Content Produced in Partnership with The Outer Banks of North Carolina
The 100 miles of barrier islands known as the Outer Banks may be mere miles from the mainland of North Carolina and Virginia, but they feel like a world away. Brimming with equal parts adventure and nostalgia, the Outer Banks' quaint seaside towns, sand dunes and lighthouses create the perfect setting for your family's summer vacation. No matter your family's travel style, here's a handy guide so you can make this year's summer vacation the best yet.
Visit (and climb) as many lighthouses as you can
The lighthouses up and down its Atlantic Coast are some of the most iconic fixtures of the Outer Banks. Cape Hatteras Island remains the tallest in the US, which will give you serious bragging rights if you climb to the top. Additional lights to visit include Bodie Island Lighthouse, Currituck Beach Lighthouse, Ocracoke Island Lighthouse and Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse.
Watch the sun set from Jockey’s Ridge State Park
Like its lighthouses, the Outer Banks is known for picturesque sand dunes, but only at Jockey’s Ridge State Park can you climb to the top of the tallest living sand dune on the Atlantic Coast. The huge dune will make you believe you’re in the middle of a vast desert, not the beach, and it’s frequently rated as one of the top five places to watch the sun set in the Outer Banks. A tip for parents: Plan to go early, so the kids can sled and slide down the dunes before sunset.
Fly like the Wright Brothers
Wilbur and Orville Wright famously achieved the first flight in Kitty Hawk back in 1903. After visiting the Wright Brothers National Memorial, recreate the brothers’ inaugural flight with a beginner’s hang gliding lesson at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. The park’s dunes and consistent winds almost perfectly mirror the conditions the Wright brothers faced during their trials, giving families a chance to enjoy a hands-on history lesson.
See a shipwreck
The choppy waters and shifting dunes earned the Outer Banks the moniker “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” Today, visitors can learn about those historic shipwrecks at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras. However, many visitors (and locals!) don’t know that they’ll actually be able to see one of those shipwrecks just across from the Pea Island Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center’s parking lot. Visible only at low tide, the steam engine of the The Oriental, also known as the Boiler Wreck, is easy to spot just a few hundred feet off shore.
The miles of barrier islands make it a gold mine for beachcombers, and its proximity to different beach currents allow the Outer Banks to cultivate dozens of unique sea shell designs. Curious explorers of all ages could spend hours walking up and down the shoreline looking for a piece of the Outer Banks they can keep forever.
Try a new water sport
Whether it be kayaking, paddleboarding or kite surfing, families will be able to hit the water any way they choose in the Outer Banks. Kayaking the Maritime Forest in Kitty Hawk is a great choice for families with younger children, while families with teenagers will want to try kite surfing in Pamlico Sound.
Solve the mystery of Roanoke Island
Perhaps one of the greatest mysteries in the world, the Lost Colony of Roanoke continues to puzzle researchers and historians. Today, visitors can see the remnants of the early settlement and learn about investigation efforts in Manteo. The national landmark also hosts an annual performance of The Lost Colony each summer. Consistently ranked as the Outer Banks' top attraction, The Lost Colony explores what may have happened to the 117 English settlers.
Fly a kite
Some of the finest kite flying conditions can found in the Outer Banks, which is one of the reasons why you’ll find dozens of different kite shops throughout the barrier islands. We highly suggest you join the fun, pick one out and bring it down to the beach so you can take turns flying it.
Catch a sunrise
The Outer Banks is the type of destination that will inspire you to embrace life’s simple pleasures. It helps, of course, that the area is considered one of the best places to watch a sunrise in the East Coast. The entire family should make plans to watch the sunrise at least once during the vacation — just don’t forget to stop by Duck’s Donuts for breakfast later.
Make It Happen
So, how many of these OBX experiences will you check off your bucket list this year? With lodging available for any budget, style or group, families can easily create their own little summer hideaway in the Outer Banks. Click here to start planning your dreamy family vacation. We have a feeling your first trip certainly won't be your last.