The Outer Banks is one of the most beautiful and scenic geographies in the United States. Enjoying the wonders of nature is one of the best parts of visiting the Outer Banks, and there are plenty of parks, refuges and nature preserves to explore. Some parks are fun for the whole family, and some offer a haven for solitary hikers and serious birdwatchers. Whichever park you set off to discover, take sturdy, comfortable shoes insect repellent, and plenty of water and sunscreen.
Here are some of our favorite nature spots in the Outer Banks:
Hatteras Island Ocean Center, Hatteras
Located near Hatteras Village, the Hatteras Island Ocean Center is a good starting place for your Outer Banks vacation. With a fully interactive setup, the center features exhibits, programs, and special events to help visitors of all ages learn about the unique environments of the Outer Banks. Want to develop your turtle sense? Looking to see, touch and hear some of the Outer Banks’ most popular marine wildlife? This is the place!
Duck Soundside Boardwalk, Duck
The Duck Boardwalk will take you through almost half a mile of sea breezes and scenic views of stunning Currituck Sound. There are multiple entry and exit points so you can pop in and out of the Waterfront Shops and Town Park for snacks and shopping breaks. Plan to take this walk slowly and really soak up your surroundings. This is a wide, level boardwalk, so it’s also an ideal way for those with wheelchairs or mobility challenges to enjoy an easy but majestic nature walk.
Duck Town Park, Duck
If you’re headed for the Duck Boardwalk, don’t overlook the Duck Town Park. This 11-acre green space features winding trails that lead through Maritime Forest, expansive green spaces, a swamp, and past breathtaking views of Currituck Sound. If you’ve got your own kayak, paddleboard or canoe, you’ll find an easy launch at the boat pier. This is a perfect dog- and kid-friendly place to hike — there’s a picnic shelter, playground, and even a water fountain just for your furry friend.
Jockey’s Ridge State Park, Nags Head
It’s hard to decide whether to join the action or just sit and watch at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. This area sports the largest natural-living sand dune in the east, and due to the steady breezes, is a haven for hang gliders. There are miles of hiking trails, picnic tables and public restrooms, so bring your lunch and spend the day flying a kite or watching the daredevils soar.
Nature Conservancy at Nags Head Woods Preserve, Kill Devil Hills
Birders, get your binoculars. This woodland preserve is a home or stopover for over 100 species of birds. The pristine environment supports an amazingly diverse ecosystem, including dozens of species of amphibians, reptiles, fish, and rare aquatic plants. History lovers will appreciate seeing the remains of a 1930s settlement that includes a gristmill, churches, a school, a store, and cemeteries. The preserve is large, so wear comfortable shoes and carry a map.
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, Between Rodanthe and Oregon Inlet
If you didn’t get your fill of birdwatching in the Nags Head Woods Preserve, visit Pea Island, where more than 360 species live and migrate each year. There are wide observation platforms where you can comfortably observe the 6,000 acres.
Elizabethan Gardens, Manteo
With a history steeped in royalty, this Fort Raleigh National Historic Site contains 10 acres of botanical wonders. As a formal sculpture garden, it features ever-changing flowering displays, Italian Renaissance statues, shaded paths, ponds and water views. The Elizabethan Gardens have been bursting with color since their creation about 400 years ago as a way to keep Queen Elizabeth I entertained (although she never saw them, of course). Now you can spend hours milling through the grounds! Enjoy a picnic on the lawn with your sweetheart and/or family. Take a group of friends or relatives and explore the flora and fauna as you delight in some of nature’s most wondrous beauty.
Roanoke Island Festival Park, Manteo
History lovers won’t want to miss the Roanoke Island Festival Park, a living tribute to the first English settlement in the New World. This 25-acre park boasts a fully interactive replica 1585 ship, a blacksmith, replica settler cabins, an American Indian Town and a fun, kid-friendly museum. Kids can try out feather beds and even play historically accurate board games with young “settlers” in costume. With so much to do, kids will be entertained for hours, while adults are intrigued by seeing history come to life through the hands-on exhibits.
Whether you’re looking for a hike through nature or an interactive learning experience for the whole family, the parks, preserves and refuges of the Outer Banks have something for every age and every activity level.