Nags Head, North Carolina: Panoramic view of Sand dune at Jockey's Ridge State Park.

11 Most Scenic Road Trips to Take in the Outer Banks

Take an unforgettable adventure along the roads of the Outer Banks in North Carolina. This collection of road trips takes travelers through abundant fauna and flora that represents the wonderfully ordinary nature of this spot. It is a less diverse area regarding culture, but the landscapes, vistas, and opportunities to see natural beauty remain prevalent.

Whether visitors are seeking the unique takes on lighthouses beckoning land to those at sea, wildlife refuges, or the landmark legacy of quaint towns, there's something for everyone to enjoy. From the iconic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse to the tranquil Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, each excursion offers distinctive experiences and breathtaking views. Indulge in the region's rich maritime history and marshland wonder, explore quaint villages and cleverly built lighthouses, and savor fresh seafood.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore: A Coastal Adventure

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse on Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks in the town of Buxton, North Carolina.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse on Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks in the town of Buxton, North Carolina.

Set out on a scenic road trip to Cape Hatteras National Seashore, a pristine coastal destination in North Carolina's Outer Banks. Starting in Nags Head, visit the iconic Jockey's Ridge State Park and continue south to discover the enchanting village of Rodanthe. Enjoy the stunning Atlantic Ocean and Pamlico Sound views along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Be sure to embrace the chance to climb the 208-foot-tall Cape Hatteras Lighthouse for panoramic vistas of Hatteras Island. Discover the serenity of Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, a haven for diverse bird species and other critters. Conclude your trip on Ocracoke Island, accessible by a picturesque ferry ride. Be sure to take some time to explore the historic village, relax on the uncrowded beaches, and bask in the serenity of the Outer Banks.

Currituck Beach Light Station: Discovery By Day, Twinkling Stars By Night

Aerial view of Currituck Beach Lighthouse at sunset near Corolla, North Carolina (Outer Banks)
Aerial view of Currituck Beach Lighthouse at sunset near Corolla, North Carolina (Outer Banks).

This adventure takes several hours but is well worth the endeavor. One way (with few stops), the drive runs around four hours, making it ideal for a day trip around the Outer Banks. Starting from Kitty Hawk, drive north on NC-12 to reach the Currituck Beach Light Station in Corolla. This historic beacon that recalls "Pete's Dragon." offers panoramic views of the Outer Banks and the Currituck Sound. Traverse the grounds and tour the adjacent museum to learn about the vicinity's maritime heritage. Afterward, road-trippers can stroll along the beautiful Corolla Beach or visit the nearby Whalehead legacy site, a stunning Art Nouveau-style mansion.

Ocracoke Island: Venturing Into A World Of Coastal Discovery

Aerial view of Ocracoke Island Harbor
Aerial view of Ocracoke Island Harbor.

Set out on an excursion of around 110 miles (one way), where you can enjoy the wonder of the Outer Banks from behind the windshield. Getting to Ocracoke Island is just the first part of the adventure. You can find a home base at the Hatteras Village and hop on the free ferry to Ocracoke. Up for a quick adventure? Trek through the Ocracoke Lighthouse, the oldest operating signaling unit of its kind in North Carolina, and take a leisurely bike ride around the island to discover pristine beaches and picturesque landscapes. If you get the chance, try the island's famous seafood and enjoy the laid-back atmosphere.

Roanoke Island

The Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse is perhaps the most prominent landmark in the quaint coastal community of Manteo
The Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse in the quaint coastal community of Manteo. Image credit William Silver via Shutterstock.

Begin an alluring tour that covers approximately 90 miles and takes around three hours to complete (in one direction). Begin your journey from Manteo and cross the Washington Baum Bridge to reach Roanoke Island, easily one of the oddest areas in the Outer Banks. Engage with the storied town, and attend the Roanoke Island Festival Park, a history museum displaying the spot's colonial past. Discover the Lost Colony Outdoor Drama, a captivating theatrical production that tells the story of the first English colony in America. Stroll along the waterfront boardwalk and visit the Elizabethan Gardens, a beautiful garden with stunning floral displays. It has both the light history of quaint charm and the dark history of the Lost Colony of Roanoke

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge: Get Up Close With Nature

Baby Alligator at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, North Carolina
Baby alligator at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, North Carolina.

Cover 100 miles as the crow flies, taking around three or four hours to reach the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. Starting from Manns Harbor, head west on US-64 and enjoy the drive through the refuge. Watch for black bears, red wolves, and various bird species. Stop by the Creef Cut Wildlife Trail for a short hike and nature viewing. The refuge also offers fishing and boating opportunities, so consider bringing your gear along. Enjoy this untouched oasis's tranquility before returning to the Outer Banks. It is one of the most recognizable international animal and plant refuges in its capacity to protect the alligator population, a fascinating topic to research before your road trip.

Bodie Island: Discover Life-Changing Dunes

Bodie Island Lighthouse is located at the northern end of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina , USA.
Bodie Island Lighthouse, located at the northern end of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, North Carolina.

The Bodie Island trek covers around 90 miles and takes approximately 2 hours. Begin your journey from South Nags Head and head south on NC-12 to reach Bodie Island. Check out the Bodie Island Visitor Center to learn about the location's history and ecology. Take a walk along the boardwalk to see the diverse wild environment and enjoy the panoramic views of the marshes and the sounds of chirping and twittering fauna through the area. Keep an eye out when climbing the Bodie Island Lighthouse for breathtaking panoramic vistas. Travelers can pack a picnic and enjoy a relaxing lunch amidst the nature and magnificence of this coastal gem. It comes alive in summer, but Bodie Island stands out as an ideal spot year-round to avoid the bugs and the heat.

