If you like being outdoors and exploring Mother Nature’s masterpiece, then the Outer Banks is for you. Take some time to visit all of it—from the beachside splendor of the barrier islands to the lush and wild interior of the mainland. You’ll find beautiful landscapes, incredible places to exercise and play, and don’t forget to keep a keen eye out for the creatures that inhabit these areas. Let Sunny Day Guide introduce you to some of the best natural places in the area!
Stroll the Boardwalk at the Currituck Banks Reserve
Located north of Corolla, the Currituck Banks Reserve presents the loveliness of the region in its full glory. Visitors can walk around the approximate 965 acres of mostly unspoiled natural paradise and have an excellent chance to glimpse wildlife. In addition to the birds, animals and reptiles you may see, feral pigs and horses have also been known to make appearances. Those who would like to explore are required to stay on the reserve’s trails. Arrive by either car or boat and follow the boardwalk and paths through maritime woodlands to get to the marsh. You may also happen upon scientists and educators with students in the area. NOAA and the state’s Division of Coastal Management work together to maintain the ecosystems contained on the reserve, preserving it for the use of researchers and future generations.
See Unusual Wildlife at Kitty Hawk Woods Preserve
At the Kitty Hawk Woods Preserve, you’ll find forests and wetlands on over 1,800 acres along the Currituck Sound. Within the marshes and maritime ecosystems many different species of animals seek shelter. One specific animal that visitors find unique when visiting the Outer Banks is the marsh rabbit. These little rodents can swim! Contrary to most rabbits, this breed has webbed feet, shorter ears and darker fur that better acclimate it to its wetland home. Follow the trails throughout the park to discover these and many other interesting animals. Don’t forget to take in the flora as well. The trees, plants and flowers truly make this region beautiful. Visit the Outer Banks Arboretum and Teaching Garden in the neighboring town of Kill Devil Hills to discover more information about the greenery in the preserve and throughout coastal North Carolina.
Tour the Picturesque Elizabethan Gardens
At the Elizabethan Gardens on Roanoke Island, visitors can explore over 10 acres of manicured topiaries, scenic paths, and plants and flowers of magnificent colors. The gardeners consistently plant new additions to ensure a beautiful landscape throughout the year. There are some noteworthy plants that shouldn’t be missed including the Ancient Live Oak tree that is over 400 years old, and the ever-increasing Camellia garden around the Great Lawn. Camellias have gorgeous flowers and many species bloom a few times a year, including during the winter. This particular collection started through the Camellia Society of North Carolina in 1960 and currently includes at least 85 different specimens. The rose garden features a bush that came directly from Windsor Palace in London, sent by HRH Queen Elizabeth II—but that’s not all! There are hundreds of other plants in this picturesque setting that will mesmerize both professional horticulturists and amateur gardeners alike. Visit their garden shop to take home a plant of your very own.
Explore the Shifting Sand Dunes at Jockey’s Ridge
Perhaps one of the most unique aspects of the region is the living sand dune system at Jockey’s Ridge in Nags Head. These constantly changing pillars of sand are the largest sand dunes on the East Coast of the United States. Visitors have the freedom to hike to the top of the dunes and see both the Atlantic Ocean and the Roanoke Sound, explore marshes and waterside groves, or stroll the boardwalk, stopping to rest on the deck. The ridge encompasses over 400 acres and is essentially a different experience with every visit. These aren’t the only sand dunes in the region, but because of their size, they are the best known.
Spot Rare Birds on Pea Island
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is a destination not only for migrating birds, but also for people who love to go bird-watching. Located just south of Nags Head, over 350 bird species can be seen throughout the refuge, which consists of several different types of terrain. Marshes there can be both brackish and saltwater and attract wading birds including heron and ibis. There are also grassy sand dunes, maritime grasslands and shrubs, wetlands and flats that all attract different types of birds and wildlife. Endangered sea turtles find sanctuary on Pea Island to nest, and threatened birds including oystercatchers and terns are protected here as well. Because the welfare of the wildlife is the refuge’s primary concern, only activities that can peacefully co-exist in the area are permitted. Canoeing tours are offered in the summer months and take visitors around the sound for a guided look at its resident populations. As with many other natural areas in the Outer Banks, visiting the refuge is free, but so is the visitor center that contains exhibits relating to the refuge and its variety of natural beings.
Fun Fact of Nature!
There is a grapevine on Roanoke Island that covers an entire half-acre. To be this large it was planted a very long time ago... approximately when the English colonists first landed in the Outer Banks. This grapevine is called the Mother Vine and cultivates a Muscadine grape called the Scuppernong. It is not known if the settlers or the local Croatan Indians planted the vine, but records from the 1500s indicate the detailed location of the vine, as do land transfer forms dating back to the mid-1700s.
These are just a few of the many natural parks and reserves that are spread throughout the entirety of the Outer Banks. By visiting one of them or as many as you can, you’re likely to find your own little slice of heaven and refuge from the busy, modern world.