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OUTER BANKS INFO 2017-10-09T18:38:21+00:00

Outer Banks Info

Innkeeper’s Note

This season I met several guests visiting the Outer Banks for the first time, several others who were returning after a decade or more, and still others who visit often but enjoy venturing off the beaten path to find hidden secret spots. I thought it would be helpful if I wrote about the area from a local’s perspective instead of repeating the usual Outer Banks Info guidebook information, which you can find on what I think are the most useful sites for Area Information below. I hope this helps! Please feel free to contact me with any additional questions you might have. I look forward to helping you plan your trip.

Why the Sandbar?

Our Inn is located at MP 10.5 on the Beach Road, across the street from the beach next to a beach access. While you will have to cross the Beach Road to get on the sand, you will not have to cross the highway, and there’s a crosswalk that drivers are obligated to stop at when pedestrians are trying to cross. It’s a great central location for those who intend to see both the northern and southern beaches and is also located close to Roanoke Island, with the town of Manteo. The Tanger Outlets are less than five miles south; Jockey’s Ridge State Park is two miles south; The Wright Brothers’ Memorial is two miles north; and the inn is within a walking and biking of some of the best shops, galleries, and restaurants on the beach. It takes less than five minutes via car to get to Kill Devil Hills, about ten minutes to Kitty Hawk and 15 – 20 minutes to Roanoke Island. The drive to Hatteras is about an hour and fifteen minutes and the drive to Corolla is an hour with traffic, 40 minutes without. The town of Nags Head also has the most relaxed pet laws of all the towns for guests who bring their pets.

Blue Pronunciations Buttton

Sound Like the Locals

Pronunciations

To sound like a local, pronounce Manteo (man-tee-OH); pronounce Corolla (cah-rahl-la) – not like the Toyota; pronounce Rodanthe (road-an-thee) – with a long E at the end; pronounce Ocracoke (oh-kra-coke); and the Bodie Island Lighthouse is pronounced just like the word body.

Exploring the Outer Banks

Getting Around

A new visitor might wonder how best to see all the attractions of the Outer Banks. I hear often that it is difficult to discern driving distances and overall layout of the island, which is necessary information when choosing accommodations and the length of your vacation. Let me explain the basics.

There are only two main roads, so it’s hard to get lost. The By-pass (what locals call US Hwy 158) and the Beach Road (what locals call NC Rte 12, also named Virginia Dare Trail – North or South). These two roads run north and south, parallel to each other down the length of the middle banks. Highway 158 extends into North Carolina’s mainland while Route 12 extends to the northern and southern beaches of the Outer Banks.

Highway 158 Sign OBX

Croatan Highway 158

The By-Pass

The By-pass runs down the middle of the middle banks from Kitty Hawk to Nags Head and eventually meets 64/264-E on the NC mainland. It is a five lane, 50 mph road. On a day of busy summer traffic, it might take 35 minutes to get from MP 1 to MP 17, as there are several lights in the middle of the island. Traffic is heavy on the By-pass in the summer. We have several accidents each summer season because vacationers forget to relax and enjoy their journey or try to drive like they are still on a major interstate. The turn lane is often referred to as the “suicide lane” because making a left turn is nearly impossible and sometimes dangerous. I mention this to encourage traffic safety, not to scare anyone from driving here. For safety reasons, it’s always best to make that left-hand turn onto or off the by-pass at an intersection that has a stop light.

Highway 12 Sign Outer Banks

Highway 12 Virginia Dare Trail

The Beach Road

The Beach Road runs parallel to the By-pass along the beach from about MP 2 to MP 16. At MP 2 it turns north to serve as the only road to the northern beaches. At MP 16 it heads south to serve as the only road to the southern beaches. On the middle banks’ area, it serves as an alternate to the By-pass. It is a two lane, 35 mph road. If traffic is heavy and everyone’s head is turned toward the water, it may even be 25 mph. Drive time from one end of the beach to the other is longer, but for new, old or relaxed drivers the Beach Road offers a calmer and usually safer ride. It is heavily trafficked by pedestrians, so please pay attention.

yellow Crosswalk Sign

Enjoy a Nice Stroll

Walking & Biking

From our Inn you can walk to numerous bars, restaurants, gift shops and a Food Lion grocery store, which is two and a half blocks away. Cycling on the beach road is fantastic, there’s a dedicated path the pedestrians use for casual riding and wide shoulders on both sides of the road for the more serious rider. My only advice is to ride into the wind first so you can have the wind to your back on your ride home.

