Outer Banks vs. Emerald Isle

It may be that the best way to think of Emerald Isle is as a mini Outer Banks. Part of the Chrystal Coast that includes Moorhead City and Beaufort on the mainland, the town is located on the western end of the Bogue Banks, a long thin barrier island that runs east to west. To the south, it’s bordered by Onslow Bay, although Onslow Bay is so open that it’s fair to think of the Atlantic Ocean as the waters of the shoreline.

The Beach Experience

The beaches, especially, are reminiscent of the Outer Banks. They tend to be fairly wide with good quality sand, and because Bogue Banks is 21 miles long, much like our shoreline, there is usually room to spread out. The 100 plus miles of Outer Banks beaches does provide more opportunities to enjoy the beach in solitude though.

Emerald Isle Beach
Emerald Isle Beach

Although the beaches of Emerald Isle and Bogue Banks are considered quite nice, as far as we can determine, no beach in the Chrystal Coast has ever been rated in the top ten annual list of Dr. Beach. Outer Banks beaches are regular visitors to the list.

It’s difficult to say why that is the case. Dr. Beach (Dr. Stephen Leatherman of Florida International University) uses a number of criteria in evaluating a beach. The quality of the beach itself is important, but another area he considers is access, and that is an area where Emerald Isle may have come up short.

Outer Banks Beach Aerial Summer 2020
Outer Banks Beach

Like many beach communities, Emerald Isle sees beach parking as a revenue opportunity and the town charges for beach parking in municipal parking lots. The fee for nonresidents is $10 per vehicle per day.

It is important to use the parking lots for beach access where the town maintains public access. The use of all North Carolina beaches is a public right from the dune line to the ocean. Access, however, is not, and crossing someone’s property to get to the beach is trespassing.

The Family Vacation

Both the Outer Banks and Emerald Isle are geared toward one and two week family vacations. Consequently the vast majority of lodging is homes, and like any beach destination, rentals on the ocean are the more expensive and distance from the shoreline determines cost.

There are some important differences to note, however.

Southern Shores NC Beachfront
Outer Banks Vacation Homes – Southern Shores

The Emerald Isle housing stock is older, with significantly fewer modern homes in the mix than are found on the Outer Banks. Many of the amenities our visitors have come to see as the norm—pools, gourmet kitchens, game rooms—are not going to found in an older home.

Another important difference, and the age of the housing stock probably plays a role in this, is that most of the homes are between two to four bedrooms. There are a smattering of five and six bedroom homes, but very little beyond that.

pine island NC south view
Outer Banks Vacation Homes – Pine Island

For many families four bedrooms will accommodate their needs, but we are finding more and more of our visitors are using their Outer Banks vacation as a time to gather family and close friends. For those visitors, a four bedroom home probably will not be sufficient.

Fishing

Environmental conditions are very similar between Emerald Island and the Outer Banks and consequently, the fishing is very similar.

Surf fishing especially is pretty much the same. Same goes for pier fishing, although an important difference is the number of fishing piers. The Outer Banks has seven fishing piers, with five of them north of Oregon Inlet. There is one fishing pier in Emerald Isle, and the only other fishing pier along the Bogue Banks is 18 miles away in Pine Knoll Shores.

Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier
Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier – The only pier on Emerald Isle

Bogue Banks does have a charter fleet, although it is not nearly as large as the Outer Banks. For the most part, the fleet is located on the eastern end of the Bogue Banks in Pine Knoll Shores or on the mainland in Beaufort or Moorhead City.

Sound fishing and near shore fishing is just about the same as it is on the Outer Banks. There are charters that go to the Gulf Stream. It is important to note that the distance to the Gulf Stream is significantly greater from Bogue or Beaufort Inlets than either Hatteras or Oregon Inlets.

Jennettes Pier Wind Turbine
Jennette’s Pier – One of the many fishing piers on the Outer Banks

From Hatteras Inlet the Gulf Stream, and best deep fishing is about 15-20 miles; it’s about 35 miles from Oregon Inlet. From Bogue Inlet the journey is about 50-60 miles, giving significantly less time before heading in.

Natural Areas

One area that the Outer Banks clearly outshines Emerald Isle and the Bogue Banks is in preserved natural areas.

The Theodore Roosevelt Natural Area is a 265 acre nature preserve on Bogue Sound. immediately adjacent to the natural area is the North Carolina Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium. It is the only preserved natural area on the Bogue Banks.

Bogue Sound, Emerald Isle
Bogue Sound, Emerald Isle

Pine Knoll Shores is about 20 miles from Emerald Isle.

Wetlands along the Cedar Point (Tideland) hiking trail in the Croatan National Forest near Emerald Isle, North Carolina
Emerald Isle Wetlands

On the other side of Bogue Sound, Croatan National Forest is roughly the same distance from Emerald Isle as Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is from the Outer Banks.

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge – Outer Banks

Much of the difference lies in how the two areas were developed. In 1937, before development began on the Outer Banks, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge was established on the north end of Hatteras Island. Twenty-two years later, in 1959 Cape Hatteras National Seashore become the nation’s first national seashore.

Kitty Hawk Woods Walking Trail
Kitty Hawk Woods – Outer Banks

Some of the difference may also be that there was a larger permanent population on the Outer Banks than Bogue Banks. It may have been that residents who had lived their lives in Kitty Hawk, understood how important it was to preserve Kitty Hawk Woods; or when developers wanted to build a golf course at Buxton Woods, the outcry from locals was powerful enough to create a truly unique maritime forest

Surfing

If there are good conditions from Buxton south to Ocracoke, there’s a good chance conditions will be pretty good at Emerald Isle beaches. The Outer Banks beaches are a little more open and will generally have a little bigger waves, but conditions will be roughly equivalent.

Of course, the opposite is true as well. If conditions are poor to barely rideable at Buxton, the same conditions will probably be found at Emerald Isle.

Zac Coyle Surfing OBX
Outer Banks Surfing

What the Outer Banks has that very few places have, and Emerald Isle is not one of them, is geography working in its favor.

The northern Outer Banks are configured almost due north and south. Below Cape Hatteras, it’s southwest to northeast.

There are other factors as well, including offshore shoals that focus wave energy, but because of the different configurations of the land, there is almost always something that can be surfed on the Outer Banks.

Transportation

One area that the Outer Banks and Emerald Isle are virtually identical is how to get there. For anyone lucky enough to have a boat that can navigate the Intercostal Waterway, that would be one way to get to the Bogue Banks. Otherwise, there are two bridges connecting the island to the rest of the world.

There are no airports on the island. The nearest airport with scheduled flights is the Albert J. Ellis Airport in Jacksonville, about 45 minutes away. The nearest major airport, Wilmington International Airport, about an hour and a half away.