Free Things To Do Guide to The Outer Banks
If you’re anything like me, you may not have heard of The Outer Banks in North Carolina. I’d like to change that right now!
When Devon and I drove south from Canada we decided to stick to the coast as soon as the weather warmed up. This led us to the Outer Banks, a real gem of a find!
We’re travelling for a approximately a year so we’re always looking for free activities and sites. I’ve compiled some of our favourites to help you plan your visit! There are multiple towns within the Outer Banks area and for ease this guide will be going North to South through them.
SPOILER ALERT: You’ll want to visit.
History of The Outer Banks
The Outer Banks are a set of barrier islands along the coast of North Carolina. They separate the Atlantic Ocean from the mainland. It spans roughly 200 miles and is a popular tourist destination because of the miles of coastline and laid back vibe.
1. Currituck Beach Lighthouse
If you’re driving in take the 158 to the 12 and then head north to the town of Corolla. The Currituck Beach Lighthouse is free to park and enter which is a major bonus. You can climb the 220 steps for panoramic views of the ocean and the Currituck sound.
2. Duck Soundside Boardwalk
Once you’ve had your fill of the lighthouse, make your way back south to walk along the boardwalk. Immaculately maintained, there are multiple paths and benches along the way. Free to wander, and if you’re feeling adventurous there are kayak and stand-up paddle board rentals right off the boardwalk. Grab a coffee or some lunch and enjoy a slower pace.
3. Jockey’s Ridge State Park
It’s amazing to me that this is free, anywhere else and you would definitely have to pay! This 400 acre park is has the TALLEST natural sand dunes on the entire East Coast. They are massive! Devon and I joked that we felt like we were back in the Namib Desert in Southern Africa. It really is quite similar. Climb the dunes and take in the views of the ocean and surrounding areas.
4. Kill Devil Hills Beaches
The area called Kill Devil Hills (such a different name!) is close to the above park and has great views. Make your way towards the ocean and pick from one of the many beach access parking lots that are also free. The sand dunes and beaches are gorgeous. Each parking area has a shower station to rinse off the sand.
5. Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
While cruising south through the area, stop into Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge on the north end of Hatteras Island. This 6000 acre refuge is home to hundreds of bird species. They have a volunteer run information centre with telescopes set up in their windows to watch the birds. They have information on all the birds in the area and the volunteers are knowledgable about the area. There are also observation platforms outside near the multiple parking areas. With the refuge on one side, and the tall sand dunes bordering the ocean on the other side, there is a lot to see. This is all FREE!
6. Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
Near the southern tip of Hatteras Island, this black and white lighthouse stands at 208 feet tall. Apparently, it’s also the tallest lighthouse in North America! It is free to walk the grounds and walk up to lighthouse however if you want to climb it there is a small charge. This is also a nice spot to stop and relax. They have nice washrooms, lots of seating areas outside and pretty views.
7. Hatteras – Ocracoke Ferry
This ferry connects the islands of Hatteras and Ocracoke. It’s about an hours journey and is also completely free. Want a boat tour but trying to save money? Take the ferry there and back! Check the ferry schedule, it runs regularly. The views of Hatteras as you leave are incredible.
That pretty much sums it up as far as activities we were able to take part in, we spent one night in Ocracoke before taking a paid ferry to Cedar Island to continue down the coast.
However, if you do have more time below is a recommendation based on my research! I definitely will visit here when I return.
8. Roanoke Island
Roanoake Island is England’s first settlement in America dating back to 1585. You can visit Fort Raleigh National Historic Site and The Freedmen’s Colony of Roanoke Island for free as well. Unfortunately we didn’t have the time to stop here but next time!