Your Outer Banks Bucket List
If you're looking for the quintessential Outer Banks vacation experience, we've put together a bucket list of items that come highly recommended from us to you. Fair warning: You won't be able to do all of these in one trip to the OBX, so you'll just have to come back again and again until you do. Check out our OBX bucket list and let the tallying begin!
Visit Jockey's Ridge and stand on the East Coast's tallest sand dune.
Set on an expansive 426 acres in Nags Head, this North Carolina state park is home to the largest and highest living sand dune on all of the East Coast. It also the prime spot for hang-gliding on the Outer Banks. It's a great spot for kite flying, hiking, and photography as well. Enjoy the park's two self-guided trails, the museum, visitor center, gift shop and picnic areas. Jockey's Ridge State Park is always changing, always beautiful, as they say. We think you'll agree no matter how many times you visit.
Visit all 5 of the OBX lighthouses.
Yes, there are five! All charming in their own way, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, Bodie Island Lighthouse, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, and Ocracoke Island Lighthouse each have their own story. Some are climbable and all of them offer uniquely beautiful Outer Banks views. Find out more about them here.
Climb to the top of America's tallest brick lighthouse at Cape Hatteras.
Speaking of lighthouses, when you make the trip to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse you should make the most of it by climbing to the top! The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse has 268 steps from the ground to the balcony level, equal to climbing a 12-story building (it's over 200-feet high). The narrow stairs have a handrail only on one side, two-way traffic, and a landing every 31 steps. Oh and there's no air conditioning or elevators, just FYI, but there is AC in the museum. Don't let this deter you! Climbing the tallest brick lighthouse in North America is totally worth it. You can make the climb from mid-April to Columbus Day and tickets are required. Just do it!
Step onto the site of the world's first controlled powered flight at the Wright Brothers Memorial in Kill Devil Hills.
A trip to the Outer Banks is not complete until you've visited the Wright Brothers National Memorial. It's the site of the world's first controlled powered flight on December 17, 1903. The Visitor Center features full-scale reproductions of the Wright 1903 Powered Flyer and interpretive presentations. Take in all of the amazing exhibits, including a replica of the 1902 Wright Glider. The grounds include historical markers of each attempted powered flight, replica camp buildings, and a 60-foot granite monument on top of Big Kill Devil Hill (a 90-foot dune) honoring the Wright brothers. Definitely a must-see and a fun lesson in aviation history, too. See how Wilbur and Orville taught the world to fly!
Get a glimpse of seafaring life in 1585 aboard the Elizabeth II replica and let your imagination set sail into the New World.
Roanoke Island Festival Park, Adventure Museum, and Settlement Site offer living history at its best. Step onto the 69-foot sailing vessel, the Elizabeth II, and see what it was like to sail to the New World in the 16th century. The Elizabeth II replica is one of the seven English Merchant ships from the Roanoke Voyage of 1585. The breeze from Shallowbag Bay cools you as you admire the ship’s bold trim, the striking green and white Tudor flag, and the white and red Cross of the St. George flag that fly in the wind, set against a Carolina blue sky. Immerse yourself in rich history on a backdrop of coastal beauty unique to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. You'll be all the wiser for it.
Fish the Gulf Stream waters and learn why the OBX is known as "The Billfish Capital of the World".
A charter fishing excursion on the Gulf Stream waters is sure to reel in some big fun (and fish). This is the place for world-class big game fish as evidenced by the moniker mentioned above. Check out our recommended local fishing charters and find out more about OBX fishing right here.
Investigate the unsolved mystery of The Lost Colony on Roanoake Island.
As you've already read thus far, the Outer Banks has an interesting and diverse history. Add in some intrigue to the list, too. There is the unsolved mystery of The Lost Colony. Have you heard about it? Over thirty years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, a group of 117 weary men, women and children waded ashore and made history on Roanoke Island in July 1587, establishing the first permanent settlement of its kind in the Americas. Recruited by Sir Walter Raleigh, these early settlers unloaded their belongings, organized their supplies, and repaired an old fort on the island. Read the intriguing tale of John White, his daughter Eleanor, his granddaughter Virginia, and the other settlers of Roanoke to learn what John finds upon his return to Roanoke Island after a trip back to England for supplies. You can read more about The Lost Colony of Roanoke here. See the story play out as its reenacted every summer during the performances of The Lost Colony, the nation's longest-running symphonic drama presented at the Waterside Theatre in Manteo.
