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Off the coast of North Carolina, you'll find a group of barrier islands called the Outer Banks. The breathtakingly beautiful beaches and state and national parks make it the ideal location for real relaxation that you cannot find in a busy resort or city. The best place to recharge and reconnect with nature, check out our guide to where to adventure both on – and off – the beaten path.

One of the easiest ways to get to the Outer Banks from the mainland is to simply fly into Raleigh and then embark on a three-and-a-half-hour drive. Alternatively, touching down in Norfolk, Virginia will get you more than an hour closer, and leave you with an even smoother (roughly two-hour) drive.

Heading south from Norfolk, you'll pass through small farming towns, like Grandy. Make a pitstop at one of the many roadside stands for fresh produce or at H2O Water Park in Powells Point to cool off before officially hitting the island.

Next up is the town of Kitty Hawk, where the Wright Brothers made their first flight back in 1903. From there, head north to the town of Duck. Go even farther north to Currituck, where you can rent off-road vehicles and see wild horses. The town of Duck is worth the stop. A beautiful coastal town that's slightly more upscale, with excellent dining and leisure options, plus ample surrounding nature.

By Board

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Visit North Carolina
outer banks kite boarding
Gear Patrol Studios

Kill Devil Hills gives you access to the water just blocks away in any direction and has a warm, residential feel. Here, you can devour local seafood straight from the market by hitting up Billy's Seafood or Endurance Seafood, which specializes in blue crab. For adventure, you can forget overcrowded theme parks and resort pools and head to Avalon Pier to watch the local surfers catch a wave. While you are there, check out Kitty Hawk Kites near Jockey's Ridge State Park in Nags Head to rent boards and learn the basics before hitting the surf yourself.

Continue south through the Outer Banks until you hit Hatteras Island. Grab some sticky buns at The Dancing Turtle or some of Orange Blossom Bakery's famous "Apple Uglies" and head to the shore. For those looking to spend some time in the water, head to Kite Club Hatteras. Their team offers fantastic lessons for beginners in a stretch of shallow water in Pamlico Sound, so you don’t have to worry about avoiding any boats, jet skis, kayakers or swimmers.

By Kayak

springer's point on ocracoke island with kayakers and sailboat
Chris Council and Emily Chaplin
outer banks kayaking
Gear Patrol Studios

Up for some nature, history and gimmick-free pirate adventuring? Continue south via ferry to Ocracoke, where you can experience Pirates of the Caribbean; for real. This area off North Carolina is known as the 'Graveyard of the Atlantic' for a reason, as many shipwrecks have made their untimely end here. Accessible by a short ferry ride, it's an area you do not want to miss.

Here, you can enjoy sea kayaking and spot wild horses in their natural habitat. Stop by 1718 Ocracoke Brewing for a fresh, delicious brew. And for caffeine lovers, make sure you hit up Ocracoke Coffee Company for a world-famous cup of coffee or smoothie.

To take in more of the surrounding nature and history, visit Springer's Point, a gorgeous 122-acre nature preserve that includes a short 0.80-mile trail that winds through a maritime forest, salt marsh and wet grasslands before ending at a sound-side beach overlooking Teach’s Hole — the place where Blackbeard the pirate was killed in 1718.

By Ferry

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Visit North Carolina
outer banks
Gear Patrol Studios

Complete your trip on the Cedar Island Ferry to the Crystal Coast, an 85-mile stretch of coastline that extends from the Cape Lookout National Seashore. The preserve includes 56 miles of protected beaches with wild horses, southwestward to the New River. Once you arrive, there are tons of things to do. Plus, at the end of the day, you can slow down to peruse an art gallery or take in some locally-made beer and spirits at a brewery or distillery. So whether you want to get outdoors and enjoy the water and local parks, or simply take in the town with a guided tour, the Outer Banks are sure to deliver a recharging vacation – you won't need a vacation from.