North Carolina’s Outer Banks: A Destination Any Time of Year

Thank you for the recent feature, Sara Kendall, of the Epicurean! “Spanning over 200 miles in a string of narrow barrier islands, the Outer Banks is an ocean haven anytime of the year. The locals refer to them as OBX, and millions of people make these islands their vacation destination. Looking to book a winter retreat or plan next summer’s getaway? The Outer Banks is a fabulous choice no matter the time of year you decide to venture to the ocean breezes.”

This Article from the Charlotte Epicurean on just a few of the reasons why the OBX is so special hit the nail on the head! We have so much to do here and a ton of great dining options! What are you going to choose to do today?

Hangin’ With Kites With Lights

Kites with Lights, 2014.

Kites with Lights, 2014.

With temperatures still in the 70s and bright sunshine, it seems like Christmas is a long way off, but here it is November, Thanksgiving is just two weeks away and it’s a sure bet Santa is gearing up for his annual flight.

The Christmas season with Kitty Hawk Kites is really something special. We always begin the official season over Thanksgiving Weekend, with our Hangin’ With Santa on Friday and Saturday with a visit from that “fat jolly old elf”. If it’s raining or snowing or just too cold, Santa will be hanging inside the Kite store where they’ll be hot cocoa and plenty of cookies.

Saturday evening make a point of checking out our Kites with Lights at Jockey’s Ridge State Park as we paint the sky with lights soaring into the night sky attached to kites. Be sure to dress for the weather. It can be cold and windy on Jockey’s Ridge.

The holiday season is a time for giving gifts and Kitty Hawk Kites has a great selection of kites, toys, games, clothing, footwear—just about anything needed for kids or someone special.

Of course there’s lot’s of other activities on the Outer Banks as well during the holiday season. One of our favorites is Winter Lights at Elizabethan Gardens on Roanoke Island. The Elizabethan Gardens is a wonderful 10 acre formal garden and during Winter Lights thousands of lights decorate the trees, plants and decorations. The Grand Illumination is Friday, November 27 and after that the Gardens are open Wednesday through Sunday to stroll along the pathways illuminated by the light of the decorations.

Kitty Hawk Kites Thanksgiving Weekend Schedule of Activities.


Photos with Santa- Jockey’s Ridge Crossing

10:00 AM – 2:00 PM


Photos with Santa- Jockey’s Ridge Crossing

1:00 PM – 4:00 PM

Kites with Lights- Jockey’s Ridge State Park

4:00 PM – DARK

The Other Side of the Outer Banks

Entrance to the Ridge Trail, Kitty Hawk Woods.

Entrance to the Ridge Trail, Kitty Hawk Woods.

Generally speaking when people think about the Outer Banks they think of beautiful beaches and  a warm and inviting ocean—which is great because that’s why almost everyone comes for a visit.

But there is much more to the Outer Banks; in fact, at one time almost the entire sound side was heavily forested. There are still some amazing examples of those forested shores left and for anyone looking for a hidden story of the Outer Banks, they are worth exploring.

There are four protected wooded areas. We’ll list them going from north to south.

Currituck Banks Reserve

Probably the least known of the Outer Banks woods, to find Currituck Banks Reserve head north from the Whalehead Club until a 90 degree bend to the right in the road. There is a small parking lot there that is the trail head.

Two ways to expore this. There is a short boardwalk through the maritime forest that leads to the sound. It’s a very easy walk–actually handicap accessible—and it ends at a small platform built over a narrow channel coming in from Currituck Sound. It is at the perfect balance point at the end of a towering forest of pines and the waving grasses of a fresh water estuary.

There is a trail leading off the boardwalk. Look for the steps leading to the forest floor. This is more challenging than the boardwalk, but completely suitable for ages 10 and older. Follow the blue blazons to the sound.

Kitty Hawk Woods

Kitty Hawk Woods, is the largest reserve on the Outer Banks. Bisected by the Woods Road, a paved  a multi-use trail parallels the road for it’s entire length. The multi-use path is a great introduction to the beauty of a maritime forest and the path is perfect for a family bike ride or a morning stroll.

There is also an amazing trail system that takes hikers through upland forests into swampy wetlands. Bikes are allowed on the Kitty Hawk Woods trails. Suitable for any moderately experienced mountain biker, it’s a unique experience on the Outer Banks.

