One of the more remarkable characteristics of the Outer Banks is how varied to terrain is. Known as a beach resort, the rolling hills-actually relict sand dunes-and steep banks along the soundside are a surprising find for many visitors.
Tucked away among the dunes and forests that form the western edge of these barrier islands are vistas of the estuaries, water and land that are absolutely breathtaking.
Whenever a discussion turns to beautiful views on the Outer Banks, the panorama offered by a climb to the top of a lighthouse always comes up, and we’ll admit the view from the top is amazing. There are other places though, that are every bit as beautiful, every bit as remarkable, and best of all there will not be 30 people on the observation deck and another 30 waiting just below.
Some of these sites take a little effort to get to, but we assure you it’s worth it.
End of the Boardwalk, Currituck Banks Reserve
Heading north on NC 12, about a mile past the Whalehead Club in Corolla, the road takes a very sharp turn to the right. At that bend in the road, there is a small parking lot on the left hand side that is part of the Currituck Banks Reserve.
From this parking lot, there is a short (0.3 mile) boardwalk through the maritime forest that leads to the sound. It’s a very easy walk—handicap accessible—that ends at a small platform built over the Currituck Sound. The end of the boardwalk is located at a very narrow bay coming in from the sound, and it is a perfect meeting of a towering forest of pines and the waving grasses of a freshwater estuary.
The view across the northern Currituck Sound shows small islands dotting the waters and floating rafts of reeds. On a clear day, mainland Currituck is visible.
Nags Head Woods Dirt Road
The dirt road that twists and turns its way through Nags Head Woods is almost as astonishing and lovely as the end of the journey. At the end of the road though, there is a vista of Roanoke Sound looking across to Roanoke Island that is so picturesque it could be staged. Perched on a 20 foot bank and framed by arcing tree branches, it feels as if the entire world of Outer Banks sounds and estuaries is spread out before you.
There are two ways to access this unmarked road, referred to as Old Nags Head Road. Both entrances are in Kill Devil Hills. For easiest access, turn onto Ocean Acres at the light next to Pigman’s Barbecue, and follow the road past the Nags Head Woods Visitor Center. The road will become a dirt road and end at another perpendicular dirt road, where you will turn left.
The other option is to take Martin Street from the Bypass, heading away from the ocean. Martin Street will also turn into a dirt road and bend to the left. Stay on that road until it meets the sound.
This is also a great area for a mountain bike ride, or even for a more experience jogger.
Jockey’s Ridge State Park
If we had to choose one view quintessential of the Outer Banks, it would be the view from the top of Jockey’s Ridge sand dunes. The highest natural feature on the Outer Banks, its elevation varies between 80 and 100 feet depending on the season and wind conditions.
The thin separation between sound and sea is apparent from the top, and on clear days a number of features in surrounding towns can be seen. As memorable as these sights can be, we also recommend visiting Jockey’s Ridge closer to sunset. Stunning and unforgettable, sunsets over the dunes are an important part of the Outer Banks experience for many visitors.
South Side of Oregon Inlet
Over the Bonner Bridge and just past Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge spans a beautiful area known as Oregon Inlet. Park in the lot on the left hand side of NC 12, and explore the very easily navigated trails over the sand and even to the jetty rocks at the southern point of Oregon Inlet.
Looking back toward the Bonner Bridge, the entire system of sounds seem to spread out in a panorama. If the tide is right and there is boat traffic coming through the inlet, the view gets even better.