You can feel the ancient souls that lived at the Outer Banks, especially at sunrise when rosy hues outline the sea oat stalks, and at sunset over the sound when the magentas of sea and sky meld into a mirror of ageless molten memories.
Long before Orville and Wilbur Wright used the tall sand dunes of Kill Devil Hills at the northern end of North Carolina's Outer Banks to take flight in one of the world's first airplanes, Native Americans harvested its land and waters in dugout canoes. The Spanish arrived in the 1500s, and they left behind some of their Colonial Spanish Mustangs. Now known as the Corolla Wild Horses, they roam and graze on more than 7,000 acres in the Carova area, north of Corolla.
English settlers arrived in 1587, and the group of 117 colonists are the subject of a more than 400-year-old mystery. They settled at 8-mile-long Roanoke Island, which is between Albemarle Sound and Roanoke Sound near Nags Head. One of their group left that year to return to England and bring back supplies, and he didn't come back until three years later in 1590. The colony was abandoned and looted, and the only trace of the settlers was the word Croatoan carved on a post and the letters CRO scratched onto a tree trunk.
In recent years archaeologists have made excavations at inland locations at Cape Creek and Edenton that suggest the Lost Colony of Roanoke may have moved there and lived with local Native Americans to survive. However, their fates are still not definitively known. A play about the Lost Colony is performed every summer at the same site of the abandoned settlement.
As the new settlers went about the business of fishing and farming and buying and selling goods at their deep water ports, pirates stalked ships and hid out in the inlets, creeks and channels that made quick getaways possible.
One of the most infamous pirates was Edward Teach, known as Blackbeard, who aboard his frigate ship named Queen Anne's Revenge terrorized residents and ship crews during 1717-18. Many Outer Banks museums and sites are devoted to his and other pirates' histories, and the Queen Anne's Revenge was discovered in 1996 where it ran aground in 1718 at Beaufort Inlet. More than 250,000 artifacts and 31 cannons were recovered from the wreck.
At least 2,000 known shipwrecks dot the waters around the Outer Banks, which makes for interesting scuba diving trips. A lot of them wrecked on Diamond Shoals, an area extending eight miles out from Cape Hatteras with sandbars and shallow waters. Others foundered at the spot near Cape Hatteras where the Gulf Stream and the Labrador Current meet each other and cause turbulent waters. Storms - hurricanes and nor'easters - also caused many ships to sink.
Treacherous seas caused the need for the many lighthouses that dot the Outer Banks and for the 1874 establishment of the U.S. Lifesaving Service, which has been known since 1915 as the U.S. Coast Guard.
In 1900 two brothers from Ohio trying to build the world's first airplane traveled to Kitty Hawk to conduct research that finally paid off in 1903 when they achieved the first-ever documented human flight that lasted for 12 seconds. Visitors from around the world go to the Wright Brothers National Memorial to learn about Orville and Wilbur Wright's accomplishments.
These days visitors go to the Outer Banks to relax on the beaches, surf, fish, paddle kayaks, visit museums, fly kites, go hang gliding, check out lighthouses, take wild horse tours and spend quality time with their loved ones. It is a place meant for relaxation, athletic fun and appreciating the gorgeous views.
The nearest commercial airport is Norfolk International (ORF) 82 miles to the North in Norfolk, VA. The next closest airport is Raleigh Durham International, 192 miles to the West.
From the North
Follow I-95 South to Richmond, VA. Take I-64 East toward Norfolk/Virginia Beach, Va. Take I-64 or I-664 to Chesapeake, Va. From I-64, take Exit 291B to Route 168, the Chesapeake Expressway.* Once in North Carolina, Route 168 turns into US-158 East. Follow this road to Kitty Hawk.
From The South & West
Take I-95 to Rocky Mount, NC. Take US-64 East toward Rocky Mount, and follow US-64 east through Williamston and Plymouth, NC. From Plymouth, NC keep going east to Roanoke Island and The Outer Banks, then follow US 158 to Kitty Hawk.
For detailed driving directions please visit the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau.
|Baltimore, MD||315 mi.|
|New York City, NY||503 mi.|
|Norfolk, VA||90 mi.|
|Philadelphia, PA||413 mi.|
|Pittsburgh, PA||505 mi.|
|Raleigh, NC||192 mi.|
|Richmond, VA||169 mi.|
|Rocky Mount, NC||154 mi.|