5 Mistakes to Avoid When Visiting the Outer Banks in North Carolina

Updated on November 25, 2017
Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

Claudia has been traveling to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for over 20 years.

Planning a trip to the Outer Banks any time soon?  Try to avoid some of these common mistakes, but definitely make time to visit the historic lighthouses.
Planning a trip to the Outer Banks any time soon? Try to avoid some of these common mistakes, but definitely make time to visit the historic lighthouses. | Source

For me, the beach is pretty much the best vacation destination ever. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy visiting other places as well, but when summer starts rolling around, I can just feel the sun in my hair and the sand in my toes.

As a family, we like to take different vacations each year, so we try to alternate between the beach and the mountains.

Every other year we start planning our beach vacation and we research various beaches we might want to visit. Inevitably, every single time, we decide to go back to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. We've gone since we've been married and both my husband and I went separately before we even knew each other.

It's an absolutely spectacular place to visit, and for us, it feels like we are going home, especially as we drive down the highway and get closer and closer to all of the familiar landmarks we love so much.

After years of visiting the Outer Banks I've come to realize that there are definitely some pitfalls that visitors can avoid with a just a little bit of research.

I hope these recommendations will help you if you are planning to visit.

Have you ever been to the Outer Banks?

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Take your time driving down the Outer Banks National Scenic Byway.  There are many beautiful sights to see.
Take your time driving down the Outer Banks National Scenic Byway. There are many beautiful sights to see. | Source

Mistake #1 - Staying in Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills or Nags Head

OK, this tip might cause a little discussion because this area is where most people stay, but check out the small towns south of this area, along highway 12. Towns like Avon, Waves, Frisco, Hatteras and Ocracoke all have beautiful vacation homes, but it's almost like a different world.

Sure, it takes extra time to get down there, but it's well worth the drive. There are far less people and the natural beauty is incredible. Miles and miles of empty beaches along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore await the visitor.

If you are looking for those traditional beach things like board walks or putt putt, you won't find it them in these more distant areas, but that is ok. We've never missed any of these glitzy beach amenities.

This was our beach view near where we stayed in Ocracoke during the height of tourist season.  It was us and the shore birds all day long.
This was our beach view near where we stayed in Ocracoke during the height of tourist season. It was us and the shore birds all day long. | Source

So if you want less crowds, beautiful natural scenery and the incredible serenity that an empty beach offers, then stay away from the more popular touristy areas like Nags Head, Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills.

Even if you do stay in one of the more populated areas, take a day and drive down the coast. You won't regret it.

Handy Tip # 1

Instead of choosing a Saturday to a Saturday rental, try a Sunday to Sunday or Friday to Friday one. Traffic on Saturdays is by far the worst of the 3 days.

Pelicans are the most glorious bird of them all in my humble opinion.
Pelicans are the most glorious bird of them all in my humble opinion. | Source

Mistake #2 - Visiting During the Height of Tourist Season

This mistake is pretty hard to avoid when you have kids and honestly, we go in the summer along with everybody else because our daughter is still in school. But if you can go in the off season then I highly recommend it.

It is pretty unbelievable how much cheaper the house rentals are, and how empty it is, both before summer gets into full swing, and when it is starting to end. Our favorite time to go is in the fall. The weather is ideal, unless a hurricane is on the horizon, the prices are right, and the crowds are practically nonexistent.

Be careful when driving on the beach.  Here we are at our favorite parking spot!
Be careful when driving on the beach. Here we are at our favorite parking spot! | Source

Mistake #3 - Driving on the Beach Unless You Have the Right Equipment

All along Highway 12 are beach access ramps for people to drive on to the beach, and it's really tempting to do it. Who wouldn't want to take a ride on the the sand?

Well before you do, make sure that you have:

  • the right kind of vehicle
  • that it is properly prepared
  • that you have the right permits

You can't just jump on the first ramp you come to and cruise out to the ocean. We've seen many visitors stuck in the sand. And if you get stuck too close to the ocean, you run the risk of your vehicle getting wet.

The tow truck companies down there make a decent living off of all of the tourists who get stuck and believe me, it's a lot harder to drive on the beach than you might think.

But it sure is a lot of fun. We pack up our truck with everything we need for the day and easily find a parking spot on what is arguably the most beautiful parking lot in the world.

Handy Tip # 2

If you are renting a place with a kitchen, bring in as many groceries as you can from home. Supplies are much more expensive on the beach.

The Pamlico Sound is a treasure.
The Pamlico Sound is a treasure. | Source

Mistake #4 - Not Visiting the Sound Side

The Outer Banks are a chain of barrier islands essentially in the Atlantic Ocean. On the one side is the ocean and on the other is the sound.

The sound is not to be missed. There really aren't any waves to speak of and the water is clear. Along the highway there are a number of access points where you can swim, wade, kayak, and kite board. The wildlife you can see is fascinating.

