Bodie Island Lighthouse
Located just north of the new Jug Handle bridge on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the National Park Service opened up Bodie Island Lighthouse for climbing in the spring of 2013. Tickets for guided tours of the lighthouse are available for purchase daily from late April through Columbus Day. Tours last about 45 minutes and are limited to 22 people. Children must be at least 42" tall to climb the lighthouse.
During your visit, enjoy exploring the grounds, which include an Eastern National Bookstore and visitor's center in the old keeper's quarters, complete with exhibits. Go on a self-guided exploration of the nature trail that winds through the soundside forests and marshes. The lighthouse and keeper's house are tucked away amidst tall pines and marshland, creating a quiet respite.
Experience Bodie Island Lighthouse in a different light by pulling onto the west shoulder of NC-12 at sunset. In fact, this time of day is one of the best and most popular for taking photos of the landmark.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
As the tallest brick lighthouse in North America, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is an Outer Banks landmark. Its unique views and design, with black and white stripes, make it a must-see for Hatteras Island visitors. This lighthouse has a fascinating history that includes nature, seascape, and innovation. Adjacent to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, you'll find the Hatteras Island Visitor Center and Museum of the Sea. Stop in at the museum and peruse the gift shop.
If the lighthouse is closed to climbing due to restoration efforts, you can still take in the incredible views. There is a virtual tour available to experience the climb and see the view from the top in the meantime. You can also walk the grounds to take in the beauty of this structure that provided safe passage for sailors for years.
After visiting this maritime landmark, keep the adventure going by wandering the giftshop and Museum of the Sea. The lighthouse is also the perfect starting point for a leisurely hike.
Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station
The village of Rodanthe is home to one of the most unique things to do in the Outer Banks: the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station. Built and manned in 1874, this was one of the first life-saving stations in North Carolina and was dedicated to rescuing lives in peril in the Atlantic Ocean. Even after the U.S. life-saving service evolved into the U.S. Coast Guard in 1915, the station remained in operation until 1954.
What was once home to one of the most decorated and recognized life-saving crews on the East Coast, the station remains a portrait of the Outer Banks' can-do spirit. Chicamacomico is the most complete site of the remaining life-saving stations in the state. Open to the public, including group tours, from mid-April through November, these buildings are now a museum with memorabilia and relics of the station's history and a gift shop.
This historic landmark is also known to host seasonal programs occasionally. Check the website for an up-to-date schedule of events.
Elizabethan Gardens/Fort Raleigh
If you're planning a day trip to Manteo, be sure to check out two of its most popular attractions. This Outer Banks town is home to Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. Once home to England's first New World homes from 1584 to 1590, this park works to preserve and protect portions of these settlements. It is also a cultural heritage site for the African Americans, Native Americans, and European Americans who called Roanoke Island home.
Adjacent to Fort Raleigh is the Elizabethan Gardens. The Garden Club of North Carolina created the 16th-century pleasure garden as a living memorial to the Lost Colonists. If you find yourself visiting in the spring or summer, spend time exploring the Shakespearean herb garden, formal sunken gardens, and flower-bordered walkways found here.
There is no shortage of things to see at both of these spots. Don't miss anything by giving yourself plenty of time to wander around and discover all the unique sights found here.
Pier Fishing on Hatteras Island
With so much coastline, it's no surprise that the Outer Banks is a top destination for those looking to do a bit of fishing. On Hatteras Island, many anglers flock to the fishing piers in Rodanthe and Avon. Though these fishing piers vary slightly in amenities and fees, they both offer access to some great fishing and breathtaking ocean views.
The Rodanthe Pier is open seasonally from spring until after Thanksgiving, while the Avon Pier is open until the end of November. Both Hatteras Island piers have tackle shops, which means you can fill in any missing supplies or stock up on snacks.
Generally, you are not required to have a fishing license if fishing on a pier. Pier staff can answer any of your fishing questions to help you have the best experience possible.
Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
The waters off North Carolina's Outer Banks are a popular destination for adventurers. However, the coastline also has a darker past that has given the waters the title "Graveyard of the Atlantic." Learn about this unique maritime history at The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. You can expect to find a variety of exhibits, including artifacts and educational displays that portray the rich maritime history of the Outer Banks spanning 400 years!
At the museum, you can admire the original Fresnel lens of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and see artifacts dredged from underwater shipwrecks that remain in the Atlantic Ocean. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the museum is free to all visitors, but donations are accepted and go towards expanding the museum and exhibits.
The museum also hosts speakers who bring maritime history to life through their storytelling. Don't forget to end your visit at the gift shop, which is filled with educational souvenirs and nautical gifts.
