Dunes at sunset along the Byway
Off the Beaten Path

An essential road trip along the Outer Banks Scenic Byway

Explore lighthouses, sandy beaches, and even shipwrecks…

Along this incredible road trip down North Carolina’s coastal Outer Banks Scenic Byway, you’ll explore everything from wildlife to beaches to shipwrecks to lighthouses to the very location where the Wright brothers changed history with their first flight. Get ready for loads of seaside charm as you road trip along the Outer Banks!

Wright Brothers National Memorial

The byway doesn’t “officially” start in Kitty Hawk, but it’s a great starting point before heading south. Stop by the Wright Brothers National Memorial, the spot where the very first controlled, powered flight took place on December 17, 1903. The site itself is beautiful with historical markers, a monument, and a replica camp, and the visitors center features a full-size replica of the Wright brother’s 1903 Powered Flyer.

A bronze statue commemorating the first powered airplane flight by the Wright Brothers

Source: Shutterstock

Black Pelican Seafood

If you’re hungry, the Black Pelican Seafood Co is an ocean-front restaurant that dates back to 1874, when it used to be a lifesaving station. Today, it’s a super laid-back steak and seafood joint that also serves up pizzas.

Rundown Cafe

Or another Kitty Hawk classic is the Rundown Cafe, which is more for families. It’s got a cute and kitschy tropical island theme going on. The food is also Caribbean and Pacific Rim-inspired.

The Sanderling Resort & Spa

When you’re ready to call it a night, The Sanderling Resort and Spa is for more upscale Outer Banks visitors. It’s just a few miles to the town of Duck, and some rooms feature gorgeous ocean views. Since it’s a resort you’ll be paying a resort fee, but that covers wifi, beach chairs and beach umbrellas as well as parking and use of their fitness center. There are also two restaurants onsite and bars.

One of the many bridges while traveling in the Outer Banks of North Carolina

Source: Shutterstock

First Colony Inn

Another great choice for lodging in the area is the First Colony Inn. It’s been around since the end of the 19th century, and it still exudes a romantic North Carolina charm after all these years. The inn has been updated over the years and now it’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

Jennette’s Pier

The Outer Banks Scenic Byway has tons of lighthouses that have been helping ships navigate the tricky nautical area around OBX. Start at Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head and enjoy a leisurely cruise down the coastal road.

Bodie Island Lighthouse

Nags Head has had a lighthouse on it since 1847, but the first was abandoned due to a bad foundation and the second was blown up by Confederate troops as they retreated in 1861. The Bodie Island Lighthouse you see today was finished in 1872 and is now open for you to explore for the very first time ever in its 140+ year history.

North Carolina Outer Banks Bodie Island Lighthouse Autumn Morning Marsh Boardwalk

Source: Shutterstock

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

The Outer Banks has also achieved worldwide renown for its breathtaking scenery. Those miles and miles of sandy beaches and marshland are just spectacular. Whether you’re interested in dipping your toes in the ocean or spotting some wildlife at some of the refuges like Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge or Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, you’ll walk away from your trip down the Outer Banks Scenic Byway feeling one with nature.

Inn at Rodanthe

Next you’ll come to the Inn at Rodanthe. When the house, which was nicknamed “Serendipity,” was first built, there were more than 400 feet between it and the ocean. Those 400 feet kept the Serendipity safe from the crashing waves, rocks, erosion, and anything else that could possibly threaten to topple it into the ocean. Unable to rent it out, the owners tried for years to sell the house. But it wasn’t until it appeared in the movie “Nights in Rodanthe,” that someone paid attention to the water-logged mansion. In 2010, a married couple (who just happened to be fans of the film) bought the house and gave it a second life. How? They decided to pick the whole thing up and move it to a safer location just 30 minutes down the beach. This was obviously no small feat, considering it’s a 45-foot-tall, 83,000 pound house. Today the house has been relocated, restored, redecorated, and renamed the “Inn at Rodanthe,” after the popular romance novel. The best part? It’s still a vacation rental, with an amazing view of the Atlantic.

Atlantic Coast Cafe

Over in the town of Waves, the Atlantic Coast Cafe is a great spot to sit back and enjoy breakfast, or a seafood lunch or dinner in a super relaxed atmosphere.