Getting Around

Mileposts

When you drive across the bridge from the North Carolina mainland (Currituck County) from Hwy 158-S, or across the southern bridge from US 64-E, take note of the green mileposts that count each half mile. Most direction-giving and business location information references the nearest milepost. MP 1 begins as soon as you cross the north bridge onto the island in Kitty Hawk. The mileposts mark ascending distance all the way to Hatteras, at MP 74 or so. They resume on the island of Ocracoke but do not count the distance of the ferry ride. The “middle banks” from Kitty Hawk to Nags Head are roughly 17 miles long and this is the area where mileposts are most relevant for getting around.

Day Trip Up North

The Northern Beaches

Around MP 2 on the By-pass are big green highway signs announcing the turn off Route 12 (the Beach Road) north toward the towns of Duck and Corolla. The first ten miles of this drive runs through Southern Shores, which is a residential community. As the speed limit becomes 25 mph, you will enter the town of Duck. Duck has the best concentrated area of shopping on the Outer Banks and is one of the only areas where you can park your car and walk around in a central location (Manteo being the other). However, there aren’t any public beach accesses even though the beach is a public place (zoning trickery in favor of the homeowners) so plan to visit Duck but not swim there. Duck features good restaurants and the park there has a busy activity schedule in the summer with concerts, tai chi and play times for children. Everything is a little more expensive there. Another fifteen miles on a mostly 45 mph drive brings you to the town of Corolla, (you also switch from Dare to Currituck County), home of the Currituck Lighthouse, which you can climb. Corolla is a more exclusive area, marked by gigantic houses which are worth seeing simply for scale. The Timbuck II shopping center houses awesome shops and restaurants and is not to be missed, though those who don’t like congestion should avoid the parking lot at all costs and park across the street. It is overwhelming in the summer season. The road north eventually ends, but you can continue driving on the sand with four-wheel drive to the beach community of Corova, which is accessible only by vehicle at low tide. This is where the wild horses live. If you don’t have a 4X4, you can rent a Jeep or take a driven tour. The sand is finer and it’s neat to see the houses built on the sand. The horses like cool weather, so a trip north is great on a cloudy or rainy day.

Red Brick Currituck Lighthouse
Corolla Wild horses on the beach
Duck Deli North Carolina Fish Dish
Reflection on the water of Whalehead Club Corolla North Carolina

Day Trip Down South

The Southern Beaches

Driving south on the By-Pass or Beach Road, around MP 16, are another set of big green highways signs announcing the turn south of Route 12, taking you to Oregon Inlet, Rodanthe and Hatteras. This is the route to Ocracoke Island as well. The first half of the drive is protected national seashore so there is no development. None. This section of the Outer Banks gives you an idea of what it looked like pre-beach house, pre-Burger King, pre-paved roads. The sea oats wave in the wind and there are a few places to stop and see the ocean. The sand gets finer the farther south you drive, and the water gets warmer, as this area sticks farther out into the Gulf Stream than the middle and northern banks, which marks the spot where the Labrador and Gulf currents meet. Incidentally, the meeting of these two currents is what makes the Outer Banks a first-class fishing hole.

Oregon Inlet is a popular spot for the Fourth of July and Memorial and Labor Day weekends. You can drive out on the beach and park next to the water, drop your cooler in the sand and put some poles in the water. It’s also a big fishing spot, along with Roanoke Island, where you can charter a boat. Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is also on the way featuring trails and information about the local flora and fauna.

