Photo: Surfers carrying their boards on sand dune

Jockey's Ridge State Park on Nags Head, North Carolina, has the tallest natural sand dune system in the eastern U.S.

Photograph by Medford Taylor, National Geographic

North Carolina’s Outer Banks is a group of barrier islands extending nearly 300 miles (483 kilometers) south from the Virginia/North Carolina border. Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head are the epicenter of activity in the Outer Banks, thanks to their proximity to the causeway. From the Black Pelican in Kitty Hawk, a former lifesaving station that is now a restaurant, the Wright Brothers sent their telegraph announcement after their first successful flight. You can read a copy of the telegraph at the restaurant. For a true Outer Banks vacation experience, rent a cottage. Visit, where you can see links to realtors’ websites and find your perfect beach house. The site also provides information about other lodgings.

Where to Play

Climb the 214 steps of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse in Corolla. Bring binoculars and look for the wild horses in the Currituck Banks estuarine reserve. At Nags Head’s Jockey’s Ridge State Park), sand dunes stand at 80 to 90 feet (24 to 27 meters) tall. You can run around them and roll down them. It’s also a great place for kite flying. A little farther south, on Roanoke Island, check out The Lost Colony, an open-air play. While there, visit the Elizabethan Gardens and Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. For the best sailboarding, head even farther south to Canadian Hole in Buxton.

At Day’s End

The Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station, a historical museum, holds bonfires and storytelling sessions during summer evenings. Visit for a schedule of events.


From June to mid-August, the Outer Banks can get very crowded; there are fewer people and lower prices in the spring and fall when it’s cooler. Note that traffic jams are common during summer weekends, with the only two roads to the mainland both located in the northern Outer Banks.

Traveling off-season? Visit to get your free Getaway Card, which gives you discounts on lodging, restaurants, activities, and more.

Based on articles from National Geographic Traveler and compiled by Stephanie Robichaux

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