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge: A Birdwatcher's Paradise

Geese Fly Over Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge in Autumn
Geese fly ver Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge in autumn. Image credit Wileydoc via Shutterstock.

Go on a drive and crank up the tunes along the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Starting from Rodanthe, head south on NC-12 and enjoy the gorgeous drive along the coast. The refuge is a haven for migratory birds, offering excellent bird-watching opportunities. Meander through the various trails and boardwalks, such as the North Pond Wildlife Trail and the Salt Flats Wildlife Trail, to observe a wide range of bird species and other fauna that are special to the zone. Tourists can enjoy nature's pace and appreciate the serene beauty of this coastal sanctuary. It's known as one of the cutest small towns in the Outer Banks and is a proverbial oasis to any traveling ornithologist. 

Jockey's Ridge State Park: A Windswept Journey

Sunset at Jockey Ridge State Park. Located in Nags Head, North Carolina. It is a tallest sand dune system in the eastern United States.
Sunset at Jockey Ridge State Park. 

This adventure covers well over 100 miles (one way) and takes approximately three or four hours to traverse in one direction. Start from Nags Head and head south on US-158 to reach Jockey's Ridge State Park. This Park is home to the tallest natural dune system in the Eastern United States. Tourists can venture across hiking trails and climb to the top of the dunes for panoramic views of the surrounding spot. Among them include the Atlantic Ocean and Roanoke Sound. Consider trying to hang gliding or flying a kite in this windy paradise. Don't forget to catch a stunning sunset over the dunes before returning.

Cape Lookout National Seashore: Making The Most Of The Maritimes

Aerial view of the Cape Lookout National Seashore, Outer Banks, North Carolina
Aerial view of the Cape Lookout National Seashore, Outer Banks, North Carolina.

Take an adventure with an awe-inspiring expedition of approximately, taking around four hours one-way to reach Cape Lookout National Seashore. Starting from Beaufort, head east on US-70 and take the ferry to the iconically cute seashore. Tourists can take a moment (or longer) to investigate the pristine beaches and crystal-clear waters, perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and beach combing. Take a boat tour to the emblematic Cape Lookout Lighthouse and climb to the top for breathtaking views. Don't forget to watch for the wild horses that roam the area. Overall, be prepared to invest eight hours on the road, but the Outer Banks Cape Lookout makes it a must-see for United States travelers.

Hatteras Island: See The Sea In A New Light

Aerial view of Hatteras Island looking North with route 12 in North Carolina
Aerial view of Hatteras Island looking North with Route 12 in North Carolina.

This road trip takes several hours, but the brilliance of the surroundings makes it well worth the while. Begin the journey from Avon and head south on NC-12 to get up close and personal with Hatteras Island's miraculous habitat. Take a trip to pay respects at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras Village to learn about the place's rich maritime history and shipwrecks.

Roadtrippers can enjoy the beautiful beaches and consider taking a ferry to Ocracoke Island for further exploration. Take a break at one of the island's iconic seafood restaurants to savor fresh local cuisine, with every hole-in-the-wall having its singular take on the local fare. Round out the trip by taking in the gorgeous sunset before hitting the road to return home. Check out this fantastic spot during a full moon for a particularly magical endeavor in the uninterrupted night skies.

Corolla: Culture, Nature, Adventure

Wild mustang on an evening stroll in Corolla, NC
Wild mustang on an evening stroll in Corolla, NC.

A lovely excursion for the avid road tripper is to traverse the Outer Banks for about 100 miles. It takes a few hours (one way) to reach the picturesque town of Corolla. Starting from Duck, head north on NC-12 and enjoy the splendor of smooth curves and a forested drive along the coast that shows the raw force of nature in the crashing waves, clearly visible from the car. It's worth stopping in at one of the local rest stops, given the town is famous for its friendliness

Road visitors can see the Currituck Beach Light Station and wander the beautiful beach stretching for miles. Take a wild horse tour to see the famous Corolla wild horses in their innate habitat. Do not miss the chance to go kayaking or paddleboarding in the Currituck Sound. For a delightful dining experience, waterfront restaurants like The Blue Point supply delicious seafood and memorable sights.

Final Notes: Embracing the Outer Banks Road Trip Spirit

The Outer Banks road trips present a tapestry of unspoiled natural wonder, cultural heritage, and coastal icons that are present subtly throughout any journey on the highways (or back roads, for that matter). From the towering beacons to the pristine beaches, each destination offers a different captivating experience. Delve into the maritime history at Roanoke Island, see the untamed beauty of Cape Lookout National Seashore, or meet migratory birds at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge; each is an Outer Banks icon.

Feel the sand at Jockey's Ridge State Park, where the windswept dunes create a mesmerizing landscape. Engage in the laid-back atmosphere of Ocracoke Island or explore the historic Currituck Beach Light Station in Corolla. These curated excursions promise unforgettable memories and a chance to connect with the essence of the Outer Banks. Everyone deserve a chance to see the United States in its full wonder, so start planning your adventure and prepare for the journey of discovery that only the Outer Banks can offer!


More in Places