Outer Banks for Families

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Outer Banks for Families
As well as the natural beauty of the Outer Banks' beaches and wildlife refuges, kids can learn about the mystery of the Lost Colony, see where the Wright Brothers' historic flight took place, and explore the coasts once plundered by pirates.
By Brianna Simmons, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Raymond Forbes/age fotostock
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    Unplug and Explore
    The Outer Banks provides many possibilities for families to explore. Kids enjoy discovering the islands' varied ecosystems, from beaches to coastal wetlands. Natural sites to visit include the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge—designated a sanctuary for migratory birds—and Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge—established to protect wetland habitats that are home to black bear, red wolf, and American alligator, among others. For more classic beach time, the whole family can enjoy hunting for seashells or watching dolphins frolic in the surf.
    Photo by Raymond Forbes/age fotostock
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    The History of Flight
    It was here in the Outer Banks that Wilbur and Orville Wright found the consistent winds and wide open spaces needed to perfect the first machine capable of powered flight. On December 17, 1903, the two brothers made history—and forever changed the way humans travel—with their first successful launch, which traveled a distance of 120 feet. At the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, visitors can learn the history of these two brothers and their motor-powered glider, view the area where their historic flights occurred, and learn about other aviation pioneers.
    Photo by Brianna Simmons
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    Wild Horses
    The wild horses of the Outer Banks are perhaps the islands’ most famous residents. A small group of "Banker" ponies lives on Ocracoke Island, but the bands of horses roaming the northern beaches of Corolla and Carova, are better known. Descendants of Spanish mustangs, they have lived on the Outer Banks for nearly 500 years. (Their ancestors are believed to have been shipwreck survivors.) Visitors do have a chance of glimpsing these beautiful animals, but you can increase your odds by taking a wild horse tour, either through the Corolla Wild Horse Fund or a number of private operators. While docile, these horses are still wild and are best admired from a distance.
    Photo by Sean Russell/age fotostock
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    North Carolina Barbecue
    Pork is king of the barbecue in North Carolina, and secret recipes are guarded fiercely. You'll typically find a whole pig that's been slow-cooked for hours; the meat is then finely chopped and doused in a pepper-studded, vinegar-based sauce. Coleslaw—either alongside a plate of chopped pork or served atop of it on a sandwich—and hush puppies are common sides. You'll find this style of barbecue throughout many eastern North Carolina backyards (in what locals refer to as a "pig pickin'") as well as at many roadside barbecue restaurants. Get your fix at High Cotton NC BBQ in Kitty Hawk or Pigman’s Bar-B-Que in Kill Devil Hills.
    Photo by Brianna Simmons
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    Arrr, Matey!
    The shores, coves, and inlets of the Outer Banks were the stomping grounds of some of history’s most notorious pirates. Famous names such as Calico Jack, Anne Bonny, and Mary Read plundered from these storied waters, as did Blackbeard, arguably the most infamous pirate to raid along the Carolina coast. Pirate lore also contributed to the naming of the towns of Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills. Modern-day swashbucklers can get their fix on Ocracoke Island at Teach’s Hole, with its Blackbeard exhibit and gift shop, while young buccaneers can get a taste of the pirate’s life on a cruise with Pirate Adventures of the Outer Banks in Manteo.
    Photo courtesy of Teach's Hole
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    The Mystery of the Lost Colony
    In 1587, Roanoke Island became home to the first permanent English settlement in the Americas, 22 years before the settlement in Jamestown. A month after the colonists’ arrival, Virginia Dare was born, becoming the first English person born in the New World. Three years later, supply ships arrived to find the settlement deserted, with no sign of struggle and no trace of the colonists. Now known as the Lost Colony, the fate of these settlers remains unknown to this day. To find out more about the colonial history of the Outer Banks, be sure to visit the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site on Roanoke Island, where you can also take in The Lost Colony symphonic outdoor drama, which has been reenacting the mystery for over 60 years.
    Photo courtesy of Outer Banks Visitors Bureau
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    Museums for the Whole Family
    When you’re looking for something to do on a rainy day, or just want some time away from the beach, the Outer Banks has museums to suit all interests. Learn about Corolla’s equine residents at the Wild Horse Museum, or about the marine animals that call the Outer Banks home at the North Carolina Aquarium in Manteo. Find out more about the original inhabitants of the Outer Banks at the Frisco Native American Museum, or reenact 16th-century life at the Roanoke Island Festival Park. During the summer, kids and parents can join "Minty Tuesdays" at the beautiful Elizabethan Gardens, where you can search for and learn about mint while enjoying mint cookies and ice cream.
    Photo courtesy of Outer Banks Visitors Bureau