Outer Banks Scenic Byway
State: North Carolina
Length: 111 miles / 177.6 km
Time to Allow: 5.5 hours, including 3.5 hours on the two ferries.
Visit coastal North Carolina on the Outer Banks Scenic Byway. The byway spans 137.8 miles, including four islands and 17 beaches, making this a perfect escape to the ocean and through 21 coastal villages. Take a ferry ride around the barrier islands and inlets for awe-inspiring views and a refreshing sea breeze. Along the way, find seashores, salt marshes, quaint towns and beaches, and lighthouses all ready to make you consider packing your bags and move to the coast. What makes this such a unique byway is the land sits away from the mainland with a thin strip making for incredible views.
In the middle of the state, far to the east, touching the water, starts this beautiful byway in the town of Nags Head. It’s home to Bodie Island Lighthouse in stark contrasting white and black and Jockey’s Ridge State Park with the tallest sand dune system in the eastern United States. Take a walk along the sand or Jennette’s Pier for fishing and more. The town offers activities for everyone, including a mini speedway for go-karters.
Continue south to the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge that’s home to almost 400 species of migrating birds and wildlife with over 30,000 acres of land. Check out the historic 19th-century life-saving station at Chicamacomico in Rodanthe, along with a museum. Visit the Rodanthe pier next for iconic ocean views and fishing. The pier is technically named the Hatteras Island Pier, and it includes a small tackle shop, restaurant, and a large parking area.
Move down to Canadian Hole for a slightly larger chunk of land that’s a famous destination for kite-boarders and windsurfers from all over the globe. The area offers the perfect conditions for water sports, all on a small-town beach with tons of room away from the crowds. Another lighthouse dots the landscape in Buxton, and the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest brick lighthouse in the world. You can also visit the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum with hundreds of shipwrecks inside.
Continue to Ocracoke, a small town with its own lighthouse and multiple beaches. Choose this town for overnight stays at the Captains Landing Waterfront Inn. Choose from suites, a penthouse, and cottages just seconds from the water with tons of amenities, including a full kitchen and washer and dryer. They even offer a waterfront boardwalk, a shuttle service, and a gift shop. All this, and you get a charming and isolated coastal town that looks like it belongs on a postcard.
Moving closer to the mainland sits the town Core Sound with the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center. Find out everything you can imagine about the hunting and fishing industries before heading to the Cape Lookout Lighthouse. The last lighthouse sits just offshore of Cedar Island, and it’s only reachable by ferry or boat. Enjoy a coastal trip in a few days, and you might even find some wild horses, descendants of Spanish Mustangs along the way, making this byway even more scenic.