The barrier islands that form North Carolina’s famous Outer Banks hold an amazing amount of adventure in addition to the beaches, wild horses, and lore of a Lost Colony. From Corolla on the north to Hatteras on the south, the narrow strips of sand hold surprises on and off the beach. Once you cross the bridge from the mainland, you find yourself anxiously breathing the sea air and anticipating what’s to come.
If you turn north on Route 12, you end up in Corolla. Here, vacation rental homes are the primary lodging options, but there are some more traditional offerings as well. The Inn at Corolla Light provides a classic inn experience with renovated upscale rooms, porches for viewing the sunset, and a great breakfast.
A spring promotion offers 20 percent off web rates during the week and 15 percent off on Fridays and Saturdays. (innatcorolla.com)
The Hampton Inn provides oceanfront accommodations in a traditional hotel setting. The new Dragonfly Inn is the first bed-and-breakfast in Corolla. Its oceanfront location offers sweeping views from Carova Beach to Nags Head from the five designer suites.
Summer visitors should take in the Independence Day festivities at Historic Corolla Park with free activities, music, and food vendors, according to Michele Ellis, who promotes the area. The park holds the Currituck Beach Lighthouse; Whalehead, an opulent mansion built for waterfowl hunting on Currituck Sound; and the fascinating Center for Wildlife Education, among other historic attractions.
End of the road
Corolla is also where Route 12 comes to an end against sand dunes and a wide beach navigable with four-wheel drive. You can head still further north toward the Virginia border in search of Corolla’s wild horses, descendants of Spanish horses shipwrecked along the coast hundreds of years ago. The easiest way to see the legendary horses as they graze behind the beach among the dunes is to take a wild horse tour with a local outfitter such as Back Country Safari Tours.
Back Country’s owner, Scott Trabue, says his company has been providing wild horse tours for more than 20 years and it’s the number one activity people want. “Our guides are professional naturalists and we partner with the private Spanish Mustang Preserve and other private landowners so we have access to tracts of land not open to others.”
Trabue says his company also offers Segway tours and was the first in the world to offer off-road Segway trips. “You ride our open-air cruiser up the beach to the preserve where we unload the Segways and head out on the Mustang Trail. But you get a complete course in operating the Segway before we even get started,” he adds.
The outfitter also offers kayak tours, including one for novice kayakers that is also good for families with children. “We use tandem kayaks and only take five kayaks at a time on a tour for safety,” Trabue says. “We launch the kayaks in the Spanish Mustang Preserve and explore the creeks and marshes that are such an important part of the Outer Banks.” A second tour, for the more adventurous, explores the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge and is for those who want some insight into the ecology, geology, and history of the area, as well as some adventure kayaking.
Driving south on Route 12, you pass Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills, where the Wright Brothers ushered in the aviation age, and Jockey Ridge State Park, site of the tallest natural sand dune system in the East. Hang-gliders and kite flyers head to the dune faces to take advantage of the wind.
On Roanoke Island, you can explore the history and mystery of Sir Walter Raleigh’s colony at the Roanoke Island Historical Park. Then, take in the Haunted History interactive theater presentation (through April 30) at the home of The Lost Colony. The nation’s longest running outdoor drama presents its summer season May 29–Aug. 22.
When you reach Hatteras, you’ve completed an Outer Banks adventure, but don’t miss the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, the nation’s tallest.
A visitor center is open all year and you can climb the 268 steps to the top of the lighthouse from early April to mid-October.
In 1999, the famous spiral-striped lighthouse was actually moved to its present site because of the ever-encroaching waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
For more information
Back Country Safari Tours: outerbankstours.com
Currituck County Tourism: visitcurrituck.com
Along Albemarle Sound
Follow the Albemarle Sound west from the Outer Banks and you’ll find Edenton, North Carolina’s first capital, and today labeled one of America’s prettiest towns. Edenton’s Pilgrimage of Historic Homes, April 17–18, has been a North Carolina tradition since 1949.
Tour homes that are at least 100 years old and enjoy carriage rides, concerts, lectures, and other activities. All of Edenton’s National Historic Landmarks, including the oldest courthouse in the state and the town’s sites on the National Register of Historic Places, will also be open. Tickets are available at edentonpilgrimage.org. (visitedenton.com)