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Explore the Outer Banks Safely: COVID-19 Travel Tips

COVID-19 Travel Tips

Want some good news? The NC Outer Banks are open for business.

Yes, even during the COVID era, you can still enjoy a fun-filled family vacation on these beautiful barrier islands. North Carolina has no travel restrictions, so you can freely enter or leave the state without having to test or quarantine.

Some rules do apply, however. Simply follow a few precautions, and you'll be set.

Currently, the Outer Banks are under Phase III of NC Governor Roy Cooper's COVID-19 restrictions, which require (restrictions are changing so check here for up-to-date North Carolina Covid restriction info):

  • Face coverings in all public indoor settings where non-household members are present. This includes fitness centers and restaurants, but yes, you are allowed to remove your mask while you eat and drink. You may also go maskless if you are under five years old and/or if you have certain medical conditions that would render mask-wearing risky, for instance, if you have trouble breathing.
  • Capacity restrictions in indoor spaces where non-household members are present. If you are renting a house or condo, for example, no more than 10 people may gather there at any one time, unless they are all members of your household. Restaurants must also limit attendance to 50% capacity, and outdoor gatherings are limited to 50 people max. (However, these capacity restrictions do not apply to places of worship as long as social distancing is maintained.)
  • "Night-Time Public Closure Period," a statewide curfew requiring all individuals to stay in their homes or vacation rentals between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. (with some exceptions). Moreover, bars and restaurants may not sell and serve alcoholic beverages onsite between 9 a.m. and 7 a.m. However, you may still order takeout after 10 p.m., and delivery workers are allowed to bring your orders to your door.

What About the Wide Open Spaces?

The Outer Banks are famous for their white-sand beaches, dense maritime forests, magical marshlands, and shimmering sound-side waters. And fortunately you're totally free to savor these outdoor delights without wearing any face covering - just as long as you maintain a safe 6-foot distance from any other people who are not members of your household.

Since there's so much open space on these secluded islands, social distancing is easy. In fact, it's exactly what many people come here for.

As one visitor put it,"We can do the whole social distancing thing with a much better view." (Reported by USA Today, from Associated Press, Wire Service Content, July 2020.)


So, go ahead. Romp in the ocean waves. Stroll along endless shore. Cast your line from the beach or pier. Swim, surf, sail, snorkel, or simply bask in the sun. Go kayaking or paddle-boarding on sea or sound. Search for shells, sea glass, and sand dollars. Climb over huge grassy dunes. Wander through unspoiled woodlands. Soak up all that healthful Vitamin D, Nature's "sunshine vitamin." And go maskless throughout it all, providing you social-distance.

Some Tips for Safely Visiting the OBX

As you're planning your trip, you'll want to keep COVID in mind. Here are some items to pack:

  • Plenty of inexpensive disposable face masks or other permissible face coverings, such as scarves and bandanas.
  • Large family-size containers of hand sanitizer to keep handy at your vacation rental
  • Purse-size hand-sanitizer dispensers to stash in totes and backpacks for beach trips and outings
  • Sanitary wipes for impromptu hand-washing when you're out and about... perfect for a picnic lunch or after leaving a store or restaurant

At the same time, plan your itinerary for some safe-yet-fun adventures. Here are a few popular activities permitted during the pandemic. (Remember that all indoor activities do require face coverings.)

  • Set out on a self-guided walk to see Corolla's wild horses. Or call 800-460-4136 to book a guided tour in an open-air Hummer with Wild Horse Adventure Tours. The company has privileged access to the protected area where the wild horses roam. Plus, it takes extra care to follow state and federal COVID guidelines - for instance, sanitizing vehicles in between tours.
  • Visit an Outer Banks museum, such as the Wright Brothers National Museum in Manteo, the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras, or the tiny Ocracoke Preservation Museum, featuring historical artifacts and fascinating lore about Blackbeard the legendary pirate. All museums are open at 50% capacity, so be sure to arrive early. And, as always, mask up indoors.
  • Revel in unspoiled natural beauty at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge on the north end of Hatteras Island. The visitor center and park offices are currently closed to the public, but outdoor areas are open during daylight hours, Feel free to wander along trails and boardwalks amid gorgeous protected habitat where wildlife and waterfowl rest, nest, and feed. It's an unforgettable experience... and if you social-distance, you don't even need to wear a mask.

There's So Much More to Do in the NC Outer Banks

And, best of all, you and your family can stay safe throughout your visit. Plan your getaway now!   

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