Along this incredible road trip down North Carolina's coastal Outer Banks Scenic Byway, you'll explore everything from wildlife to beaches to shipwrecks to lighthouses to the very location where the Wright brothers changed history with their first flight. Get ready for loads of seaside charm as you road trip along the Outer Banks!
The byway doesn’t “officially” start in Kitty Hawk, but it's a great starting point before heading south. Stop by the Wright Brothers National Memorial, the spot where the very first controlled, powered flight took place on December 17, 1903. The site itself is beautiful with historical markers, a monument, and a replica camp, and the visitors center features a full-size replica of the Wright brother’s 1903 Powered Flyer.
When you're ready to call it a night, The Sanderling Resort and Spa is for more upscale Outer Banks visitors. It's just a few miles to the town of Duck, and some rooms feature gorgeous ocean views. Since it's a resort you'll be paying a resort fee, but that covers wifi, beach chairs and beach umbrellas as well as parking and use of their fitness center. There are also two restaurants onsite and bars.
Nags Head has had a lighthouse on it since 1847, but the first was abandoned due to a bad foundation and the second was blown up by Confederate troops as they retreated in 1861. The Bodie Island Lighthouse you see today was finished in 1872 and is now open for you to explore for the very first time ever in its 140+ year history.
The Outer Banks has also achieved worldwide renown for its breathtaking scenery. Those miles and miles of sandy beaches and marshland are just spectacular. Whether you’re interested in dipping your toes in the ocean or spotting some wildlife at some of the refuges like Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge or Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, you’ll walk away from your trip down the Outer Banks Scenic Byway feeling one with nature.
Next you'll come to the Inn at Rodanthe. When the house, which was nicknamed "Serendipity," was first built, there were more than 400 feet between it and the ocean. Those 400 feet kept the Serendipity safe from the crashing waves, rocks, erosion, and anything else that could possibly threaten to topple it into the ocean. Unable to rent it out, the owners tried for years to sell the house. But it wasn’t until it appeared in the movie "Nights in Rodanthe," that someone paid attention to the water-logged mansion. In 2010, a married couple (who just happened to be fans of the film) bought the house and gave it a second life. How? They decided to pick the whole thing up and move it to a safer location just 30 minutes down the beach. This was obviously no small feat, considering it’s a 45-foot-tall, 83,000 pound house. Today the house has been relocated, restored, redecorated, and renamed the “Inn at Rodanthe,” after the popular romance novel. The best part? It’s still a vacation rental, with an amazing view of the Atlantic.
Want your exercise for the day? Climb the 257 steps to the top of the world’s tallest brick lighthouse, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Go early if you want to avoid the crowds (especially in summer). You can only bring water into the lighthouse, which is recommended if you get easily parched. There's a nice gift shop onsite, as well, and even though they don't sell water for the easily-dehydrated, they do have tons of little souvenirs.
There’s a reason for all the lighthouses on the Outer Banks… These waters were and still are some tricky business for mariners. Today, the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum tells of the area's maritime history, and the more adventurous can free-dive the coast for shipwrecks like the Pocahontas Shipwreck.
When you're ready for some delicious grub, you can't do better than Howard's Pub and Raw Bar. This hopping local joint features loads of license plates and pennants on the walls. It's a seasonal operation, so check to make sure it's open.
There's a ridiculously charming village on Ocracoke island, and 16 miles of gorgeous beach. Whether you just want to sit back and listen to the waves crash, or watch the seagulls, this is relaxation at its finest. There's an historic 19th century lighthouse on the island and an historic British Cemetery. Definitely visit the Teacher's Hole, which is a short walk through the forest, because it was once the home of Blackbeard!
Although the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is a massive, imposing structure, the Ocracoke Lighthouse is just a short, funky-looking little thing. Though not as visually impressive, the history of this lighthouse makes it well worth a quick stop. As North Carolina’s oldest and America’s second oldest lighthouse in operation, it’s not open for climbers and it doesn’t really have a gift shop or visitors center, but reading up on it and then visiting will give you an appreciation for the early mariners who relied on it for guidance.
Most shops and restaurants along the Outer Banks open after Easter, just as temperatures start to rise to the mid-60s and early 70s. Then in summer the crowds flock to the Outer Banks. This is when vacation homes and hotels are at their busiest and thus rates are higher.
Once you reach Harkers Island, visit Cape Lookout National Seashore and take the ferry to Cape Lookout Lighthouse. If you don’t have time, snap your pictures of the only checkered-pattern lighthouse in the United States from the shore. But if you do have time, the lighthouse’s visitors center and keepers’ quarters museum are open in the summer.
Most shops and restaurants along the Outer Banks open after Easter, just as temperatures start to rise to the mid-60s and early 70s. Then in summer the crowds flock to the Outer Banks. This is when vacation homes and hotels are at their busiest and thus rates are higher. Thousands of people visit during the summer months and the weather averages in the low 80s. However, locals say the best time to visit is when fall comes around. Most travelers with families are back in school and back to work, but the weather stays mild until the end of December. Winter is pretty quiet in the Outer Banks, but lots of restaurants and shops are closed during this season. However, on the plus side you'll pretty much have the beaches to yourself.