Discover the Best North Carolina Beaches at the Outer Banks

2024 Outer Banks Beach Guide

North Carolina’s Outer Banks beaches, an exquisite stretch of over 320 miles of shoreline, offer a serene escape for visitors and locals alike. Most beaches are located on the Barrier Islands. The sounds separate the islands from the mainland, they are north to south: Currituck, Albemarle, Roanoke, Croatan, Pamlico, Core, and Bogue Sound.

What makes North Carolina’s Outer Banks beaches special? The Outer Banks of North Carolina boast more than 320 miles of diverse coastline with a variety of beaches on barrier islands, separated from the mainland by sounds.

Before visitors tackle the limitless outdoor adventure opportunities the Outer Banks provides, it’s wise to stock up on goods and information along the 16-mile stretch of Bodie Island that’s home to the towns of Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nag’s Head. Kitty Hawk is home to the Visitors Centers, which provide lots of handy and pertinent tips for enjoying your stay. There are accommodations throughout the islands, and chances are you can find a hotel, motel, B&B; or private campground or cottage anywhere from Duck to Stumpy Point.

Nags Head

Nags Head is on the NC Outer Banks near Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills. There are 11 miles of beaches here. It has parking, a lifeguard, and dunes, and is handicap accessible. Nags Head is one of the oldest beach resorts on the NC Coast. It is a beautiful beach and is near the National Seashore. It would make a wonderful destination for a honeymoon, wedding, or just a romantic weekend getaway.

Nags Head, North Carolina
Nags Head, Outer Banks, NC

Jockey Ridge State Park NC

Jockey Ridge State Park is the tallest dune on the east coast. It is 140 ft tall. It is said that Jockey Ridge holds magic powers of love for any young couple that walks together to its ridge. Jockey Ridge is the tallest dune on the US east coast. The winds change the appearance of Jockey’s Ridge constantly. On a hot day, the sand can easily reach 150 degrees so if you are planning to climb the dune, be sure to wear something on your feet. The state park is located near Nags Head. It’s a good place to go hand gliding or fly a kite.

Jockey's Ridge State Park
Jockey Ridge State Park by razvan.orendovici

Local Legends

There is an old legend of Nags Head that says that a long time ago the people of Nags Head would lure ships towards land at night by tying a lantern around a horse’s neck and walking him in a manner devised to look at a distance like the light of a ship at anchor, to cause the ship to wreck and break apart so they could salvage the cargo for their gain. A Nag is an old horse. Of course, there is no truth in this.

Beach at Kitty Hawk

Kitty Hawk is located on the NC Outer Banks next to Kill Devil Hills. It is most famous for the Wright Brothers’ first flight in a glider. There are 3.5 miles of beaches here. There are restrooms, parking, lifeguards, fishing, dunes, showers, and a bathhouse here.

Kitty Hawk beach
Kitty Hawk, North Carolina beach

The Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Preserve is nearby. This is a maritime forest with a swamp and marsh. Wildlife in the area are deer, otters, birds, waterfowl, wood ducks, songbirds, herons, egrets, and more. There are hiking trails here too.

Kill Devil Hills

The regional access to the beaches is at Ocean Bay Boulevard which is located off US 158. Kill Devil Hills has 4.7 miles of beaches.  There is parking, restrooms, dunes, and lifeguards. Plenty of good fishing spots too. It’s quite windy here. Kill Devil Hills is located near Kitty Hawk and Nags Head on the North Carolina Outer Banks. There are some beautiful beaches here. It is the location where the Wright brothers flew the first airplane glider. Kitty Hawk is where they sent the telegram telling of their success.

Kill Devil Hills Beach
Beach, Kill Devil Hills by mhabegger1

The Wright Brothers National Monument is located in Kill Devil Hills on the NC outer banks. the monument is 60 ft. high and sits atop a 90 ft. hill. The site commemorates the first powered flight by Wilbur and Orville Wright in 1903. There is a museum and a reconstructed hangar here also.

Roanoke Island

Roanoke Island is located between the mainland and Bodie Island or Currituck Banks where Nags Head is located. It is separated from the mainland by the Croatan Sound and separated from Bodie Island by the Roanoke Sound. You can get to Roanoke Island from the mainland via the Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge which is also Hwy. 64 and Highway 264. To cross the Roanoke Sound to Bodie Island take the Washington Baum Bridge across the Roanoke Sound.

