The secret attraction of North Carolina’s Outer Banks may well be that you can simply sit back and relax during your stay or engage in an amazingly wide variety of activities and adventures. Vacationers have a similar variety of accommodations to choose from, though separate vacation homes seem to be one of the most popular choices.
Driving north on the island’s Route 12 brings you to Corolla with its walkable distance from ocean beach to Currituck Sound, historic lighthouse and Whalehead mansion. Aside from the vacation rentals in Corolla, visitors can stay at the Inn at Corolla Light (innatcorolla.com) where innkeeper Page Johnson has added two new premium suites to the inn’s accommodations. He also expanded the inn’s gazebo this year for even better views of the sunsets that are a favorite bonus for guests.
“Our guest experience is not like a hotel,” Johnson said. ‘We provide an upscale quaintness and you can pick your adventure with discounts on activities with North Shore Watersports right off our dock or on a wild horse tour with Corolla Outback Adventures.”
The five master captains at North Beach Watersports and other staff can take care of jet ski, pontoon boat, kayak, and SUP rentals. They’ll also plop you in the water for a tubing or banana boat adventure. If you feel like soaring, check out the parasailing options. You can soar to 600, 900 or 1,200 feet (where you get spectacular ocean-to-sound views).
A visit to the wild horse preserve is on most Corolla visitors’ bucket lists and Jay Bender has been leading tours to see the horses longer than anyone else. His parents started Corolla Outback Adventures in 1962 and he has access to protected areas that others don’t.
Insider tip: Bender can even pick up visitors on the Virginia Beach side of the border for tours.
“I probably cover more of the history and ecology in addition to the horses,” Bender said. “We stop and let people off of the safari-type truck, especially where there are some great views.”
Head south on Route 12 through towns with familiar names like Kitty Hawk, where the Wright Brothers National Monument stands in silhouette against the blue sky, and Nags Head, site of the Kitty Hawk Kites flagship store. The adventure provider now has multiple locations and dozens of activity and tour options. Kitty Hawk Kites (kittyhawk.com) is celebrating the 45th anniversary of its hang gliding activity at the famous Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head.
“We’ve added an Island Excursion Experience this year,” said the outfitter’s Luke Baer. “It’s a trip to explore small islands around the sound. You tube, fish, swim and can even bring a cooler and harvest crab pots as well.”
For a bit more speed on the water, Jamie Moore offers an unusual airboat tour through his Outer Banks Adventures. Moore, one of the few airboat instructors in the nation, spends the off-season training private and government operators. In-season, he takes visitors through backwater areas to see things you can’t see otherwise (and where even kayaks can’t go) because his boats draw only inches of water. You can choose from historical or eco-tours or even master a paddle board.
Explore the lost colony
On Roanoke Island, explore the mystery of the vanished colonists of Sir Walter Raleigh at the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. Then, let the mystery unfold in front of you at the evening performance of the outdoor historical drama, The Lost Colony.
The Elizabethan Gardens, adjacent to the outdoor theater, opened an indoor/outdoor butterfly house this spring. Garden director Carl Curnutte said the butterfly attraction enhances the experience for families as part of a children’s center and garden including koi ponds, play houses, and even a pirate ship. The main English-style gardens were created as a memorial to Sir Walter Raleigh’s colonists.
Finally, head south again to popular Cape Hatteras, where a new bridge makes the crossing easier. Check out the historic Cape Hatteras lighthouse which is marking 20 years in its “new” location since being moved 2,900 feet from the eroding beach. Climb the tallest brick lighthouse in North America by purchasing tickets in the complex, which includes the Museum of the Sea.
Insider tip: The climb involves 257 steps. Tickets are timed and climbs begin every 10 minutes.
You might even find that a week isn’t long enough for you.
For more information:
Currituck Co. Tourism: visitcurrituck.com
Outer Banks Tourism: outerbanks.org
You can still find a summer vacation home
There’s still time to find a vacation home to rent. Brindley Beach Vacations (brindleybeach.com) handles 550 houses and Kami Trusz advises to search the website for what you need in terms of size of group, number of bedrooms and location.
“We have homes with 1-18 bedrooms to handle most any group,” Trusz said. “If you’re looking to visit in the fall when the weather is still good but the crowds are down, the prices drop significantly as well.”