OBX, USA: Walking Trails of the Outer Banks, North Carolina


Aerial view of the Outer Banks from Carolina Designs

I normally cover the southern Mediterranean but my U.S. home base is in the Outer Banks of North Carolina (affectionately dubbed the "OBX"). The Outer Banks is a series of barrier islands that extends for 200 miles (320 km) along the coast of Virginia and North Carolina, with sandy beaches and dunes along the ocean side and marshy wetlands facing inland along the Sound (a narrow waterway similar to a lagoon). The strip of land is extremely narrow -- sometimes only a few hundred meters/yards wide -- and the highest point is a sand dune, so you'd think the opportunities for nature walks would be few, but there are quite a few natural preserves and walking paths that you can enjoy between trips to the beach.


I've just discovered this marvelous place, the Nags Head Woods Nature Preserve, run by the Nature Conservancy. It's one of the largest remaining maritime forests on the U.S. East Coast and has an amazing variety of plant and animal life: over 550 species of plants, 150 species of birds, 50 amphibian species, and 20 mammal species. There are a handful of trails of various lengths and difficulty that lead you through forests of Loblolly Pines, into the wooded dunes, and out to the marshes.

Park Office at the Nags Head Woods Preserve

The park office was closed due to Covid but there was still a water fountain and a stack of brochures with maps so you can get oriented. Trail #4 goes out to the marshy coast:

Where the horizon shimmers like a mirage:

On my walk I saw a bald eagle, some osprey, a black snake, a bunch of squirrels, and a water snake that a local boy ran out to catch and then show his friends:


Trails #2 and #3 are marked "strenuous" but that's just the park's way of making sure you know what you're getting into. It's far from my industry's "strenuous" (which would be something like hiking in the Alps!) but includes a short wooden stairway and a few rises in the dunes. So if you're an able walker don't be put off by the label!

One of the very short "strenuous" climbs on trail #2

Here's some of the beautiful scenery you'll see along your walk:

Here's a track of my walk, with trail #1 being the easiest (suitable for my 80-year-old parents and even wheelchair accessible!) to the left, then trail #2 in the middle and #3 to the far right. I even managed to get in 70 m (230 ft) of climbing over the ~4 mile walk!

Beware, however, of the poison ivy!!!!

There's another small walk over at the Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Reserve. It's much shorter and has no dunes, but it's a pleasant walk mostly over a wooden walkway. There are covered overlooks for picnics, and benches along the way.

Walkway along the Kitty Hawk Coastal Reserve

According to Google Maps there were also hiking trails along the Sound-side in that same Kitty Hawk Preserve, and there used to be a park office, which now seems abandoned:

I biked down the road a bit and found this beautiful covered bridge:

And saw some women kayaking (indeed, there's tons of canals for canoe and kayak out here!):

But just after the bridge there were huge "Private Property" signs so I turned back. I assume that part of the park is now closed.


If you're in the area, you should also check out the Wright Brothers National Memorial, which commemorates the first airplane flight by Orville and Wilbur Wright in 1903. There's a big park area to walk in and it's also a fun area to bike in since there's a pretty big residential area out by the Sound.

Another lovely (and easy!) walk is along the fairly new Sound-side boardwalk in the village of Duck. It goes along some scenic wetlands but also by a series of shops and cafes so you can stop for a drink or an ice cream once your excursion is done. The water level was low last week so the underwater grasses were strikingly visible!

Walkway along the shops in Duck, NC

You can also see this gorgeous bald cypress, that I photograph every year:

Bald Cypress, Duck, NC

These are just a few of the parks and preserves along the Outer Banks, but it was enough to keep me busy for my short visit. If you're in the area, be sure to head north to the wild beaches of Corolla, where you can find wild horses on the beach, or down to the Nature Preserve on Pea Island, or go all the way down to the lighthouse at Buxton. And of course, when in doubt, there's always the Ocean <3

200 miles of beach along the Outer Banks, NC

I'll be back soon with more reports from Italy, but for now I'm happily on-the-road-again in my native United States. Thanks for coming along for the walk, and see you next time! If you've got some extra nickels and dimes in your pocket you can drop them into the tip jar (see "Tip your Guide") to help fund my next adventure (currently: Miami Beach!).


Ciao e alla prossima!


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