10 Adventures You Need to Try in the Outer Banks

A vacation at the Outer Banks in North Carolina is the perfect blend of adventure and relaxation.

I’m sharing family-friendly adventures in the Outer Banks that you’ll want to add to your list during your next visit.

beach at OBX

This story was brought to you in partnership with The Outer Banks. All opinions are my own. 

Where is the Outer Banks and What is OBX?

The Outer Banks of North Carolina are a chain of barrier islands with 6 towns and 12 coastal villages connected by Coastal Highway NC12.

“OBX’ is an abbreviation by fans of the area for the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

beach at Outer Banks

Enjoy an Extensive Undeveloped Coastline at The Outer Banks

The scenic drive along the OBX coast doesn’t have the typical over-commercialized tourist traps.

There’s an abundant natural and undeveloped coastline in the Outer Banks. It has been intentionally preserved specifically for recreation and wildlife.

It’s so refreshing and tranquil the moment you arrive.

The barrier islands that make up the Outer Banks can shift and change over time due to beach erosion and storms which constantly change the beautiful landscape.

If you love to take a vehicle off-road on the beach, there are many areas where you will find year-round accessibility.

During our visit to the OBX, we made lots of memories sharing unique experiences together. Several of those adventures were for the first time, which was even better.

hang gliding in the OBX

 1. Try Hang-gliding at Jockey’s Ridge State Park

300 W Carolista Dr, Nags Head, NC

Yes, you can try hang gliding in the Outer Banks!

Hang Glide at the tallest and largest natural sand dune in the Eastern United States.

And YES, this is a bucket list adventure that I HIGHLY recommend!

Book a Beginner Hang Glider Lesson Here
hang gliding in the OBX

Kitty Hawk Kites offers an unforgettable and unique adventure with training at the largest hang gliding school in the World.

Previous students range from ages 4 -92, which gives you no excuse not to try it.

Kitty Hawk Kites at the Outer Banks

Safety First With Hang Gliding Training

I promise that the scariest part of the whole experience is watching the safety video in the training room and learning the commands. 

Naturally, you’ll question if you’ll remember everything you’re supposed to do. It will all work out once you try it, I promise!

hang gliding in the OBX

Don’t worry, this is where the amazing instructors come in.

They are “hang-gliding whisperers” who tell you what to do at exactly the right time.

The instructors will put you at ease and give you confidence during the whole process of your flight. (Thanks again Nick and Jesse!)

family hang gliding in the OBX

Tips for Your First-Time Hang Gliding

You’ll want to allow about 3 hours for your hang-gliding adventure. I would recommend wearing athletic-style clothing that breathes well.

There is no protection on the dune from the sun and it can get HOT.

You need to be able to run approximately ten yards for the Dune Lesson.

hang gliding in the OBX

There are leg loops for the harnesses so beware that shorts can ride up. It’s why I opted for athletic capris instead of wearing athletic shorts.

You will want to put on sunscreen before you go out on the dunes.

hang gliding in the OBX

I also recommend reapplying sunscreen during your lesson.

Depending on the temperatures that day, you might need to wear sand shoes or sand socks if the sand is too hot.

hang gliding in the OBX

Each participant is recommended to have 1-2 liters of water. After you walk back up that sand dune one time you will understand why.

hang gliding in the OBX

It’s also nice to have the cash to tip your instructors in appreciation for a safe and amazing experience.

hang gliding in the OBX

The hang gliding instructors run down the dune and make the trek back up with the hang glider 25+ times.

You’ll want to give them an extra tip after watching them work hard to bring the rig back up the dune.

hang gliding in the OBX

What to Expect When You Hang Glide for the First Time

First, you watch a demo by one of your instructors.

Next, you go through a safety check before each of your flights. The instructors will check that you are harnessed into the rig correctly and go over the commands as needed.

hang gliding in the OBX

Hang Gliding From a Sand Dune

Before your flight, you will take a dinosaur stance. You’ll understand that once you take the lesson.

Hang gliders transition from walking to running.  Next, you enjoy your air time before lowering back to the ground and walking back up the dune.

hang gliding in the OBX

You will do (2) sets of flights back-to-back, followed by your final flight.