Roanoke Island
Roanoke Island beach by NCDOTcommunications

Roanoke Island is an ideal place to spend the day exploring. Go camping, hiking, boating, fishing. Visit the NC Aquarium, Elizabeth II State Historic Site, and Fort Raleigh Nationa Historic Site. Explore the wetlands. See the outdoor play, the Lost Colony. Check out the Elizabethan gardens during the summertime.

There are 2 main towns on the island, Manteo, and Wanchese. In the Manteo area, (north side of the island) see the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, Waterside Theatre, Linsay Warren Visitors Center, Roanoke Island Festival Park, North Carolina Aquarium, and Dare County Airport Recreation Area. Shop at Manteo’s Waterfront shops. Wanchese, on the southeast side of the island, is a fishing village with public boating access. Boating access locations are at Manteo and Wanchese. There is another boat ramp at the Dare County Airport recreation area.

Cape Hatteras

Hatteras Island is located on the outer banks of the NC Coast. 85% of the island is owned by the federal government meaning it’s mostly a national seashore. That also means that 85% can’t be developed which translates into a beautiful natural seashore.

Cape Hatteras lighthouse
Cape Hatteras lighthouse

Cape Hatteras North Carolina was listed as number 8 in the top ten list of best beaches in the USA today in May. It’s no wonder cause this is a beautiful vacation spot. The beach is the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and extends over 75 miles along the North Carolina Outer Banks. This was the first national seashore established in the USA. The national park includes a lighthouse at Buxton. You can find a visitor center and lodging here too. If you want to camp here, there is a fee. Other visitor centers are at Bodie Island and Ocracoke. Last year, Ocracoke was listed as the number 1 beach in the US.

One of the better surfing areas on the NC outer banks is Cape Hatteras. It is mentioned in books as an important surfing area in the USA. Anyway, if you are going surfing, you should always think about safety. The first thing you should know is how to swim. Never surf alone. quit when you are tired. Watch out for the board. It can fly out from under you and hit you. Try to avoid a wipeout. Know the best way to fall. Know your skill level. Know the surfing area as in learning the waves, currents, undertows, riptides, undercurrents, and what the bottom of the ocean is like in the area you are surfing. Ask the locals who surf. Be your best by knowing as much as you can about Watersports.

The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum is in Hatteras off the NC coast on the Outer Banks. The museum covers 400 years of maritime history. It has artifacts from Native American tribes that used to live in the area as well as artifacts from the Civil War.


Buxton is located on Hatteras Island on the North Carolina Outer Banks. It’s near the lighthouse. Most places to stay have swimming pools. Because of the beauty here, this area would make a romantic wedding or honeymoon destination.

Buxton Woods is located near the town. The woods are 3 miles across. There is a nature trail here. Wildlife in these woods includes deer, raccoons, mink, and cottonmouth snakes. If you visit here, please stay on the trails for your safety. Plants in the woods include Pine, Cedar, and Oak trees and native orchids.

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

A very good place to go bird-watching is at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge near Buxton. It was established in 1938 to protect the southern wintering grounds of the white snow geese and other waterfowl. The Refuge is on the Atlantic Flyway for migratory birds and a haven for all wildlife. It starts at Oregon Inlet and extends to just outside the village of Rodanthe.

The Refuge area is maintained by the US Fish & Wildlife Service. In mid-February, Black Buxton’s, Gadwalls, Blue & Green-winged Teals, and Ring Neck Pheasants all begin nesting here. There are over 300 species of birds on the refuge. Other birds include songbirds, hawks, and gulls. Other wildlife include raccoon, mink, otter, and muskrat.

Silver Lake

Silver Lake is on Ocracoke Island which is on the NC Outer Banks. It is a beautiful place to be at sunset. You can fish or crab here. There are a few marinas in the area. Residents call it the creek.

Ocracoke Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse on the NC coast. It is the 2nd oldest lighthouse in the nation. The oldest is the Sandy Hook Lighthouse in New Jersey. The Ocracoke Lighthouse is located off NC 12. Its light is visible 14 miles out to sea.

The wild ponies on Ocracoke Island are in fenced pastures to keep them from getting onto the highway. The National Park Service feeds the ponies every day. A veterinarian tends to the animals when medical care is needed. Like all the wild horses on the coast of NC, it is thought that these ponies are descendants of Spanish mustangs that survived a shipwreck hundreds of years ago.

In the Area

The Hatteras Ferry goes from Hatteras Village to Ocracoke Island. The ferry service is first come first serve. It departs every 30 minutes and is available from the middle of April until the middle of October. What’s cool about the ride is that seagulls follow the boat hoping you will feed them. Some of the birds are tame enough to eat from your hands.

