Five Non-Beach Activities In The Outer Banks

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


We just returned from our annual trip to the Outer Banks in North Carolina.  Each year, we spend a week with my husband's family at a home his parents rent.  While the bulk of our time there is spent relaxing at the beach or pool, there are times when the kids want to do something else.

The following are some of the activities we enjoy doing each year.  While this list doesn't include all the great activities the Outer Banks has to offer, these are some of our favorites.

1.  Currituck Beach Lighthouse
The lighthouse is located in the town of Corolla, in the northern Outer Banks.  We visit the lighthouse every time we come down to the Outer Banks.  The kids love that we can climb all the way to the top and they practically race up all the steps.  There are a total of 220 steps!  My three-year-old walked up the entire way by himself this year.  We took the baby in a carrier.  It's a little tiring (especially, if you're out of shape like I am!), but fun.  The staircase inside is very tight.  If you're claustrophobic, I wouldn't recommend climbing.

The view from the top is amazing!  You can see the Currituck Sound, the Atlantic Ocean, Currituck Heritage Park and the town itself.

The lighthouse is open from early Spring through Thanksgiving weekend.  This year, the fee to climb was $8 per person for anyone age 8+.  Children 7 and under are free with a paying adult.

Currituck Beach Lighthouse
1101 Corolla Village Road
P.O. Box 58
Corolla, NC 27927

2.  The Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education
Adjacent to the Currituck Beach Lighthouse is The Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education.  The center has a small museum that highlights the natural and cultural history of the area.  Exhibits include an 8,000-gallon aquarium stocked with native fish of Currituck Sound, a gallery of antique waterfowl decoys, and a life-size diorama of a duck blind in a salt marsh.

My kids like to see the fish in the aquarium, visit the museum gift shop and "feed the bear" (make a donation).

My daughter "feeding the bear."
The center also offers classes for children to take.  Subjects include kayaking, crabbing, fishing, and archery.  My daughter has taken classes in the past and had a lot of fun!

Here's a picture of my daughter, from a few years ago, fishing in the sound.
 The center is open Monday through Saturday, from 9 AM - 4:30 PM.  Admission is free.

The Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education
P.O. Box 502
1160 Village Lane
Corolla, NC 27927


3.  Jockey's Ridge State Park

Jockey's Ridge State Park is known for having the tallest sand dunes on the East Coast. My kids love running around on the dunes and we make it a point to visit every time we come down to the Outer Banks.

The sand dunes at Jockey's Ridge State Park.
We usually start by walking the boardwalk near the parking lot.  It's 360 feet long and along the way, there are plaques with information about the plants and animals that are found in the area.  At the end of the boardwalk, there's a deck with benches where you can get a great view of the dunes (as in the picture above).

We then make our way down to the dunes.  There's a huge, steep hill that you have to climb to get up to the dunes.  My kids love to run up it as fast as they can.  I'm a little slower.  Here's a close-up of the hill from when we visited a couple years ago.

Once we get up the hill, we pretty much let the kids run wild.  The dunes are always changing.  One year, there was a hill that the kids ran up and I just could not climb it!  My husband followed them and I just met up with them in a different part where the dunes weren't so steep.

Not the super steep hill, but still the kids were faster at climbing it.
While my kids do enjoy just running around in the dunes, there are other ways for kids and adults to have fun at the park.  They offer hang-gliding lessons, hiking trails, sandboarding and kiteboarding.  Every time we've visited, we've seen other visitors flying kites at the top of the dunes.

A sign at the park detailing activities to do.
The park also has a small exhibit hall where you can learn all about the dunes as well as stories about the origin of the names of Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills.  There's also a nice diorama with narration that shows what happens with local wildlife at night.  My daughter and I watched it the last time we went.

Jockey's Ridge is open daily and admission is free.

Jockey's Ridge State Park 
300 W Carolista Dr
Nags Head, NC 27959
(252) 441-7132

4.  Wright Brothers National Memorial
If you have kids who enjoy airplanes or a history buff in the family, this is great place to visit.  While we didn't get a chance to go this most recent visit, we did go a few years ago.  It was super hot out and I was very pregnant, so I didn't get as many pictures as I would have liked.  But, I'll try and give you an overview.
A shot of the entrance as we drove past.
The time we visited, they were letting everyone in for free.  But, normally, there is a fee.  This year, it's $4 for persons 16 years+.

We started our visit in the Wright Brothers Visitor Center.  Here, you'll find exhibits and artifacts about the Wright Brothers and their early attempts at flying.  I don't think we visited, but you can also visit the Centennial Pavilion for additional exhibits, movies and educational programs.

My oldest kids next to the Wright Brothers.  (My kids were so little then!)
Outside the visitor center is a replica of the Living Quarters that the Wright Brothers used and the Hangar where they stored their 1903 Flyer.  Beyond that, you can walk the Flight Line.  A large boulder marks the take-off point and four smaller stone markers chart the path of the flights.

After we walked the Flight Line, my daughter and I were getting hot and tired, so we went back to the car.  But, my husband and my son kept on and climbed Big Kill Devil Hill.  A 60-foot Pylon stands on top of the hill, which marks where the Wright Brothers conducted their glider experiments.

The Wright Brothers National Memorial is open daily, year-round.

Wright Brothers National Memorial
1000 North Croatan Highway
Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948

(252) 473-2111

5.  North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island
The kids love visiting this aquarium.  While it isn't the biggest aquarium out there, the kids still have a great time.  It's about an hour drive from where we stay in the Outer Banks and so we usually visit on either a rainy day or when it was going to be too cold to go to the beach (we usually visit the Outer Banks in the spring).

The aquarium features exhibits on Coastal Freshwaters, with fish, amphibians and reptiles, and Wetlands on the Edge, with otters, alligators and turtles.

There are also exhibits on Marine Communities, with seahorses, eels and lobsters, and Close Encounters, where you can touch stingrays, sharks, sea stars, and others animals.

Waiting to touch a stingray.
The aquarium also features a 285,000 gallon Graveyard of the Atlantic exhibit, which houses the largest collection of sharks in North Carolina.

New this year to the aquarium is the Tyrannosaurus Trek exhibit.  It features realistic, animatronic dinosaurs, including Triceratops and Ankylosaurus.  The dinosaurs move and roar, so younger kids might get scared.  (My three-year-old freaked out a little!)

Some of the dinosaurs in the exhibit.  Sadly, the T-Rex was being worked on when we went!

The aquarium is open daily, year-round, from 9 AM - 5 PM.  Admission fee is $10.95.  Seniors and military are $9.95.  Children aged 3-12 are $8.95.

North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island
374 Airport Rd. 
Manteo, NC 27954


Here's an extra little thing that your kids will enjoy.  The playground at the Duck Town Park & Boardwalk!  It's designed for children ages 5-12 and features a climbing wall and slides.

When we visited, there was no one else at the playground.  My son had it all to himself.  He had a great time!  Afterwards, we walked along the Boardwalk and on some of the walking trails.

Have you ever been to the Outer Banks or are you planning a trip soon?  I'd love to hear about your experiences.  Do you have a favorite thing to do in the Outer Banks?


  1. Lots of things to do. I would love to see the light house.

  2. I always hear everyone raving about OBX! I'm not really a beachy kind of gal myself, so this is great. Maybe we will take that family vacay there after all.

  3. hey!! that looks super fun!! Great post!

  4. All of these places look like great photo opportunities for the entire family. I would love to visit the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island - that looks like a lot of fun!

  5. Wow, what an amazing trip! I haven't been to North Caroline before but it looks like a fantastic place to visit!