By doing the flights back-to-back you can build more muscle memory and make any adjustments while it’s fresh in your mind.

hang gliding in the OBX

The group size is typically around 5 people allowing some time to rest between dune climbs.

hang gliding in the OBX

During your hang gliding flight, the instructors hold on to a rope attached to your rig and race down the dune as you lift into the air.

hang gliding in the OBX

The flight happens quickly but it’s an amazing feeling to experience.

hang gliding in the OBX

The landing on the sand at the bottom of the dune is also very forgiving.

hang gliding in the OBX

You can purchase a video package to get the perspective of your flights that also includes that footage in still frame images.

hang gliding in the OBX

I would also recommend bringing a camera to capture a few pictures from another perspective. You can just keep a backpack at the top of the sand dune.

certificate for hang gliding in the OBX

After our lesson, we were given a certificate and a document that logged our training. This certificate is useful if you want to continue on to the next level of hang gliding lessons.

If you may want to try hang gliding tandem you can book the Grandy Tandem Hang Gliding 2000′ above the barrier islands of North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

Jockey's Ridge State Park

More Things to Do at Jockey’s Ridge State Park

If you want to explore after your lesson you’ll find two self-guided trails, hiking, a visitor center, a museum,  picnic areas, and restroom facilities if you need to change.

Jockey's Ridge State Park

No permits are required for sandboarding in the park but hang gliding requires registration.

Jockey's Ridge State Park

The park offers special educational programming and special events throughout the year.

Jet Ski Tour from Kitty Hawk Kites at Nags Head location/Whalebone Watersports

 2. Jet Ski Tour from Kitty Hawk Kites at Nags Head location/Whalebone Watersports

7517 S. Virginia Dare Trail, Nags Head, NC

Confession: I love controlled adventures. Strap me in a harness and I feel more secure, which is why I get a little more nervous on a jet ski. I think that they are really FUN…when I’m the one driving.

When I’m not driving, it’s hard for me to give control over to someone else for fear of falling off into the water.

Yes, I’m a bit of a control freak.

Jet Ski Tour from Kitty Hawk Kites at Nags Head location/Whalebone Watersports

During our jet ski tour, I wanted to get pictures during our ride. I could ride behind my 16-year-old son or ride with my husband.

You must be at least 16 to drive with a valid driver’s license so I opted to ride with my husband.

I will fully admit that I’m a bit of a wimpy driver because I tend to slow down on big waves…when I should go faster.

woman on Jet Ski Tour from Kitty Hawk Kites at Nags Head location/Whalebone Watersports

Our ride ended up being equal parts FUN + therapy.  I finally fully trusted my husband to drive something after 20+ years.

He handled the big waves like a champ and the only mishap was almost losing my hat when we were going fast. I also almost lost my phone when I discovered the lanyard with my cell phone around my neck wasn’t secured properly.

Jet Ski Tour from Kitty Hawk Kites at Nags Head location/Whalebone Watersports

Before our guided tour started, we rode around the course to ensure everyone felt comfortable on the jet ski.

The water in the bay where you get on your jet ski is shallow and a great temperature.

Jet Ski Tour from Kitty Hawk Kites at Nags Head location/Whalebone Watersports

We had our boys follow directly behind our guide so that we could watch them in front of us.

My older son did a great job driving his younger brother with no incidents. I was surprised that he didn’t try to throw him off.

scenic view on jet ski tour

The Jet Ski Tour

Our jet ski guide, Morgan led us out into the bay. Next, we went under several bridges followed by marsh areas in Roanoke Sound, and then the waterfront near Manteo.

view of bridge on Jet ski tour Outer Banks

I really liked that this jet ski tour was very diverse. It gave us a great mix of ride experience in scenery and speeds from fast to laid back.

The minimum age for a passenger to ride on the jet ski tour is 10. You can have 1-2 passengers on the jet ski and need a minimum of 2 skis for a tour.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

3. Climb to the top of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Update -Lighthouse climbing opportunities will likely not be possible until the summer of 2026, due to a major restoration project.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore
46379 Lighthouse Rd. Frisco, NC

Enjoy the scenic views of the Outer Banks from the top of the tallest brick beacon in the world.  At 210 feet, the lighthouse is definitely another adventure to experience during your visit.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

This is actually the second location for the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.

