How To Avoid The Traffic on Your Drive to the Outer Banks: Updated with Pro Tips

how to avoid the traffic outer banks

Back in 2014 we released a blog article on how to avoid the traffic on you drive to the Outer Banks. After seeing how many people that article helped and reading everyone’s responses and tips, we’ve decided to update it. Anyone who has driven to the Outer Banks on a Saturday knows how bad the traffic can be during peak season.  We’ve had reports saying the traffic was backed up 20 miles behind the Wright Memorial Bridge.

Everyone knows where the problem is.  It’s the intersection in Kitty Hawk that takes you north onto highway 12 into Southern Shores.  Traffic there bottlenecks and can add anywhere from 2 to 5 hours to your driving time. For guests who are staying south of this intersection there is a better way. If you’re staying in Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, or Nags Head with Outer Banks Blue here is a time saving tip for you.  Do not come to the Outer Banks over the Wright Memorial Bridge during peak vacation season!

As most veteran vacationers to the Outer Banks know, traveling to the Outer Banks from the north and driving across the bridge will add around 3 hours to your driving time due to traffic.  Google maps may say the stretch from Richmond to Kill Devil Hills, the middle ground for our Kitty Hawk to Nags Head guests, will take you about 3 hours but in reality it will take you 5 to 7 hours.

how to avoid the traffic outer banks

Those of you who usually drive by, or near Richmond and then take Highway 64 to Chesapeake, instead take Richmond, VA to Edenton, NC.  Yes Google maps will say the drive is 4 hours, which is 1 hour and 3 minutes longer, but when you consider the traffic it is actually a time saver. Not only is it a time saver it also is full of smaller roads through the countryside which may be a nice change of scenery from your average drive down the interstate.

how to avoid the traffic outer banks

Another alternative to these routes is to take I-95 South to US-64 East by Rocky Mount, NC. This path shows on Google Maps as being 16 minutes longer than the Edenton route, but it is mostly freeway and has a lot more gas stations and food to stop at along the way. 

how to avoid the traffic outer banks

Most who are trying to arrive on the Outer Banks by crossing the Wright Memorial Bridge are averaging a 6 hours drive from Richmond to Kill Devil Hills, but if you take the Edenton route or I-95 to US-64 you may cut as much as 2 hours off your drive.  You may still encounter some traffic once your arrive on the Outer Banks, but as everyone knows the traffic south of the Kitty Hawk-Southern Shores traffic light is rather light by comparison.

Even those of you who must travel through Chesapeake, due to where you live, can take advantage of this tip when coming to the Outer Banks on a Saturday during peak season. The problem where traffic occurs typically begins somewhere between the Virginia-North Carolina state line and Highway 158-Highway 168 intersection.  With there being an additional hour and 15 minutes to go the Edenton route you will still save time when considering traffic.

how to avoid the traffic outer banks
how to avoid the traffic outer banks

A big tip to beat a lot of traffic is what day you check in on. Typically, most people vacationing on the Outer Banks choose to rent from Saturday to Saturday. If you switch up your check in day to a Friday or Sunday Check in traffic will be much less.

If you are crossing the Wright Memorial Bridge no later than 9:30 am then you are usually in the clear. Most days traffic doesn’t tend to get congested until around 10 am. I know 9:30 am sounds early if your rental won’t be ready until 4:00 pm, but wouldn’t you rather find something to do other than sit in traffic for hours? If you arrive to the Outer Banks before your rental is ready try grabbing a bite to eat at one of the local restaurants. The beach is full of great local cuisine that we recommend everyone try 8 Places to Get Breakfast on the Outer Banks. One of the best early arrival tips we can give you is to plan like you will arrive early. Pack swim suits and beach chairs to be easily accessible.  If there is still time to kill until you can check into your rental you will be able to get to the beach gear easily and have a beach day until you can unpack the rest of your luggage.

Pro Tips for Driving To The Outer Banks

Since we’ve pretty much covered the alternate routes to avoid traffic on your way to the Outer Banks here are some additional pro tips that you may find very useful!

Extend Your Stay

Who wouldn’t want a little bit of a longer vacation? If your plan is to come enjoy an Outer Banks vacation rental from Saturday to Saturday why not try coming Friday or even Thursday night? Although your vacation rental obviously won’t be ready for you to check into, you can stay 1 or 2 nights in a hotel of your choice! The traffic you hit on a Thursday or Friday evening will be about 5% of what you will see on a typical Saturday or Sunday. Often times the first day of your vacation is filled with settling into the area and catching up on some rest from the long drive. By arriving early and enjoying a night or 2 of relaxation after a long drive you will be ready to fully enjoy your first day in your vacation rental when you check in! Make sure to add on an Early Check In to you rental if possible. This will make it possible to check out of the hotel, grab a bite to eat, and check right into your rental!

Bringing Kids/Pets

bring pets and kids to the beach

Traffic is bad enough as is but hitting traffic with kids or pets in the car can be a nightmare if you’re not prepared. Now we gave you some pretty good tips to avoid traffic on your way to the Outer Banks, but sometimes things take a turn for the worse and you can still find your way into a traffic jam. If you have kids or pets in the car you should hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Make sure you pack plenty of snacks and drinks. The last thing you will want is a hungry/thirsty kid on a long car trip. On the same note pack some treats for your pet. If your pet begins to seem restless give them a treat to hold them over. Take potty/stretching breaks every hour or 2, afterall you never know when you will hit a traffic jam and that is not the place to have kids or pets that need to use the bathroom. Have some games on hand (for kids) whether it be games as simple as tic tac toe or common car games such as I spy or the license place game. For your pets make sure to pack one of their favorite toys to make them feel a little more at home in the car and give them something other than the seatbelts to chew on.

Plan For Fun Stops

If you have a long road trip on your way to the Outer Banks, you may want to adopt the mentality that you will drive all the way there with minimal stops possible so you can get there sooner. Be honest with yourself for a moment, your first day will basically be a wasted day full of traveling. Instead adopt the mentality to make that a “fun” travel day. Plan out a few stops on the way to the Outer Banks that sound fun to you and the family, whether it be a specific aquarium, miniature golf, or the H2OBX Water Park that is about 9 miles to the Wright Memorial Bridge (let’s face it that where the worst traffic of your trip is likely to be anyway). Doing this will likely make you and the family feel like you had an extra day of vacation and if not it definitely beats sitting in the car for up to 8 hours!

We hope these tips can help you avoid the traffic on your way to the Outer Banks, but if you so happen to hit the traffic, we hope this can help you make the best of it! Leave a comment below if you have any Pro Tips we may have forgotten about!



Published by

Terry Moore

Terry moved to the Outer Banks in 2003, fell in love with the Outer Banks and a local girl, now his wife. Since 2003 he has been discovering the Outer Banks and all it has to offer and loves to share those discoveries with the world.

How To Avoid The Traffic on Your Drive to the Outer Banks: Updated with Pro Tips

by Terry Moore time to read: 7 min

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