North Carolina Hatteras Class ferry Kinnakeet
North Carolina Hatteras Class ferry Kinnakeet by Jed

Portsmouth Island is on the Outer Banks of NC. It is located across the Ocracoke Inlet. It is a part of the North Core Banks and is within the Cape Lookout National Seashore. There is a ferry to the Island from Ocracoke Island. You will need to bring drinking water with you and take your trash back with you as there are no facilities on the island.

Ocracoke Island Beach

Ocracoke Beach is maintained by the National Park Service. It is located on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It is an excellent beach with a gradual slope into the ocean making this a good location for swimming. This beach is 5 miles long. There is a bathhouse with a shower here. If you bring your pet, it must be on a leash.

Ocracoke Island Beach
Ocracoke Island Beach

According to MSN Travel, Ocracoke Beach was named the best beach in the USA topping Florida and Hawaii beaches. The beaches are undisturbed and unspoiled. There are lifeguards here too. This is my idea of a vacation when you can get away from it all. I’ve been to Atlantic City New Jersey Beach, it was so crowded you could barely find a place in the sand. Ocracoke Island is a part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and is located on the North Carolina coast.

In the Area

The Hatteras Ferry goes from Hatteras Village to Ocracoke Island. The ferry service is first come first serve. It departs every  30 minutes and is available from the middle of April until the middle of October. What’s cool about the ride is that seagulls follow the boat hoping you will feed them. Some of the birds are tame enough to eat from your hands.

Portsmouth Island is on the Outer Banks of NC. It is located across the Ocracoke Inlet. It is a part of the North Core Banks and is within the Cape Lookout National Seashore. There is a ferry to the Island from Ocracoke Island. You will need to bring drinking water with you and take your trash back with you as there are no facilities on the island.

Elizabeth City

Elizabeth City is where you will find the Coast Guard. It is a port city. You can go sailing and boating in the ocean from here. Yachts from around the world dock here and it is one of the attractions of the city. It is a rest spot or a refueling spot for many who travel the inter-coastal waterway.

Leaving Elizabeth City, NC
Leaving Elizabeth City, NC by Ben Eriksen

Due to the close vicinity of the ocean, fish is in abundance. When you visit here, be sure to eat at one of the fine area seafood restaurants. You can go fishing. Take a charter boat to the Gulf Stream. It is a beautiful area to visit.

Visit Elizabeth City’s historic district, the antebellum commercial district, the Museum of the Albemarle, and Port Discover.

Atlantic Beach

Atlantic Beach is a very good vacation spot for the family. There are oceanfront hotels, cottages, beach vacation rental homes, and plenty of other places to stay in the area. Atlantic Beach is a good place to stay cause of its central location. Here you’ll find the southern shores of the NC Outer Banks.

atlantic beach nc
Atlantic Beach, NC

Visit Fort Macon, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, Pine Knoll Shores North Carolina Aquarium, and see more places of interest. Go Scuba diving for sunken treasure or explore the ocean from below. Near Atlantic Beach, there’s an exhibit based on Blackbeard’s flagship the Queen Anne’s Revenge which is in the Beaufort Inlet. Blackbeard and pirates are always fascinating to kids. At the shipwreck, through a window onboard you can see the wreckage of a German U-352 submarine from WWII. The waters around the Outer Banks are known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic so there are lots of shipwrecks to explore when scuba diving. You can take a ferry to Cape Lookout and spend the day looking for seashells with your kids. You might get to see some wild horses swimming in the surf, too.

When we went to Atlantic Beach NC, we always went to the fishing pier. We happened to have gone to the beach when the King Mackerel were running. I will never forget they made the person who caught a king mackerel for the first time cut the tail off the fish and hang it around their neck. Anyway, I remember someone caught a shark. It was always fun to see what the fishermen were catching. I liked to look into the water below the pier and watch the fish and rays swim about too.

There’s more to see at Atlantic Beach NC than just the ocean. Visit Fort Macon State Park, the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, and the Theodore Roosevelt Natural Area. Also nearby is the colonial town of Beaufort and the Morehead City waterfront. Charter a boat for deep-sea fishing in the Gulf Stream or take a ferry out to Cape Lookout. Each of these attractions is well worth visiting. In Beaufort, take the historic tour of the old jail. The interpretive guides are very interesting as they tell the story of Colonial NC.

