Sun, salt spray, and sand are the main ingredients for a traditional Outer Banks vacation. Here on the North Carolina coast, where barrier islands bare the brunt of the Atlantic Ocean, families have been coming for decades to enjoy not only those aspects of summer but some of the best fishing along the Atlantic coast. The experience is so good that the National Seashore concept was born right here in 1937 when Congress authorized Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
Stretching more than 70 miles from Nags Head south to Ocracoke Inlet, the seashore draws those interested in history (during World War II the waters off the national seashore were thick with German U-boats that time and again targeted, and sank, unprotected merchant ships), surfcasting (fishing is particularly good in the fall when drum and bluefish are running), or simply flying a kite and enjoying the surf.
Towns that dot the seashoreâ Nags Head, Rodanthe, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco, Hatteras Village, and Ocracokeâare all popular destinations. So picturesque and romantic is Rodanthe that it was the backdrop for a 2008 movie starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane, Nights in Rodanthe. But the other towns are steeped in that seaside charm, too.
Visitors have a rich variety of activities to choose from: bird watching here along the Atlantic Flyway, shell hunting (winter and fall offer some of the best finds), fishing, of course, and solitude for early risers, late evening strollers, or simply walkers heading up or down the beach away from any crowds.
Campers have four campgrounds to considerâat Oregon Inlet, Frisco, Ocracoke, and Cape Pointâand lighthouse lovers have three to admireâ Ocracoke Light, Bodie Island Light, and Cape Hatteras Light (though access is only permitted to the last two).
History fans will find the restored Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station of interest. Crews from that station gained fame in 1918 when they braved burning waters to save 42 from the Mirlo, a gasoline-carrying British steamship that hit a mine planted by a German U-boat. The explosion ignited a layer of gasoline atop the ocean waters. According to historical accounts, the men rowed their surfboat through a âhellish environment that blistered paint on their boat, burned their skin, and singed their hair and clothing...â
If You Go
Plan far ahead to make lodging reservations, as Cape Hatteras has a deep and loyal following of vacationers. Spring and fall are the best times to fish; by the middle of summer fishing is best offshore. Winter fishing can be productive, but the weather is harsh and sometimes dangerous.
Winds that sweep across Pamlico Sound on the back side of the barrier islands produce excellent windsurfing and kite boarding. Many windsurfers and kite boarders use the Salvo Day Use and Haulover day use areas on Hatteras Island.
Ocracoke Inlet was the favorite anchorage of the notorious pirate Blackbeard (Edward Teach). Blackbeard was finally killed in a battle near there on November 22, 1718. His decapitated body was thrown overboard into the inlet.