In the summer of 1999, it took 23 days to move the lighthouse almost a half-mile from its original location constructed in 1870.

The lighthouse needed to be moved due to beach erosion that put it too close to the ocean.

stairs to Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Tips for Climbing the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Before climbing the 257 steps at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, you should know a few things.

The inside is NOT air-conditioned. You’ll travel up a narrow spiral staircase with two-way traffic and only a handrail on one side.

There is no elevator inside the lighthouse, so what goes up, must go back down.

The views are worth it, I promise!

view from Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

There is a landing every 31 steps.  This gives you a great opportunity to enjoy the view out the window and catch your breath before your next 31 steps.

You’ll continue the process until you reach the equivocal of a 12-story building.

The climb up the lighthouse is self-paced so stop when you need to.

You can bring bottled water with you in a sealable, non-glass container. Kids must be at least 42″ tall and able to walk up the stairs without assistance. No one is allowed to be carried or lifted.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

You can climb to the top of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse from mid-April to Columbus Day.

Whether you get to step out on the balcony at the top depends on the wind conditions which can change frequently.

view from the top of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

We climbed to the top of the lighthouse and the park ranger measured the wind gusts and said they were too high for guests to go out on the balcony.

view from the top Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

We did get to look out the opened door at the top and ironically the winds were safe enough for the group after us.

Before climbing the lighthouse stairs the ranger warned us that the winds were unsafe that morning. We chose not to try to wait it out for a later time that day.

buildings at Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Tickets for Cape Hatteras Light Station are first come, first serve.

You can only purchase the tickets onsite on the day of your climb. The lighthouse climbs begin at 9 am and run every 10 minutes with a limit of 30 visitors per climb.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Beach near Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

You may see surfers at a nearby beach at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the former site of the original lighthouse.

beach near Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Rip currents are common in this area so use extra caution if you swim at this beach and stay away from the breakers.

beach near Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

If you find yourself in a rip current, swim parallel to the shore until you don’t feel the current pulling you.

Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum

4. Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum

59200 Museum Drive, Hatteras, NC

The perfect adventure for a rainy day, the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum highlights the maritime history and shipwrecks in the Outer Banks.

Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum

Admission to the museum is free but donations are always appreciated. 

Make sure that you check out the events page before you go to take advantage of special programming.

Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum

To help get your family more engaged in your visit, I suggest taking advantage of the youth-friendly scavenger hunt at the front desk.

scavenger hunt at Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum

Kids will be on the search for objects located throughout the museum and they can even receive a special prize afterward.

exhibit at Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum

One of my favorite parts of the exhibit was the display of underwater cameras.

exhibit at Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum

It was interesting to see so many different styles and types of underwater cameras over the years.

History buffs will enjoy learning more about war history in the Outer Banks.

exhibit at Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
exhibit at Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum

There are even some exhibits with details about some unique modern shipwrecks, one of which included thousands of bags of Doritos.

exhibit at Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum

There is so much to take in during your visit. Take your time to appreciate all the incredible artifacts.

exhibit at Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum

1854 Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Fresnel Lens was another one of my favorite pieces at the museum. It’s amazing to see how large the lens is up close.

exhibit at Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum

The museum also introduces a new exhibit annually. That gives you a reason to come back each year.

Equine Adventures Horseback Tour Outer Banks

 5. Equine Adventures Horseback Tour

Did you know you can take a guided horseback trail ride through the woods that takes you to the beach at the Outer Banks????

Equine Adventures Horseback Tour

Another first!

This was our first time riding a horse on the beach and sand dunes.

Equine Adventures Horseback Tour

Our guided trail ride went through the dunes in the Maritime forest of Frisco followed by the beach.

Equine Adventures Horseback Tour Outer Banks

There were several highlights along the way. We traveled through a few feet of water during several sections on the trail.

We also enjoyed the views of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in the distance before we traveled over the final dune before the beach.

Equine Adventures Horseback Tour in the Outer Banks

Run the Horse on the Beach in the OBX

Riding a horse on the beach was definitely magical. Once we reached the beach we were allowed to run our horse on the beach if we wanted to.

It’s totally up to you and your comfort level. Experiences riders will love the freedom to race their horse down the beach.

horseback riding on the beach Equine Adventures Horseback Tour

The horses always have to run in the direction away from the barn.

