You have to want to go here pretty badly, because it is way off the normal routes, which whisk you up and down the Interstates without even coming close to these high-duned beaches, yet the Outer Banks do offer up some unique history and activities that make them worth a visit. If you decide to go, you’ll be presented with a plethora of tourism options, and, given the limited time most of us have for vacation, making the right choices to winnow down your activities to something manageable will prove to be a daunting task (unless you just want to sunbathe and relax, which isn’t a bad option at all). I’m here to make that job easier, and I’ve ranked the most popular activities below to help you choose:
Disclaimer-Yes, there is supposed to be some great fishing here. I’m not a fisherman, so I won’t comment on that.
Number 4-Horses–The celebrated “wild” horses are not worth the viewing save for hard-core equine enthusiasts. They are technically, wild, but if you have visions of seeing these animals playfully cavorting along the beach, it probably ain’t gonna happen: more likely, you’ll see them lazily eating sea oats in someone’s front yard, lending them the same kind of exotic mystique normally associated with barn animals. The tours to see these creatures are IMO a ripoff. If you’re determined to see them, just rent a 4WD vehicle and go to Corolla Beach for a few hours. You’ll see them. Or better yet, just rent one of the many homes available within their habitat.
Number 3–Beaches– sure, the beaches are nice, but being from Florida I’m a bit spoiled in that respect. Really the only thing to recommend them over any others is the fact that in the 1930’s the CCC put a whole lot of unemployed men to work moving dirt onto the dunes along the coast in an effort to create a better barrier against hurricanes. Thus, the tallest sand dunes on the US east coast are there not because of Mother Nature, but Big Brother. That said, the beaches themselves are wide and have a good depth of fairly fine-grained sand, plus they benefit from a relative sparsity of development. Plus some of them, like Jockey’s Ridge State Park, are a haven for hang gliders. But I wouldn’t personally drive out of my way to see any of them, unless I was staying up at Corolla Beach, where the rental homes are scattered willy-nilly among the dunes like throwbacks to a bygone age before motor vehicles came along. Another way of saying this is, as picturesque as it sounds, you’ll need a 4-wheel drive vehicle to get there, unless you have enough cash to pay for the inevitable tow bill for your car, since the “road”, such as it is, is actually just the beach itself.
Number 2-Cape Hatteras has the tallest brick lighthouse in the USA, and it’s certainly worth a visit. There is a panoramic view from the top. Plus they have nice undeveloped beaches of their own. On a related note, if you’re a lighthouse fan, Bodie Island and Currituck beach lighthouses are also both in the OBX area.
Number 1-Wright Brothers National Memorial– There is only one thing you shouldn’t miss: the Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kitty Hawk. Run by the National Park Service, this site is a must-see, even if the exhibit is closed (as it was when I went). What makes it so special is the briefing by the park ranger. I was lucky enough to have Dan Shook do my talk, and if ever there was a government employee who earned his keep (yes, I’m willing to admit there are some), he is that person. Through his words, standing on the very site where the famous brothers took their first flight, you can relive that glorious moment when, in 1903, their fragile-looking airplane first left the ground. Of course I knew about much of the story, but there was also a lot that was new to me: they had to invent so many engineering “firsts” it’s almost a miracle that they ever managed the feat-the world’s first aluminum engine, the first wind tunnel, the first aircraft controls, and. of course, the first controlled, powered flight of an airplane. That they accomplished this with high school diplomas using their own money and the manual labor of a few friends,is simply amazing. This whole park is a tribute to American genius, grit, and dedication. BTW, the actual memorial is on a hill providing a fine view of the surrounding landscape. Do not go to OBX without seeing this!
Yes, that is partial list, and I left out the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station Historic Site & Museum in Rodanthe as I didn’t visit it. I feel like a boardwalk is a boardwalk, so the Duck Town boardwalk and Jenette’s Pier in Nag’s Head didn’t make the list, but you may disagree if you just have to walk out to the end of each one you see. I don’t, and I guess that’s what makes the world go ‘round: differences of opinion.