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Relive Fabled Outer Banks History at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site

Fort Raleigh National Historic Site

No doubt you've heard of the famous Lost Colony of Roanoke Island, NC. Founded in 1587, this ill-fated settlement was the first English colony in what is now the United States. From the outset, the intrepid settlers - numbering about 112 to 121 - faced daunting daily challenges: scarce food, wary natives, and a wild, untamed environment. Fort Raleigh National Historic Site preserves known portions of England's first settlements.

Then, when crucially needed supplies failed to arrive from England, the colony disappeared. In 1590 the explorer John White found the settlement totally deserted. The only clue to its fate was the word "CROATOAN" carved into a tree trunk.

To date, no one has solved the mystery of the abandoned Lost Colony. But its intriguing story still fires our imaginations.

Today you can visit the actual place where those early adventurers settled: Fort Raleigh National Historic Site at 1500 Fort Raleigh Road, just three miles north of Manteo in the NC Outer Banks.

Situated just off US Highway 64 at the northern end of Roanoke Island, this fascinating historic site covers 14 scenic acres. What's more, you can visit all year round, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, even on holidays. (The Visitor Center is closed Christmas Day - and open 9 to 5 all other days - but the rest of the grounds are wide open anytime.)

Bring the entire family to explore amazing "living history" such as...

The Reconstructed Lost Colony Earthwork

For years archeologists have been digging for artifacts at Fort Raleigh's restored earthwork. So far, their research has yielded a treasure trove of significant evidence: copper nuggets, charcoal, antimony ore, furnace bricks, and more.

Researchers believe these discoveries mark the site of the original workshop of Joachim Gans. A metal expert, Gans was a member of a 1585 expedition that paved the way for the later Lost Colony.

Today you can roam the earthwork grounds, learn about the archeological digs, and imagine what life must have been like for skilled artisans like Joachim Gans in the unfamiliar New World.

Elizabethan Gardens

Love beautiful flowers and lush vegetation? You're in luck. Nestled within Fort Raleigh Historic Site you'll find Elizabethan Gardens, "an oasis of color in a land of sea and sun." Modeled after the elaborate gardens designed for Queen Elizabeth I, this popular attraction offers:

  • Successive waves of vivid blooms, season after colorful season
  • Pleasantly shaded walkways that wind amid blossoming trees and ornamental shrubbery
  • Distinctive Old World statues like those that graced 16th-century estates - including a towering bronze sculpture of Good Queen Bess herself
  • Charming benches that provide ideal opportunities for relaxation and selfies
  • The John White Butterfly Center, a network of airy greenhouses where gorgeous butterflies abound
  • Discovery Cottage, an indoor/outdoor retreat for kids, featuring a large wooden ship, Elizabethan playhouses, kitchen gardens, and more  

Freedom Trail

Prefer a walk on the wild side? Stroll along Freedom Trail, a 1.25-mile trek that takes you through maritime forest to the park's far western edge, where you'll enjoy stunning views of sparkling Croatan Sound. To return, simply retrace your steps. Or loop back to the Visitor Center via the bike path skirting Highway 64.

Thomas Hariot Trail

Up for just a little more walking? Take Thomas Hariot Trail through shady maritime woodland to the shore of Albemarle Sound. All along the picturesque 0.3-mile loop, you'll encounter interpretive signs describing points of interest and relating Algonquian lore.

The Lost Colony Symphonic Outdoor Drama at the Waterside Theater

Planning to be in the area during the summer evening hours? Don't miss your chance to see The Lost Colony, the world-renowned outdoor drama that explores the poignant story of the early Roanoke settlement. This Tony Award-winning production runs nightly, Monday through Saturday, from late May through late August. What's more, the setting - the rustic Waterside Theater right on Roanoke Sound - is just as spectacular as the all-star play itself.

Make sure you've booked tickets well in advance because the comfortable open-air seating fills up fast.

Plus, Don't Forget to Stop By Two Important Historic Memorials:

  • First Light of Freedom Monument During America's Civil War, freed slaves found a safe haven in the Roanoke Island Freedmen's Colony. Today a special monument commemorates their famous settlement. Take a moment to pay tribute to the brave men and women who founded this historic colony.
  • 1896 Monument The earliest Fort Raleigh preservation campaign began in 1896. This striking stone marker celebrates that effort. In particular, it honors two key events from the Lost Colony's remarkable history: the birth of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in North America; and the baptism of the Croatoan native Manteo.

 All This Plus an Impressive Visitor Center...

...where you'll find immersive exhibits that bring Roanoke history to life. Stop by to browse, shop, or just relax. Plus, watch a fascinating video about the complex interactions between English settlers and Algonquian natives.

Also, be sure to ask the staff about ongoing special events, Ranger programs, Trading Cards for kids, and other educational offerings.

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