Outdoor Adventure in Outer Banks NC
The Outer Banks is home to sandy beaches, breathtaking sunsets, friendly residents and tourists, as well as historic lighthouses. These beacons of light have become a part of the islands’ identity and a huge draw for the tourism industry.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
46368 Lighthouse Road, Buxton, NC 27920
There is not a better known landmark on the Outer Banks than the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Its black and white spiral pattern welcomes guests frequenting the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Climbs are available the third Friday of every month, beginning in April and going to Columbus Day. The climbs are self paced and boast unmatched views from atop the tallest brick lighthouse in North America.
Bodie Island Lighthouse
8210 Bodie Island Lighthouse Road, Nags Head, NC 27959
Another well-known beacon is the Bodie Island Lighthouse. The structure was originally built in 1847 but was rebuilt in 1859 just to have Confederate soldiers blow it up during the Civil War. The lighthouse that stands today was erected in 1872 on the banks of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. For those seeking the full Bodie Island experience, climb to the top for an unbelievable vista. The lighthouse is open from the third Friday in April through Columbus Day.
Currituck Beach Lighthouse
1101 Corolla Village Road, Corolla, NC 27927
Nestled in historic Corolla Village, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse stands 162 feet to the top of its roof. While the outside of the red brick lighthouse is a beautiful experience in its own right, the real adventure begins inside. Visitors are welcome to climb the winding staircase at their leisure, which contains 220 steps. The lighthouse opens for the season in mid-March.
Ocracoke Island Lighthouse
360 Lighthouse Road, Ocracoke, NC 27960
Located on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore too, the Ocracoke Island Lighthouse is the oldest one in operation in North Carolina. It is also the second oldest in the United States. Standing only 75 feet tall, it is by far the smallest lighthouse on the Outer Banks. While the lighthouse is not open to climbers, it is perfect for a photo opp. The lighthouse is accessible to visitors year-round.
Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse
End of the pier on Manteo Waterfront, Manteo, NC 27954
Unlike other beacons of light on the Outer Banks, the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse is an exquisite screwpile structure. As the fourth incarnation of the lighthouse, this site complements the island’s maritime past. Since it is located at the end of the pier on the Manteo Waterfront, it boasts the perfect opportunity to take in the area’s vibrant natural beauty. The interior is open to visitors and houses exhibits. It is also open during warm weather months, from Tuesday through Saturday.
By Sarah Lancaster
Shelling Out Some Fun
Discover These Treasures Washed Ashore
One of the most unique adventures on the Outer Banks is strolling along the coastline, toes in the sand, breeze in the air and rays of sunshine beaming down along the tranquil waters. While leisurely traipsing along the shore, beachgoers can browse the grounds beneath their feet for shells, sea glass and more.
The Outer Banks is home to many types of seashells, making it a beachcomber’s perfect paradise. Known as the official North Carolina State Shell, the Scotch Bonnet is a rare find on the islands. The Queen Helmet Conch can be found on the south facing beaches. Whelks are common on the islands and northern East Coast shoreline. Olive shells are delicate and an ideal piece to any collection. Other shell types include the oyster driller, periwinkle, moon snail, sundial and auger, among others.
In addition to shells the beaches along the Outer Banks are known for a place to find sea glass. Sea glass begins as normal shards of broken glass that are then persistently tumbled and ground until the sharp edges are smoothed and rounded. In this process, the glass loses its slick surface but gains a frosted appearance over many years.
Naturally produced sea glass originates as pieces of glass from broken bottles, broken tableware, or even shipwrecks, which are rolled and tumbled in the ocean for years until all of their edges are rounded off, and the slickness of the glass has been worn to a frosted appearance. Sea glass is often used in decorative pieces, jewelry or just saved and admired.
Now that tourists know what kinds of shells and sea glass to look for on the Outer Banks, the last question remains where to look. The 4WD beaches in Carova, Coquina Beach, Irene’s Inlet, South Beach, along piers, Frisco and Hatteras beaches and Ocracoke Island, just to name a few, are great places to start a collection.
Want to learn even more about beachcombing? Visit the Outer Banks Beachcomber Museum, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The museum is located at Mattie Midgette’s Store in Old Nags Head. There are plans in place to move the museum, have full-time hours, and open a heritage center, as well as native plant gardens.
“For the last 15 years, the museum’s owners have been focused on preserving and sharing those resources that create a sense of place, rooted in the specifics of the local land, its people and their stories, artifacts and traditions,” says Dorothy Hope, Outer Banks Beachcomber Museum proprietor.
Hope advises future collectors to go to the beach early when fewer visitors are likely to be out. She recommends being persistent and enjoying the ocean’s beauty while awaiting treasures to come ashore. By Rachel Nall and Sarah Lancaster