5 Mistakes to Avoid When Visiting the Outer Banks in North Carolina
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
Questions & Answers
What tips can you provide about the boat ferry to Ocracoke? Looking to explore there this year.
The ferry can get really busy, and the lines to board can get pretty long. It runs more often in the summer, and there is a good ferry schedule online. I have found that earlier in the morning, lines seem to be shorter getting to the island, especially on one of the days people check in and out. Most folks don't want to take a day trip like that when they first arrive or when they are getting ready to leave. Late morning seems the busiest; I think because people have gotten up, eaten breakfast and decided what they are going to do for the day. The whole process runs really smoothly, and it's fun to get out of the car and walk around the ferry while it's moving.
We've been to the banks 27 times and have only seen a dolphin once. We even took one of the dolphin boat tours. Where is a good place to see dolphins?
That's tough. Last year we went and we didn't see any, but the year before we saw loads of them every day. I've seen them in Rodanthe and in Ocracoke. I think it's just luck but I managed to get a great photo of one jumping out of the water the summer we saw so many. It also takes patience and I'm one who could sit on the beach, watch the waves all day and then boom, see a few swimming along the shore.
Do I need a passport to vacation in the Outer Banks area of North Carolina?
The Outer Banks is part of the United States, so if you are a US citizen then you don't need a passport. There is no border to cross over if driving in, either.
© 2017 Claudia Mitchell