Jockeys Ridge State Park
Visitors who travel to Hatteras Island through the central Outer Banks towns of Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head can't miss noticing the impressive Jockey's Ridge State Park on the west side of Route 158 in Nags Head. This state park features the tallest natural sand dune system in the Eastern United States. The dune itself attracts Outer Banks visitors, especially at sunset when the dune comes to life with kites and kids rolling down the face of the dunes. The adventurous types also dare to hang glide from the top of these sandy hills.
Even if you're not soaring through the air, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy this natural attraction. Pick up a kite or two, and bring the whole family for some of the best kite flying on the East Coast. Explore trails throughout the park, or simply sit on a bench taking in the views.
The park is open year-round, but hours vary. Check the website for more information on park hours and important safety tips.
North Carolina Aquarium in Manteo
A popular activity for ocean lovers is visiting the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island. The aquarium has welcomed Outer Banks visitors with a myriad of unique displays and activities that bring the sea creatures of the coastal waters to every beach vacationer. You can watch endangered sea turtles, sea otters, alligators, and sharks swim around a gigantic floor-to-ceiling saltwater tank.
In addition to everyday exhibits, the aquarium offers many free programs and activities year-round. Daily programs include marine life videos, live animal programs, audience participation games, demonstrations, and more. A complete calendar of events can be found on the NC Aquarium's website.
After wandering the exhibits, pop into the gift shop to find the perfect educational or aquatic-related souvenir. All proceeds from the shop support aquarium services and programs.
Found on Ocracoke Island rests the second oldest lighthouse in the country. Ocracoke Lighthouse was built in 1823 and is a popular attraction for those visiting this Outer Banks island. Standing 75 feet tall, the stark white structure was constructed to help provide safe passage to vessels navigating the Ocracoke Inlet.
While it has undergone restoration, the small lighthouse has remained mostly untouched since it was first lit. Located at Cape Hatteras National Seashore's southern end, the lighthouse still shines 14 miles out to sea. However, it is now fueled by automatic electric power and not whale oil. Unlike other lighthouses, visitors cannot climb the structure, but the site is still open daily.
Visiting the lighthouse is the perfect addition to your Ocracoke day trip. To get to Ocracoke Island, you'll need to reserve your spot on the ferry that departs from the Hatteras Village ferry docks.
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
On the north end of Hatteras Island, you will find the 5,000-acre Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge provides essential habitats for migratory birds and many ways for visitors to explore the island. Whether you are interested in birdwatching, hiking, fishing, or kayaking, you can find it all at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.
The Pea Island Visitor's Center is open year-round, but hours can vary depending on the season. Friendly volunteers are always available to provide refuge and wildlife information, such as a list of birds that flock to the area. At the Visitor's Center, you can also sign up for one of the refuge's seasonal programs, including guided bird walks, canoe tours, turtle talks, and hands-on explorations of the Pamlico Sound and the Atlantic Ocean.
See for yourself why this natural attraction has become a must-visit place for nature lovers and photographers. Have your camera at the ready to capture the wildlife that calls the area home.
The Lost Colony
One of the most beloved things to do when visiting the Outer Banks, especially for history and theater buffs, is Roanoke Island's The Lost Colony. The Lost Colony has been in production nearly every summer since 1937, making it North Carolina's longest-running outdoor drama. Countless visitors from all over the world have enjoyed this honorary Tony award-winning production under the stars that recounts the fate of the first English settlers.
The Lost Colony is performed almost nightly from early June through late August. The musical evolves from year to year, so many theatergoers and lifelong fans are eager to experience the annual creative enhancements to the historic show that tells the story of the discovery of the new world.
The show lasts roughly two hours, and tickets can sell out quickly. We recommend securing your tickets for an amazing evening of entertainment as soon as possible.
Wright Brothers Memorial
The Outer Banks has more than its fair share of famous attractions, including the Wright Brothers Memorial. Found in Kill Devil Hills, this Outer Banks attraction is a "must-see" for any vacationer with an inherent love of history, aviation, architecture, or all of the above. Nearly 500,000 visitors visit the 426-acre Wright Brother Memorial National Park every year and pay homage to the two former bicycle shop owners who came to the Outer Banks to see how high their ambitions could reach.
This towering monument is a tribute to Orville and Wilbur Wright, who successfully completed the world's "first flight" in 1903 and are well-known as the fathers of aviation. Dec. 17th is also always a noteworthy day for the park, and off-season visitors can expect a lot of special guests, celebrations, and informative programs that coincide with the annual anniversary of this legendary flight.
In addition to the monument, the national park is also home to reconstructed buildings that show what life was like in 1903. There is also a visitor center filled with interactive exhibits.