The offices are located at 4352 The Woods Rd in Kitty Hawk. Trail maps are available online or at the office. Call first to make sure someone is there. (252) 548-6102

Nags Head Woods

Administered by the Nature Conservancy, Nags Head Woods is 1100 acres of steep hills, wetlands and dense forest. The hills are actually sand dunes that have become covered in a more dense soil–a soil that is fertile enough to allow hardwood trees to grow, and a hike along the trails has a distinctly upland or mountain feel to it. The elevation gain is abrupt, the trails run along ridges that drop into deep ravines and hardwood trees are the dominant forestation along the ridge lines.

There is a parking lot with a small visitor’s center. To get to the visitor’s center, turn on to Ocean Acres at the light at Pigman’s Barbecue. Follow the road to the visitor’s center on the left at the bottom of a hill.

Buxton Woods, Old Doctors Road.

Buxton Woods, Old Doctors Road.

Buxton Woods

Thriving at the confluence of subtropical and temperate weather zones, Buxton Woods is one of the most distinctive maritime forests in the world. Palmetto plants thrive at the base of towering pine trees; the swamps, marsh and trails are teeming with life.

Sprawling at the base of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the 1000 acre site is on the Atlantic Ocean side of NC12. Three access points— Old Doctor’s Road, Flowers Ridge Road, or Water Association Road. All are dirt roads. There are also trails linking the site to Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.


Hatteras & Ocracoke Beaches-Spectacular

The beach at Rodanthe, looking north.

The beach at Rodanthe, looking north.

The beaches on Hatteras Island Ocracoke are spectacular. How spectacular? Ocracoke is not longer rated by Dr. Beach, Steve Leatherman, who is considered the preeminent world authority on beaches. The reason it is no longer included is because in 2007 it was rated #1 in the US and when a beach is ranked #1 it comes off the list.

Hatteras consistently makes his top ten list, so it’s not far behind.

Hatteras beaches tend to be wide with very soft sand. Toward the north end, around Rodanthe the sand tends to be a little more coarse, but all of the beaches are wonderful.

Most of Hatteras Island is part of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, although the northern end is part of Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and is administered by US Fish & Wildlife. The National Park Service offers two lifeguard patrolled beaches:Hatteras Island: Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Beach, next to the Old Cape Hatteras Lighthouse site and on Ocracoke Island at the Ocracoke Day Use Beach about a half mile north of Ocracoke Village.

Dare County just completed a beach access bathhouse and parking lot in Rodanthe. The site may be the best on the Outer Banks.

For anyone using National Park Service beaches, there are restrictions in some areas. Look for roped off dunes and beaches with signs warning that the area is a habitat site, usually for piping plover, sometimes the American oyster catcher. Do not enter those areas. Park rangers will issue citations are even the most casual incursion and since the areas are clearly marked and easily avoided there is no reason to enter.

The Beaches of the Outer Banks

Here it is halfway through summer, the beaches are full and the one thing we have not written about are the Outer Banks award winning beaches. With 120 miles of shoreline there’s a lot to discuss, so we’re not even going to try to cover all of the beaches at one setting.

Kitty Hawk beach by Black Pelican restaurant.

Kitty Hawk beach by Black Pelican restaurant.

We’ll start with the northern beaches, Corolla south to Oregon Inlet and later we’ll talk about the beaches on Hatteras Island.

Outer Banks beaches vary in so many ways that it’s hard to give a specific description that covers all of them.

The beach in Corolla, as an example, tends to be wide with wonderfully soft sand, and those conditions extend all the way to Carova on the Virginia state line. There is a small section of the Carova where the retreat of the shoreline has left exposed tree trunks in the surf and beach, so avoid that area, but otherwise, these are beautiful beaches just calling out for a day by the sea.

The same conditions exist in Duck and Southern Shores, although in those two towns, access is restricted to homeowners and their guests (renters) and there is no public access.

If there is a disadvantage to the beaches on the northern end, it is that facilities, especially for families, tend to be far away from the beach.

Families with children may find that the advantage of having stores, restaurants and hamburger stands close by make Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head a better choice.

The type of sand really varies in this area. Kitty Hawk tends to have a more narrow beach with courser sand than either Kill Devil Hills or Nags Head.

Farther south in Nags Head, especially around Jennette’s Pier, the beach has been nourished and it’s wide with a fine grained sand.

Jennette’s Pier is a great site for families with a lot of parking and what may be the largest bathhouse of any of the towns. There are also a lot of places to get a snack or pick up a bottle of sunscreen close by. A good second choice for convenience is in Kitty Hawk around East Eckner Street next to Art’s Place.