Home to a varied collection of both plants and animals, there are a plethora of spots on the Outer Banks that are perfect for any nature enthusiast. If you don’t mind getting a little dirt under your fingertips then grab your binoculars and lace up your hiking boots because this trip planner is for you! Check out our week-long itinerary perfect for anyone who wants to see and experience native flora and fauna of the Outer Banks!
DAY 1: ALLIGATORS AND MAYBE A FEW BEARS
Located off the beach in Manns Harbor, Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge includes more than 150,000 acres of wetland habitats and a wide variety of wildlife ranging from wood ducks and alligators to black bears and red wolves. You can also find a wide array of plant species including: Atlantic white cedar, bald cypress, wildflowers and shrubs.
The refuge has great hiking and wildlife trails for visitors in addition to observation platforms, fishing areas and kayaking and canoeing routes.
Hours: Refuge is open daily during daylight hours.
Admission:Free admission! Guided canoe tours and free interpretive programs are available May – October.
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
Manns Harbor, NC 27953
DAY 2: BIRDER’S PARADISE
Home to more than 360 species of birds, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is a 6,000-acre haven for wildlife. From spring to autumn, a vast array of wading, shore and upland birds can be seen. There are several observation platforms near the visitor center parking areas along with nature trails and blinds.
The refuge’s objectives are to provide a nesting, resting and wintering habitat for migratory birds including snow geese, migratory waterfowl, shorebirds, wading birds and raptors. In addition to bird watching, visitors can enjoy kayaking, beachcombing, surfing, fishing and photography.
Hours: Open daily during daylight hours. Visitor center is open seasonally.
Admission: Free! Guided canoe tours are available for a small fee.
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
Milepost 32 on NC 12
Nags Head, NC 27959
DAY 3: SHARKS, STINGRAYS AND SEA TURTLES
During the third day of your Outer Banks vacation, we recommend that you head over to the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island. You can marvel at the largest collection of sharks in the state, interact with scuba divers in the 285,000-gallon "Graveyard of the Atlantic" tank, touch an alligator or feed the stingrays as you explore the “Waters of the Outer Banks,”
Also, don’t miss out on the interactive Sea Turtle Rescue exhibit. The variety of exhibits promises to educate and entertain visitors of all ages.
Hours: Open 9am to 5pm daily. (Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas).
Admission: Ages 13-61: $12.95 | Seniors: Ages 62+ $11.95 | Children: Ages 3-12: $10.95 | Ages 0-2: Free | Military: $11.95 | NC Aquarium Society Members: Free. Taxes are not included. Admission is FREE FOR ALL on the following days: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Veterans Day.
North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island
374 Airport Road
Manteo, NC 27954
DAY 4: THE QUEEN’S GARDEN
Built as a living memorial to Sir Walter Raleigh’s lost colonists, the Elizabethan Gardens are no brainer for this trip planner. Spring-time tulips lead into an ever changing palette of year-round color from hydrangeas, pansies, roses, lillies, and camellias that sit among other flowers, trees and native herbs. You can venture on a self-guided tour of the gardens or enjoy the view from a sound side, 16th-century style gazebo.
Garden-inspired workshops throughout the year bring you face to face with masters of their craft eager to share their skills. Be sure to stop by the garden shops to view a selection of plants available for purchase from their nursery.
Hours: Open year-round. Hours vary with season.
Admission: Adults: $9.00 | Youth (6 - 17): $6.00 | Children (5 and under): $2.00 | Groups of 20+: $1.00 off individual admission cost | Pets (1 per owner): $3.00 | Service Pets: Free
1411 National Park Drive
Manteo, NC 27954
DAY 5: HIDDEN GEM OF THE OUTER BANKS
The 1,400-acre maritime forest known as Nags Head Woods is a must visit for nature enthusiasts. Featuring more than five miles of self-guided hiking trails ranging in difficulty from easy to hard, Nags Head Woods features a diversity of plant and animal life that is unusual to find on a barrier island.
Towering oaks, hickories and beach trees line the preserve to create a canopy typically found in the mountains of the eastern United States. In addition to the diverse plant-life, there have been over 100 species of birds that have been spotted in the woods and over 50 bird species nest there. You can also see a variety of amphibians and reptiles on the hiking trails.To safeguard the sensitive diversity and history of the Preserve, trails are for foot traffic only. Dogs, bicycles and horses are welcome on the gravel roadway, but not on the trails.
Nags Head Woods Preserve
701 West Ocean Acres Drive
Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948
DAY 6: DAY OF MARSHES
A perfect activity for nature lovers and hikers, the Currituck Banks National Estuarine Preserve takes visitors into the marshy areas of Currituck County. Venture down the Reserve Access Trail and view various types of flora indigenous to the area. The preserve is also a great place for birdwatchers too!
Since this is protected land, there is no fishing or hunting allowed. It’s definitely worth the visit to see this unique part of the Outer Banks in its natural state.
Currituck Banks National Estuarine Preserve
NC Route 12,
Corolla, NC 27927
DAY 7: WILDLIFE EDUCATION
Visitors to the 22,000-square-foot center located on the Currituck Sound will have the opportunity to learn about Currituck County’s rich natural history and heritage. Waterfowl hunting, decoy-making and fishing are all traditions connected to the region's ecology and are important elements in the center's design.
The center houses an exhibit gallery, auditorium, museum store, large decoy collection and a 12,000-gallon aquarium. Also, be sure to inquire about their daily educational programs!
Hours: April - October: (Monday - Saturday) 9 AM - 5 PM | November - March: (Monday - Friday) 9 AM - 5 PM. Open Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day & Veterans Day but closed other state holidays.
Admission: Free but donations are gratefully accepted. Be sure to call ahead to sign-up for programs.
Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education
1160 Village Lane Heritage Park
Corolla NC 27927
*All hours, admission costs, and location information updated as of 2019 but can change at any time or for inclement weather. Be sure to check with the individual facility with specific admission questions.