Cape Hatteras Motel

A solid budget motel is the Cape Hatteras Motel. This beachfront motel is less than two miles from Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Wifi is free and you can request a room with an ocean view. There’s also a pool onsite and a hot tub, as well as picnic areas and BBQ pits.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Want your exercise for the day? Climb the 257 steps to the top of the world’s tallest brick lighthouse, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Go early if you want to avoid the crowds (especially in summer). You can only bring water into the lighthouse, which is recommended if you get easily parched. There’s a nice gift shop onsite, as well, and even though they don’t sell water for the easily-dehydrated, they do have tons of little souvenirs.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse towers over beach dunes of Outer Banks island near Buxton, North Carolina, US

Source: Shutterstock

Graveyard of Atlantic Museumloca

There’s a reason for all the lighthouses on the Outer Banks… These waters were and still are some tricky business for mariners. Today, the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum tells of the area’s maritime history, and the more adventurous can free-dive the coast for shipwrecks like the Pocahontas Shipwreck.
Hatteras-Ocracoke Ferry: Ocracoke Terminal

When you want to venture off the mainland, hop on the Hatteras-Ocracoke Ferry. Ocracoke Island is one of America’s most beautiful beaches, and the island is only accessible by ferry.

Oracoke Island

There’s a ridiculously charming village on Ocracoke island, and 16 miles of gorgeous beach. Whether you just want to sit back and listen to the waves crash, or watch the seagulls, this is relaxation at its finest. There’s an historic 19th century lighthouse on the island and an historic British Cemetery. Definitely visit the Teacher’s Hole, which is a short walk through the forest, because it was once the home of Blackbeard!

Ocracoke Lighthouse

Although the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is a massive, imposing structure, the Ocracoke Lighthouse is just a short, funky-looking little thing. Though not as visually impressive, the history of this lighthouse makes it well worth a quick stop. As North Carolina’s oldest and America’s second oldest lighthouse in operation, it’s not open for climbers and it doesn’t really have a gift shop or visitors center, but reading up on it and then visiting will give you an appreciation for the early mariners who relied on it for guidance.

The Ocracoke Lighthouse and Keeper's Dwelling on Ocracoke Island of North Carolina's Outer Banks

Source: Shutterstock


Outer Banks National Scenic Byway

Most shops and restaurants along the Outer Banks open after Easter, just as temperatures start to rise to the mid-60s and early 70s. Then in summer the crowds flock to the Outer Banks. This is when vacation homes and hotels are at their busiest and thus rates are higher.

Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge

Go for a walk around Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge, which was established back in 1964. Its 11,000 acres of protected marshland and woodland make for a fantastic place to birdwatch and hike.

Cape Lookout National Seashore

Once you reach Harkers Island, visit Cape Lookout National Seashore and take the ferry to Cape Lookout Lighthouse. If you don’t have time, snap your pictures of the only checkered-pattern lighthouse in the United States from the shore. But if you do have time, the lighthouse’s visitors center and keepers’ quarters museum are open in the summer.

Cape Lookout Lighthouse

Source: Shutterstock

Most shops and restaurants along the Outer Banks open after Easter, just as temperatures start to rise to the mid-60s and early 70s. Then in summer the crowds flock to the Outer Banks. This is when vacation homes and hotels are at their busiest and thus rates are higher. Thousands of people visit during the summer months and the weather averages in the low 80s. However, locals say the best time to visit is when fall comes around. Most travelers with families are back in school and back to work, but the weather stays mild until the end of December. Winter is pretty quiet in the Outer Banks, but lots of restaurants and shops are closed during this season. However, on the plus side you’ll pretty much have the beaches to yourself.

You May Also Like

The Ultimate Guide to Acadia National Park

Since it was originally a popular vacation destination for the super wealthy back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it’s got more of a historical, old-school rich tinge to it. From the carriage paths and the picturesque lighthouses to the rocky coastline and the sandy beaches, it’s not hard to see why people wanted […]

The Ultimate Guide to Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park may share a border with Yellowstone, but the two parks might as well be worlds apart. Yellowstone is known for its geothermal natural wonders, but Grand Teton offers a more peaceful experience. You don’t have to worry about boiling hot geysers or supervolcanoes at Grand Teton, all you need to do […]

The Ultimate Guide to Arches National Park

Boasting over 2,000 arches, hoodoos, gargoyles, goblins, spires, fins, and more (don’t be too frightened, these are all just different kinds of desert rock formations, not actual scary monsters), Arches National Park is proof that the desert is way more than just dust, cacti, and mirages. Arches National Park Some things to consider for your […]