Fort Macon

We visited Fort Macon many years ago when my kids were small. Fort Macon is near Atlantic Beach NC. The tour was self-guided. I took pictures of my kids in front of the canon. The Fort was built in the 1830s under the command of Robert E. Lee. It was occupied by Union forces during the Civil War. The Fort was also garrisoned by troops during World War 2 as an observation base. There is a nature trail, picnic areas, and a beach. There is a great view of the ocean here too. Well worth your trip if you are in the area.

New Bern

New Bern is located along the NC Coast in Craven County. There is no beach here. the closest beaches are 35 miles away. However, the town is on the Neuse River so there’s lots of outdoor recreation available. The town was first settled by the Swiss and Germans. It is North Carolina’s first capital. Tryon Palace was the governor’s palace in colonial days. The soft drink Pepsi was invented here as a medicine for stomach ailments. The first chartered school in North Carolina started here.

After the Rain | New Bern, NC
After the Rain | New Bern, NC by Zach Frailey

Downtown New Bern is located 35 miles from the NC beaches. New Bern, the second oldest town in NC, founded in 1710, was the capital of NC during the British colonial days. Bern is a German word meaning Bear and in both the Swiss capital and New Bern the bear symbol is found throughout the city. At the heart of town is Tryon Palace, built for the British Colonial Governor- William Tryon in 1770. New Bern sits at the fork of two rivers, the Trent and the Neuse. Pepsi was invented in New Bern along with many more firsts to be accomplished during the colonial days

Full List of Outer Banks Beaches

Northern Outer Banks

  • Carova Beach, North Swan Beach, Swan Beach, Ocean Beach
  • Currituck National Wildlife Refuge
  • Currituck Banks National Estuarine Research Preserve
  • Corolla – Currituck Lighthouse.
  • Duck
  • Kill Devil Hills
  • Kitty Hawk
  • Wright Brothers National Monument
  • Nags Head
  • Jockey Ridge State Park
  • Roanoke Island
  • Fort Raleigh
  • Manteo
  • Wanchese
  • Bodie Island – lighthouse
  • Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
  • Rodanthe
  • Waves
  • Salvo
  • Avon
  • Cape Hatteras – lighthouse
  • Cape Hatteras National Seashore
  • Buxton
  • Frisco
  • Ocracoke Island – lighthouse
  • Portsmouth
  • Cedar Island
  • Cape Lookout National Seashore – lighthouse
  • Harkers Island
  • Shackleford Banks

Albemarle Sound – Inner Banks – East at Roanoke Island

  • Elizabeth City
  • Edenton

Pamlico Sound Inner Banks – East of Hatteras Island

  • Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge
  • Pettigrew Wildlife Refuge
  • Bath
  • Pamlico Scenic By-way

Southern Outer Banks – Crystal Coast

  • Beaufort
  • Morehead City
  • Atlantic Beach
  • Havelock
  • Croatan National Forest
  • New Bern – inland, closet beaches are 35 miles away
  • Pine Knoll Shores
  • Theodore Roosevelt Natural Area
  • Indian Beach East
  • Indian Beach West
  • Salter Path
  • Emerald Isle


There are lots of seafood festivals, events, and fishing tournaments taking place all year round throughout the North Carolina Coastal Region

  • Cape Lookout National Seashore
  • Wright Brothers Monument and Museum
  • Elizabethan Gardens,
  • Fort Raleigh
  • The Lost Colony Play
  • The replica of the Queen Elizabeth
  • Jockeys Ridge State Park
  • Carteret General Hospital
  • Ft Macon State Park
  • Historic Beaufort
  • Morehead City Waterfront
  • North Carolina Aquarium
  • North Carolina Maritime Museum
  • Worthy is the Lamb
  • Josiah Bell House Beaufort North Carolina
  • Windsurfing
  • Deep-sea fishing
  • Surf fishing
  • Scuba diving
  • Water skiing
  • Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
  • Museum of the Albemarle Elizabeth City
  • Home to the US Coast Guard Elizabeth City
  • Cherry Point Marine Air Station
  • Air Museum
  • Beaufort Waterfront
  • Carolina Pottery
  • National Forest
  • Crystal Coast Fishing
  • Hamptons Mariners Museum
  • Jungle Land
  • Ocracoke Ferry
  • Dismal Swamp Canal Visitor Center South Mills
  • Carteret County Museum of History and Art
  • Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum
  • Port of Plymouth Civil War Museum Plymouth
  • National Seashore
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