Stroll the Elizabethan Gardens and pay tribute to Sir Walter Raleigh's lost colonists.
Beauty, tranquility and wonder reign at the Elizabethan Gardens located within the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. Enjoy 10 acres of botanical and sculptural delight during your time here. Fanciful and elaborate gardens were kept to entertain Queen Elizabeth I during her reign. The garden was created as a living memorial to the time when Sir Walter Raleigh’s lost colonists lived in this very place over 400 years ago. No matter the season, the flowering plants, shrubs and trees delight visitors again and again. See the bronze sculpture of Queen Elizabeth I and the Virginia Dare statue amidst the extensive horticultural collections and ever-changing flora.
Observe the beauty and majesty of the wild horses in Corolla.
The wild horses of the Outer Banks are a sight to behold and a photographer's dream. The wild mustangs, also known as Banker horses, are a big draw to the town of Corolla and the OBX in general. What's not to love about the beauty and majesty of these strong survivors of times past? Read more about the Outer Banks horses, and one foal in particular with an amazing story currently unfolding, here.
Go under the sea at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island.
The NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island is day's adventure in and of itself. This under-the-sea adventure offers the largest collection of sharks in the state along with interactions with the resident scuba divers, stingray touch tanks, sea turtle assistance and rescue center (STAR), and more exploration of the waters of the Outer Banks. The NC Aquarium Roanoke Island is open year-round except on Thanksgiving and Christmas day. Put it on your OBX itinerary as it is surely bucket-list worthy!
Try your hand at OBX fishing off of Jennette's Pier in Nags Head.
Jenette's Pier is the Aquarium-operated educational ocean pier filled with learning and fishing opportunities for all ages. The pier features educational classrooms and programs, alternative energy demonstrations, live animal exhibits, meeting facilities, a snack bar and tackle shop, and a host of other family-friendly features. The fishing is "reel" great, too!
Explore America's first national seashore at Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore is a local favorite that draws beach-goers back year after year. Rhythmic ocean waves, endless starry skied nights, calm salt marshes and panoramic coastal beauty surround you here. The remoteness and ruggedness add charm, and of course the lighthouse offers a nice touch. It's America's first national seashore, so that makes it bucket-list worthy for sure.
Enjoy a scenic stroll down the boardwalk in Duck.
The Duck boardwalk can be accessed via the town park as well as in other locations throughout the town’s village commercial district. The boardwalk extends nearly a mile along the Currituck Sound allowing both residents and visitors alike to enjoy the beauty and nature of the area. Visit some unique coastal shops, taste the local flavor of at the town's eateries, or just relax and enjoy the day (and the views!). Learn more about what the Duck Town Park and Boardwalk have to offer and be sure to put it on your list.
Spend some nights in Rodanthe.
Nights in Rodanthe may bring the Nicholas Spark's novel to mind, and for good reason. The OBX inn featured in the movie can be spotted here. But there's more to Rodanthe than that. We suggest you visit the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station Historic Site and Museum. It's one of the few left in the country and it's well-preserved featuring fascinating facts, exhibits and photos, authentic structures, and in-depth insight into the history of search and rescue on a local level and beyond. It is a sometimes overlooked spot but definitely a quiet gem worthy of a portion of your time during your Outer Banks vacation. Stop by and see it for yourself, and then let us know what you think.
Well, this is quite the OBX bucket list, isn't it? Guess what.... it's only a fraction of the things we'd recommend on your visit. We'd love to tell you more, so there will most likely be a follow-up to this post. Stay tuned!
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How many of these Outer Banks bucket list items have you done? What would you add to the list? We'd love to hear from you. Who knows, your ideas may make it into the next Elan Vacations OBX bucket list blog post!