Island Hopping in the Outer Banks

14 04 2011




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If you can take one scenic road trip in North Carolina, make it the Blue Ridge Parkway.  If you can take a second, make it the drive along the Outer Banks.  Named one of National Geographic’s “Drives of a Lifetime,” a cruise through the NC Outer Banks offers a mix of tranquility and adventure, seasoned with a rich maritime history.  It almost seems like a lighthouse tour – from start to finish, you’ll hit all four of them.

The 114-mile drive stretches from Corolla to Ocracoke Village:  start at the northern end of Highway 12, then detour along Route 158 through Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nag’s Head before rejoining Highway 12 for the rest of the journey.   Most of the drive is a flat, two-lane road, weaving through sand dunes and offering views of both ocean and sound.

Your trip starts around the Currituck Beach Lighthouse in Corolla, but the first major stop will likely be the Wright Brothers National Memorial.  For those of you who didn’t grow up taking middle school NC history courses, I’ll remind you – North Carolina was “first in flight,” and it all began in Kitty Hawk.  The memorial encompasses over 400 acres of terrain, marking the place where Orville and Wilbur Wright took their first flights.

As you continue along the route, you’ll reach Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nag’s Head, which boasts the largest natural sand dunes in the Eastern U.S. (some as high as 80 feet).  What does that mean?  You get to act like a kid all over again – fly kites, build castles, or just run up and down the sand mountains.

The 74 miles of coastline all the way from Nag’s Head to Ocracoke is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore – stop for some midday sun at Coquina beach or do some fishing in the creeks off the Albemarle Sound.  Just a few miles into this stretch sits the Bodie Island Lighthouse, which makes for a great photo at sunset, but is closed to the public.  However, keep going just a bit further and you’ll hit the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, one of the most common icons of North Carolina.  Standing 210 feet, Cape Hatteras is the tallest operating lighthouse in the country.

Your drive is complete as you take the car ferry for a 40-minute voyage from Hatteras Village to Ocracoke Island.  The town is home to the Ocracoke Lighthouse, which is both the oldest and shortest operating beacon in the state, and completes the set of four along the journey.

Get out there now to beat the summer crowds!


The wrap-up:

  • Distance from Duke: 4 hours
  • Recommended trip duration: weekend
  • Recommended season: Spring/early summer





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