As one of the finest destinations to escape to on the East Coast, the Outer Banks offers scenery that is as good as it gets. Driving along the ocean or sounds, or just taking a walk almost anywhere, you’re sure to be filled with awe-inspiring moments and beauty.
For someone who has never been to the Outer Banks, the beauty can be hard to imagine. If you’re new to the area or thinking about visiting, we’ve put together a list of our favorite panoramic views on the Outer Banks.
There are three lighthouses the can be climbed on the Outer Banks: Cape Hatteras Light, Bodie Island, and Currituck Beach. All three offer spectacular bird’s eye views of the surrounding areas, and each is unique in its own way.
We do have a favorite, though, and although it is the highest and offers the widest view, it is not Cape Hatteras.
Sitting in a sparsely populated area among marsh and pine forests, Bodie Island Lighthouse in South Nags Head is the clear winner in our opinion. Looking across the marsh to the near waters, dotted with islands, an occasional building marking a hunt club and occasional duck blinds, there is a very real sense that this is what the Outer Banks looked like 100 years ago.
Check before going to any of the lighthouses. Seasonal restrictions and hours apply.
Jockey’s Ridge is one of those iconic sites that have come to symbolize the Outer Banks…and deservedly so.
The tallest natural sand dune on the East Coast, the height varies between 70’ and 110’, although in recent years, it has very rarely gotten to the taller elevation.
The park consists of a series of massive dunes with the largest and highest being Jockey’s Ridge. The view from the top is spectacular. Looking west, the dune slopes gradually to Roanoke Sound and Roanoke Island fills the horizon. To the east is the infinite expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, and the white foam of breaking waves can be easily seen. The sunsets from the top Jockey’s Ridge are as beautiful and memorable as any sunset anywhere.
Run Hill State Natural Area Dedicated Nature Preserve
Located in Kill Devil Hills behind First Flight Middle School, it will take some effort to get to Run Hill but it is absolutely worth it.
There are two ways to get to the top; park at the Middle School, the Preserve begins just past the baseball field.
The other possibility is more challenging, but worth the effort.
From the Nags Head Woods parking lot, turn left and then right at Old Nags Head Woods Road, which is the intersection. The road will bend to the left, and an unnamed paved road will be on the right. About 200 yards past that, there will be a metal bar across a dirt road. That’s the trail.
There will be ponds on either side of the trail. Follow it over the hill until it intersects with another trail. Turn right and keep walking. The trail is not part of the official Nags Head Woods trail system, but it is easy to follow and seems minimally maintained.
The end of the trail is a pretty steep climb that leads to an abrupt shift from verdant maritime forest to parched white sand dune. Run Hill.
This is as close as it gets to a mountain ridge view on the Outer Banks.
We’re including the Whalehead Club because 1) it’s immediately adjacent to Currituck Beach Lighthouse and 2) it does offer iconic views of the northern Outer Banks.
Don’t go for the usual stuff, though. The southwest tip of the property is a small peninsula that juts out into the Currituck Sound. At one time there was a thought that a private airport would be built there.
With camera in hand, that’s the place to go for a different view of Currituck Sound and the Whalehead Club. Yes, there are pictures galore just waiting to be snapped of the grounds, but the unique images are captured where very few people go.
North End of Roanoke Island
This is one of those hidden delights that is just waiting to be discovered.
Once upon a time, the only road connecting Manteo with the mainland crossed the William Umstead Bridge, a two-lane bridge on the north end of Roanoke Island. At that time it was US 64, but with the completion of the Virginia Dare Bridge, it is now the alternate route and is designated Old US64.
It’s very easy to find. Drive through the heart of Manteo and just keep going. Look for the turnoff to the right just before the bridge. There is a parking lot and a wonderful small picnic area there. Take a moment to read the historic marker about the Civil War naval battle that took place just off the point in 1862.
Looking across the waters of Croatan Sound, the heavily forested marsh and upland of Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge are apparent. A little to the left, on a clear day, Manns Harbor can be seen.
This is great place for a sunset view as well.
During the summer, check out what’s happening at the bridge. Every day at dusk, more than 100,000 purple martins return to the bridge to roost for the night. Every evening thousands of purple marlins return home to roost under the bridge.
The Wright Brothers Monument
Located in the heart of the most populated area of the Outer Banks, the Wright Brother’s Monument can hardly be missed. There is a nice paved path leading to the top of the hill. It is a bit of a steep climb but worth every bit of effort.
The monument itself offers a lot to see and admire, but what really makes that climb to the top memorable is the view. The only thing in the way of a full 360 degree panorama is the Monument itself.
Perched atop a stabilized dune, the monument soars an addition 60’ above the top of the 90’ hill. On a clear day, the visibility from that 90’ elevation is astonishing. The shining sand of Jockey’s Ridge, 4.5 miles south, can easily be seen. To the north, details of Kitty Hawk are clear.
The ocean is to the east and to the west there is dense forest and finally Colington Island. A nice additional feature is the site of the Wright Brothers historic flight is a really cool place to visit.