You never try to run your horse on the way back to the barn because they are already highly motivated to get back for treats.

Equine Adventures Horseback Tour Outer Banks NC

Tips for Your Horseback Ride in the OBX

Our tour was about 3 hours so my tip is, if you don’t ride horses very often keep your heels down to help relieve the pressure off your knees.

It also helps your posture. I didn’t do that the first half of my ride so I learned that the hard way.

Horseback riders can be as young as 10 and weigh up to 200 pounds.  Depending on the season, trail rides are available twice a day, during the morning and afternoon.

shark at NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island

6. NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island

Roanoke Island – 374 Airport Road, Manteo, NC 27954

turtle at NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island

Another adventure that’s perfect for a rainy day, but beware, you won’t be the only one with that idea.

The NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island is worth a visit during your vacation regardless of the weather outside.

NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island

During your visit, you’ll learn more about marine life in the area. There are several opportunities for you to encounter sea life at the stingray pool and touch pool areas.

touch tank at NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island

You’ll be given instructions before putting your hands in the water so that you and the sea life stay safe.

sea turtle at NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island

Sea Turtle Conservation

The sea turtle conservation efforts by staff and volunteers are truly inspiring there. It was definitely one of my favorite areas during our visit.

sea turtle at NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island

The Roanoke Island’s Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation (STAR) Center is housed inside the NC Aquarium.

Sea Turtle Conservation at NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island

They rescue, rehab, and release sea turtles that are healthy enough to go back into the wild. Care is truly a labor of love.

Sea Turtle Conservation at NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island

The incoming sea turtles are named in themes each year, which makes for some creative and clever names.

The turtles in care during our visit were named under a Harry Potter theme.

exhibit at NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island

Younger guests can experience hands-on play with a rehabilitation area set up.

The hands-on exhibit helps them to learn more about sea turtles as they role-play being a staff member.

 NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island

The aquarium also offers several behind-the-scenes tours for guests throughout the year.

The tours provide access to areas not open to the public to help learn more about the aquarium’s daily operations.

OBX Crabbing and Shrimping Charter

7. OBX Crabbing and Shrimping Charter adventure with Captain Marc Mitchum

Wanchese Marina and Landing Grill
4457 Mill Landing Rd., Wanchese NC.

OBX Crabbing and Shrimping Charter

Looking for a unique charter experience during your vacation?

There are plenty of chartered fishing options when you visit the Outer Banks.

OBX Crabbing is the only charter where you can try crabbing or shrimping in the OBX from a full-time commercial fishing family.

OBX Crabbing and Shrimping Charter

The experience is really hands-on. You see crabs up close and learn the differences to look for between a male and a female.

OBX Crabbing and Shrimping Charter

During the boat tour, you’ll also learn more about how crab traps are set and how to measure a crab to determine if they are the size you can keep.

OBX Crabbing and Shrimping Charter

The boat holds a maximum of 6 passengers per charter, creating an intimate experience. Crabbing Season at its primary season is from Memorial weekend through October.

All legal catches are yours to keep during your charter and you have the option of a 2 or 4-hour charter.

Parasailing in Manteo, NC

8. Go Double Parasailing in Manteo

307 Queen Elizabeth Ave, Manteo, NC

Enjoy a relaxing boat ride before ascending several hundred feet in the air on a parasail.

Riders will experience an awesome aerial view of the Roanoke Sound while parasailing with Kitty Hawk Kites in Manteo.

Parasailing in Manteo, NC

You’ll need to arrive 30 minutes before your flight so that you have time to fill out waivers and watch the safety video. The staff at Kitty Hawk Kites takes safety very seriously.

They will also go over additional boat safety information before your parasailing adventure.

Parasailing in Manteo, NC

You don’t have to worry about getting wet because participants sit on the back of the platform of the boat

The process to and from the platform is gradual and the experience in the air is very peaceful.

mother and son Parasailing in Manteo, NC

Tips for Parasailing For the First Time

My biggest tip is to have faith to trust the equipment and enjoy the view if you’re scared of heights. Kitty Hawk Kites does offer a photo package if you don’t want to risk getting your camera wet.

The scheduled flights last about 10-12 minutes and you’ll spend about an hour to 1.25 hours on the boat.

