,000 ships have sunk here since 1526 (around the time record keeping became better practice). These losses earned the coast the nickname “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” Visitors can take a biplane tour over the ocean to see some of these wrecks from above or can stop by the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras to learn more.
Exciting 4x4 Beaches
Everyone loves going for long walks on the beach… but what about a drive on the beach? The Outer Banks is one of the few areas in the country where visitors can literally take their vehicle out in the sand. In fact, the northernmost area of the OBX, Carova Beach to be specific, is only accessible by 4WD. There are also off-road vehicle (ORV) accesses in Corolla, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, and along Cape Hatteras National Seashore from Rodanthe to Ocracoke. Rentals and guided tours may be available for visitors who don’t own 4WD vehicles. Some ORV accessible areas are seasonal and some require a permit so be sure to research town rules about beach driving.
Natural Land Formations
If you love kite-flying, incredible views, or hiking through natural land formations, visiting Jockey’s Ridge State Park should be on your list of to-do activities. The state park, covering 426 acres, features the tallest living natural sand dune on the East Coast. Believed to have been formed over 3,000 years ago, the dune can sometimes grow as high as 60 feet tall. Visitors who walk to the top are greeted by 360-degree views of the Atlantic Ocean to the East, the Roanoke Sound to the west, and of course, The Outer Banks to the North and South. Established in 1975, Jockey’s Ridge State Park features local flora and fauna, visitor facilities, and perfect winds for flying kites, sandboarding and hang gliding. (Don’t forget your Seaside Vacations discount at Kitty Hawk Kites!)
A Herd of Wild Horses
Few places in the country are still home to free-roaming wild horses, especially on the East Coast. Believed to be descendants of horses brought over by Spanish explorers in the 16th century, a herd of wild horses roam the dunes of Corolla and gallop along the ocean. With population numbers declining every year, preservation of these horses is of utmost importance. Visitors are encouraged to look and admire but there is a 50-ft distance ordinance in place in order to protect both the horses and visitors. To learn more about their history or help protect the herd, visitors can take a trip to the Corolla Wild Horse Museum operated by the Corolla Wild Horse Fund. For a better look, try booking a Guided Wild Horse Tour through Corolla Outback to see if you can spot one of these majestic animals (Seaside Vacation discount included!)
North America’s Tallest Brick Lighthouse
The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is one of the most recognized lighthouses in the country and is rich with history. Most notably in 1999, the lighthouse was picked up and moved 2,900 feet from its original location to protect the structure from beach erosion... quite an impressive feat! The lighthouse stands at 208 feet tall making it the tallest brick lighthouse in North America. Built to help protect ships traveling the treacherous Diamond Shoals, the first structure that was built in 1803 was made of sandstone, stood at 90 feet tall and featured a whale oil lamp. Unfortunately, it was ineffective and eventually destroyed due to a faint light signal, poor construction and a non-distinct color. The structure that stands today was built in 1870 and painted with diagonal black and white stripes in 1873. Maintained by the National Park Service, visitors can tour the grounds and lightkeeper's quarters, or visitors can climb the 257 steps to the balcony for incredible views of the Cape Hatteras seashore.
No matter how you choose to spend your Outer Banks vacation, I'm confident you're one of a kind OBX moment will be one you'll never forget... and before you know it, you'll be the one telling your friends about all the awesome Outer Banks moments they've been missing.
Jessie has been coming to the Outer Banks since she was just 5 years old. She loved it here so much that she finally relocated in 2018. Now her mission is to show the world that the Outer Banks is an incredible place that everyone should experience. When she isn't working, you can find Jessie hanging out with her friends, chilling at home with her awesome cat, Yoji, or discovering a new Outer Banks adventure.