The towns of Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Buxton, etc. all run together like the towns of the middle banks. The only real distinction between them geographically is a sign reading “Welcome to (fill in the town)”. Incidentally, the very first house on the left once you enter Rodanthe is the house from the Nicholas Sparks movie. There are some good local eateries, artists’ wares and shopping throughout these towns. Also, the best surf is down this way but you’ll have to call a surf shop for exact locations.

Finally, the town of Hatteras with its Cape and Lighthouse, which you can climb, bring the south road to an end. From there you can take the free NC ferry to the island of Ocracoke to see its lighthouse, the local wild ponies, and the national park there. The sand is gorgeous and the water is the warmest of the Outer Banks. Guests have described Ocracoke as an artist/fishing community. Charter boats are available from both of these towns.

Please note that while a trip to Hatteras can be done in half a day, a trip to Ocracoke from our inn is a full day. Many people fail to calculate all the things to do on the drive to Hatteras, which makes it longer than an hour and fifteen-minute drive. Then they add a 45-minute ferry ride without calculating the waiting time for the ferry on either end of the trip (ferries run every 30 minutes in season, every hour off season), and the docking and unloading time, not to mention sight-seeing on the island itself. Guests who visit Ocracoke should leave early in the day and expect to eat lunch and possibly dinner while away, getting back 8 – 10 hours later.

Bodie Island Lighthouse during sunset
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse by Michelle A. Sanchez
Pea Island Nation Wildlife Refuge Sunset View

Visit the Outer Banks Historical Town

Roanoke Island & Manteo

Instead of turning south on Rte 12 toward Hatteras at those big green road signs, you have the option to go west from Highway 158, which takes you across another bridge to the NC mainland. Manteo is the home of Fort Raleigh, Lost Colony Theater, NC Aquarium, Elizabethan Gardens, Roanoke Island Festival Park, great antiquing and shopping as well as wonderful local restaurants. Manteo is another location where you can park your car and walk around the waterfront and town center. It’s easy to spend a half day enjoying the area. Don’t miss the fifth lighthouse here, located on the sound waters.

Monarch Butterfly on pink Flower at the Elizabethan Gardens
Elizabeth II Docked at Festival Park in Manteo, NC
Manteo Waterfront Lighthouse View

Last Word

Finally, if this is your first time to the Outer Banks I would be remiss not to inform you about change-over day (the day the rental houses switch weekly tenants). On the weekends, mostly Saturday and to a significant extent Sunday as well, all the outgoing families head off the island before noon while all the incoming families head onto the island after noon. As there is only one road north, one road south and two roads in the middle responsible for delivering all of these vehicles full of families to their vacation destination, it is inevitable that traffic will be congested and slow. In-bound traffic from the north often backs up on a Saturday afternoon 20 – 30 miles from the bridge onto the island. People sit idle for hours on the bridge waiting for traffic to move. The turn north from Hwy 158 onto Hwy 12 to get to Duck, which is easily a ten-minute drive in the winter, can take three hours on a Saturday. Often families find this out at the end of a six, ten or thirteen-hour drive just when everyone is ready to get out of the car and tempers are thin. A good solution is to come in a day or two early (note that not many accommodations offer one-night stays on the weekend) or plan your arrival time for early Saturday morning and hit the beach after breakfast until your accommodation is ready. I will make every effort to accommodate your travel schedule to help you avoid this mess. Not being bound to the weekly change-over schedule is one of the perks of staying at the Sandbar.

Going home is not much fun either if you leave between 8 am and noon. Your best bet is to get up very early, or to plan to sunbathe until after lunch. The northbound bridge is usually clear by one o’clock.

Area Information

The Outer Banks of North Carolina Logo

Dare County funded site offers information on where to play, and where to eat.
This site sponsors the Visitor’s Guide full of local information on the area.

Outer Banks - Visitors Guide Logo

This site features local history, regional information, specific community details, area and waterway maps, and weather.

OBX Surf Info Logo

Outer Banks Surf info and
information on water
sports and events around the area.