In 2014, we released this article because summer traffic to the Outer Banks was a topic we knew could use a little insider information on how to avoid this traffic. The article was well received and many people responded with their own tips and tricks. 3 years later avoiding traffic on the drive to the Outer Banks is still a subject that is valuable to our visitors so we decided to update this article with some of the wonderful tips provided by our readers.
Anyone who has driven to the Outer Banks on a Saturday knows how bad the traffic can be during peak season. Every year we hear 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 we have some time saving tips for you. During the peak vacation season, do not come across the Wright Memorial Bridge to get 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 2 hours and 57 minutes but in reality it will take you 5 to 7 hours.
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. 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 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.
Not only is this route a time saver but it is also full of smaller roads through the countryside which may be a nice change of scenery from your average drive down the interstate.
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.
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 14 minutes to go the Edenton route you will still save time when considering traffic.
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 9:00 am then you are usually in the clear. Most days traffic doesn’t tend to get congested until around 10 am. I know 9:00 am sounds early, especially if your rental won’t be ready until 4:00 pm, but it’s more enjoyable to find something to do on the Outer Banks rather than sit in traffic for hours.
If you arrive to the Outer Banks before your Outer Banks vacation 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 (Top 8 Favorite Place 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.
We hope these tips can help you on your next trip to the Outer Banks. If you have any tips that we’ve left out we would love to hear them in the comments!