The Outer Banks is home to an array of activities that suit all walks of life. This sacred stretch of sand is an ideal locale for adventurous hikers, families and vacationers who love a good walk in nature. From national refuges to small, but well maintained trails, a great walk is always at your fingertips from Corolla to Nags Head. Being one of the most unpopulated destinations on the east coast, the Outer Banks provides bird enthusiasts, nature lovers and the general outdoorsman ample opportunities to choose their own adventures!
One of the most beautiful trails to hike in Corolla is the Currituck Banks Natural Estuarine Preserve, a 965 acre barrier island and estuarine system stretching from sea to sound that is open year round sunrise to sunset. Take Hwy 12 north, past the Twiddy offices in the historic Corolla Village, and you will find the visitor parking for the boardwalk and trail located at the sharp turn in the road.
There are two paths you can take when exploring the preserve. The first is the ⅓ mile handicap accessible and elevated boardwalk complete with colorful and interactive signs about the local flora and fauna that leads directly to the sound. This path is great for young kids and the elderly as it is stroller friendly — no getting lost on this trail!
The second option is more primitive. This 1.5 mile hike begins as you jump off the boardwalk and head directly into the maritime forest. To guide your way you will follow the tall wooden beams painted with bright blue on the tops as you wander through the whispering water oaks back to the Currituck Sound. A insider tip from the locals: stop when you find a bench or tree, sit in silence for a few minutes letting your eyes gaze to the tops of the trees, past your immediate focal point and let your ears become in tune with nature. The great naturalist John Muir said it beautifully, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks” and this is especially true when you immerse yourself in this preserve
Heading south to the quaint town of Duck is a more relaxed and casual stroll that is perfect for family fun, sound side activities and stunning sunsets. The 11 acres of Duck Town Park is a mixture of maritime forest on the Currituck sound, willow swamp, an open lawn with an amphitheater and picnic shelters. This is centrally located to the fantastic shopping and eateries around town. Year round visitors and locals alike can find a place to launch their kayaks, watch sunsets, attend festivals with their children or just walk the boardwalk. Duck Town Park truly is a must see and folks would be remiss not to check it out!
The true hidden gem of the Outer Banks lies in the Kitty Hawk Coastal Preserve, also known as Kitty Hawk Woods, and it is undeniably one of the most coveted hiking trails on the island and is family friendly. If you are looking for an escape from the sand and sun, then grab your tennis shoes, pack a lunch, binoculars and head out for a day in our enchanted forest. Start at the information center where you can learn about the different wildlife that populates the area and also the efforts to maintain and preserve Kitty Hawk Woods.
From there choose from multiple walking paths that will lead you over an old covered bridge, to scenic water vistas, through densely covered trails all, while learning along the way! All trails have signs that will educate you about the maritime forests and on the wildlife that surrounds you. Local insider tip: don’t forget the bug spray! It is a low-lying preserve, so yes bugs do exist, but a good repellent will protect you and your family just fine!
In the next small, but bustling town of Kill Devil Hills, you will find a quiet retreat in the 1,092 acre Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve right in the heart of Dare County. It is a true year-round favorite among the locals, but you don’t have to be a local to use the park. Visitors too can enjoy the many walking and running trails, soundside vistas and boardwalks that are ADA accessible. There are stroller friendly areas and places to take in a secluded sunset. When you arrive make sure you register at the outdoor information center and bring plenty of water, no matter the length of the hike as it does get hot even under the shade of trees. Like all other parks in the Outer Banks, Nags Head Woods is free to enjoy, but donations to the Nature Conservancy are greatly appreciated.
Lastly, journey to one of the most popular parks in North Carolina, Jockey’s Ridge State Park. Located right off Hwy 158 in Nags Head, this park is hard to miss as the sand dunes stand 80’-100’ above the road! Here you will find hang gliders, kite enthusiasts and also hikers as the park not only offers endless sand dunes to explore, but like true deserts, an oasis. The self-guided trails, apart from the hike over the dunes, includes a 360-foot boardwalk equipped with interpretive displays with information on the plants and animals. It is perfect for the folks that prefer a shorter walk or to stay off of the sand. But don’t worry, you can still enjoy the grandeur of Jockey’s Ridge as you will be greeted with a bench at the end of the walk with a spectacular view of the dunes. For the more active walkers and estuary enthusiasts, the Soundside Nature Trail is a one-mile loop that begins in the soundside parking lot and leads to a beautiful water overlook that is perfect for an afternoon picnic or sunset retreat. The desert-like sand dunes of Jockey’s Ridge is a place where everyone can find happiness and make memories that will last a lifetime.
From sound to sea, the walking trails of the Outer Banks makes this stretch of sand one of the most uniquely and beautiful places to visit in the world. From the historical maritime forests to the wild and ever-changing sand dunes, our trails are the perfect playground for people of ages!
~ Allie Mayo
Source: Walking Trails of the OBX