If you don’t want to go up in the air you can purchase a ticket as an observer. Each day there are guaranteed observer spots on the first boat ride of the day in Manteo.

Parasailing in Manteo, NC

The Manteo location is better for larger groups because they can carry up to 12 passengers on the boat during the May-Sept season.

The minimum age to fly is 2-years-old and their oldest flyer was a 98-year-old woman. Kids under 10 years old have to ride with an older flyer.

brothers Parasailing in Manteo, NC

The weight limits will depend on several factors including, wind and sea conditions.

We had to be under 400 pounds due to the wind during our visit. The minimum weight is 150-175 and it’s definitely more fun to share the experience with another person.

Depending on the combined weight of the people in your party and the weather conditions, you could have the option to do a double or triple ride.

Wright Brothers National Memorial

9. Visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial

1000 North Croatan Highway, Kill Devil Hills, NC

plane Wright Brothers National Memorial

No trip to the Outer Banks is complete without visiting the site where aviation history was made.

At this site, Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first successful powered airplane flight on December 17th,1903.

exhibit at Wright Brothers National Memorial

Inside the visitor center, you’ll learn more about the Wright brothers with exhibits highlighting their life and work. The Wright Brothers grew up in Dayton, OH.

There are also reproductions of the 1902 glider and 1903 flyer. They even have artifacts from the original 1903 Wright Flyer.  I recommend starting inside and then working your way outside.

Wright Brothers National Memorial

You can walk the path with markers for the four flights by the Wright Brothers outside the visitor center.

Wright Brothers National Memorial

The path is flat and wheelchair and stroller-friendly.

Wright Brothers National Memorial

Big Kill Devil Hill

And you walk the flight path you can walk the path up to Big Kill Devil Hill which has a monument that honors the Wright Brothers and offers an incredible view.

Wright Brothers National Memorial
Wright Brothers National Memorial

If you don’t want to walk straight from the visitor center you can drive to a closer parking lot at the base of the hill.

Wright Brothers National Memorial
Wright Brothers National Memorial
Wright Brothers National Memorial
Wright Brothers National Memorial

The National Memorial to the Birthplace of Flight will help you appreciate the perseverance these brothers had to pursue in making their dream of flying a reality.

Wright Brothers National Memorial

Make sure that you stop at the flyer statue for a creative photo op before you leave the park.

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

10. Explore Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

14500 NC-12,Rodanthe, NC

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is a great stop on your way to Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.

There is a Visitor Center on-site to learn more about the area. You can also hike on two scenic trails, North Pond Wildlife Trail and Salt Flats Wildlife Trail.

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

If you take the trail make sure you put on lots of bug spray before you hike the trail. Also, be on the lookout for all types of wildlife.

snake at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

There are 25 species of mammals, 24 species of reptiles and 5 species of amphibians at the refuge made up of 25,700 acres of Proclamation Boundary waters and 5,834 acres of land.

I even discovered a snake near the fencing of the trail during my hike located near the visitor center.

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

The refuge is a popular birding spot with over 365 species and the best times to visit is in fall and winter. This is definitely worth a stop.

hang glider at Outer Banks

Bonus: Observe Beach Hang Gliding or Fly a Kite

If you are lucky, you might be at the beach when advanced hang gliders are catching air on the beach.

We recognized one of our instructors joined by other past and present hang gliding instructors taking turns in the air.

The winds by the beach are great for flying a kite if you’re looking for permit-free adventure.

Days Inn Wright Brothers by Wyndham

Where We Stayed in the Outer Banks

201 N Virginia Dare Trail, Kill Devil Hills, NC

We stayed at the Days Inn Wright Brothers by Wyndham. The property is centrally located on the Outer Banks with direct access to the beach.

Days Inn Wright Brothers by Wyndham

Our shared balcony gave us views of the ocean and the swimming pool.

Breakfast is included with your stay and there is a sand volleyball court, and grill onsite.

room at Days Inn Wright Brothers by Wyndham
room at Days Inn Wright Brothers by Wyndham

Our room also had two double beds, a seating area, a mini-fridge, a microwave, and a coffee maker.

The Outer Banks is a destination that will leave an impression on you and have you dreaming about how soon you can return from the moment you leave.

I can’t wait to go back!

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