Outer Banks Beaches

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Outer Banks Beaches
The Outer Banks has miles of sandy shores, great surfing and fishing, and a growing stand-up paddleboarding scene. If that sounds like too much work, you can explore the charming towns and lighthouses while learning about the area's maritime history.
By Brianna Simmons, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Brianna Simmons
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    Uncrowded Miles of Beach
    The natural beauty of the Outer Banks' uncrowded shores has wide appeal, and beaches here are consistently ranked among the best in the United States. Coves along Roanoke Sound provide calm waters that are great for families; the Atlantic's barreling waves attract surfers and stand-up paddleboarders; and kiteboarders head to Hatteras. The remote beaches of Ocracoke offer solitude, and there is no better place than Corolla to dig your toes into the sand.
    Photo by Brianna Simmons
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    Surfing the Outer Banks
    The shifting sands of the barrier islands produce big swells that are considered by many to be some of the best waves on the East Coast. The Outer Banks draws expert surfers and several competitions take place throughout the year, including the ESA Easterns Surfing Championship, held each September. In Corolla, you’ll find plenty of smaller breaks that are perfect for newcomers to the sport, while experienced surfers head to Hatteras for more challenging waves. Bring your board or stop by one of the many independent surf shops for gear, where you’ll also find knowledgeable surfers who can point you in the direction of your perfect wave.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    The Outer Banks for Anglers
    Whether you prefer fly-fishing, surf fishing, or angling offshore, the waters of the Outer Banks are a draw for any fisherman; there's a large variety of fish and the season lasts throughout the year. The western shores of the Outer Banks feature freshwater species such as largemouth bass, perch, and catfish. Channel your inner Hemingway and head out to the Atlantic Ocean with Rock Solid Fishing for bigger catches like blue marlin, sailfish, and both yellowfin and bluefin tuna. A saltwater license is required and anglers should be aware of current regulations; information can be found at various bait and tackle shops.
    Photo by Steve Dunwell/age fotostock
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    Kayaking and Stand-Up Paddleboarding
    Kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding are great ways to explore the many waterways of the Outer Banks. Kayakers can glide through maritime forests past groves of old oak trees laced with Spanish moss, while fishing enthusiasts can cast their line from specially outfitted fishing kayaks. Stand-up paddleboarding is a relatively new sport that has quickly become popular in the Outer Banks. Easy to learn after a lesson or two, you'll be able to explore the calm, marshy inlets of the Pine Island Audubon Sanctuary or ride the waves of the Atlantic in search of dolphins. Rentals, lessons, and tours are available through Coastal Kayak Touring Company, located just north of Kitty Hawk.
    Photo courtesy of Aaron Tuell/Outer Banks Visitors Bureau
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    Charming Towns
    Throughout the Outer Banks you’ll find charming towns and villages, each with their own unique character. Duck is a popular resort town, with beautiful beaches, world-class dining, and shops connected via a sound-side boardwalk. The charming town of Manteo, located on Roanoke Island, enthusiastically celebrates its historic roots. The streets of this waterfront town are lined with art galleries, bed and breakfasts, and eateries that welcome visitors and locals alike. For a change of pace, head south and take the ferry to the village on Ocracoke Island. The vibe here is even more relaxed; the handful of local shops and restaurants are within easy reach of the Outer Banks’ most remote beaches.
    Photo by Brianna Simmons
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    Outer Banks' Maritime History
    The Outer Banks has a rich maritime history. The rugged shoals, shifting sands, and occasional hurricanes have led to the demise of many ships and crews, giving the waters the name, “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” Seven U.S. lifesaving stations were formed here in 1874 to help rescue victims; these became part of the U.S. Coast Guard in 1915. The Outer Banks also saw action during WWII. The first German U-boat sunk during the war lies near Bodie Island, and these coastal waters hold a great number of sunken U-boats. Learn more about the Outer Banks’ maritime past at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum or at the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station, both located on Hatteras Island.
    Photo courtesy of Aaron Tuell/Outer Banks Visitors Bureau
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    Iconic Lighthouses
    No man-made structure defines the Outer Banks like the lighthouse; there are five that currently light coastal North Carolina. Built to warn sailors of the dangerous waters known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” each lighthouse has a distinctive look and its own story to tell. By far the most famous is Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Standing at 198.49 feet, it’s America’s tallest brick lighthouse; you can climb the 257 steps to the top (tickets are required). Visitors can also climb the Currituck Beach Light Station, in the town of Corolla. The Ocracoke Lighthouse, Bodie Island Lighthouse, and Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse also stand vigil, illuminating the shores of the Outer Banks.
    Photo courtesy of Aaron Tuell/Outer Banks Visitors Bureau
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    Off-Road Beach Driving
    Off-road beach driving is a popular pastime in the Outer Banks, and a great way to explore the more remote sands of the region; go in search of a secluded beach or the perfect fishing spot, or try to catch a glimpse of wild horses. Off-road driving is allowed on the southern island of Ocracoke, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and the beaches to the north of Corolla—an area known to the locals as Carova. A four-wheel drive vehicle is recommended for all beach drives and is required for the northern beaches of Carova, while a permit is necessary if you wish to drive along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
    Photo courtesy of Aaron Tuell/Outer Banks Visitors Bureau