What child wouldn't be fascinated by a treasure like this? Who know where this bottle originally came from, but we left it for all of the critters that were on it to remain.
What child wouldn't be fascinated by a treasure like this? Who know where this bottle originally came from, but we left it for all of the critters that were on it to remain. | Source

From hermit crabs to shore birds, it's a treasure for kids and adults alike. The national park service and other organizations offer canoe and wildlife viewing tours throughout the summer.

Lots of people I've spoken to didn't know about all of the fun to be found in the sound.

Handy Tip #3

Take advantage of the free things available to do. From climbing a massive dune to riding a car ferry to the island where the pirate Blackbeard died, there are quite a few ways to have fun at no cost.

Getting up before the sun rises is well worth it.
Getting up before the sun rises is well worth it. | Source

Mistake #5 - Missing the Sunrise

This one is kind of a no-brainer, but honestly, when I was younger I hated getting up early, so I never did.

Even if it's just one time during your visit, get to the beach before the sun comes up and enjoy the show. You won't regret it. If the weather forecast is good, I go out there every morning. I'm usually one of the only people out there, and the it's probably the most peaceful place I have ever been.

Few things can surpass a sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Few things can surpass a sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. | Source

Where are the Outer Banks?

Uh Oh, It's Raining!

If it were up to me, the skies would always be clear at the beach, but sometimes it's just not meant to be.

I like to curl up with a good book on a covered porch in the house we rent and read the day away. If it's not raining too hard it's lots of fun to walk on the beach.

But sometimes you just have to get out of the house. Here are a few ideas to stay dry.

Some Things to do on a Rainy Day

Visit the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island
Visit the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Hatteras
Visit the Wright Brothers National Monument's Visitor Center in Kill Devil Hills
Visit the Frisco Native American Museum in Frisco
Go Shopping

If You Have Ever Visited the Outer Banks in North Carolina I'd Love to Hear From You

Where do you like to stay when visiting?

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© 2017 Claudia Mitchell

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    • profile image

      Mike olaughlin 2 months ago

      you didn't put Rodanthe on this list! I always stay there!

    • profile image

      kelly 2 months ago

      I totally agree with you on all your points. I would never stay north of Buxton - the Sound is a underapreciated treasure, Fall (minus hurricanes) is awesome. Driving on the beach isn't my thing, I don't think beaches are for driving, I think they're for lying on the sand. But, your comment on not being prepared is on the money.

    • Natalie Frank profile image

      Natalie Frank 2 months ago from Chicago, IL

      My mother is from North Carolina and I did my postdoc there but never got to the Outer Banks. I still have dreams of going there though some day. Thanks for the article and for all the great tips.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 3 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Thanks for your photos and tips about visiting the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I have been to that state but never to the Outer Banks. It sounds like it would make for a wonderful vacation.

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 4 months ago from Western New York

      Thank you, Glimmer! I will look into the Avon/Waves area. We are planning a multi-generational trip so I am very excited to visit the area.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
      Author

      Claudia Mitchell 4 months ago

      Hi Leah Lefler - Thanks for the comments! It is very time consuming to head up to Roanoke If you stay on Ocracoke but if you stay the whole day it's worth it. One of the big issues if you stay in Ocracoke is that you'll have to get the ferry there and back. The ferry adds a couple of hours each way and I'm not sure what the schedule is at certain hours. If you stay down in Avon/Waves/Salvo area (or even further south) it's more feasible to do the play and visit Manteo (the play is loads of fun!) for the day. Hope you go and have a wonderful time.

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 4 months ago from Western New York

      We still haven't been to the Outer Banks and it is on my list for this summer. Excellent article, Glimmer! I was originally eyeing the Kitty Hawk area, but I think that might be a little too crowded for our tastes. Perhaps we'll try Ocracoke instead! We did want to see the Lost Colony play on Roanoke Island. Is it difficult/time consuming to drive from one of the more remote locations back up to Roanoke for a day?

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 5 months ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Glimmer. Great look at the Outer Banks. We had never been until Sept of 2016 when we had a wedding in Corolla. It was a week long event so we had a chance to get to the Wright Brothers Memorial and to see the Spanish Mustangs. As you pointed out it's a beautiful area. Would love to return some day. Great job, loved the photos.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 5 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      The scenes in your photos are so lovely. The area looks like a beautiful place to explore. Thanks for sharing all of the tips as well as the photos.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image
      Author

      Claudia Mitchell 5 months ago

      Hi Bill -

      Happy Holidays to you as well and I'm sorry your traveling days are over. It's a great place to visit. I'm slowly trying to write more here than I have in a while. Thanks for reading.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I offer one more way to avoid those mistakes: I've never gone there and most likely never will. Not because they aren't fascinating, because they are, but I think my traveling days are over. Thanks for the abbreviated tour and Happy Holidays to you.

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