The Outer Banks in North Carolina is one of our very favorite beach destinations! From miles and miles of gorgeous oceanside property, to the barrier islands’ rich history, there is so much to do and see. You can travel back through time and explore the site of the Wright Brothers’ first flight, plus learn about early habitation by Native American tribes such as the Algonquins, Chowanog, and Poteskeet and even the famous Lost Colony.
No matter what your travel style, the Outer Banks can accommodate! You can spend the week relaxing on the beach or go adventuring on historical day trips. (OR BOTH!)
A Brief Synopsis of Outer Banks History
When we say that the history of the Outer Banks is rich, we mean with a capital R. This barrier chain of islands has seen important historical moments from pre-colonization all the way through World War II.
From the disappearance of the Roanoke colony to first flight, and so much more, the Outer Banks holds more North American historical significance than most people realize. As history buffs ourselves, we have been fascinated with the area for years.
The First Settlers
A growing number of archaeologists believe that European settlers were not the first inhabitants of the Outer Banks. In fact, more and more, they’re finding evidence that the Outer Banks were,
in fact, first inhabited by Native American Tribes. Some archeologists believe that Native Americans lived on the islands for well over one thousand years. Even larger tribes like the Algonquins, Chowanog, and Poteskeet had settlements all along these islands from Corolla to Hatteras.
The Lost Colony of Roanoke
When the first settlers arrived, they were in uncharted territory, and it was that unknown area that swallowed up the famous Lost Colony. To this day, scientists and historians still don’t know exactly what happened to the settlers on Roanoke Island. There has been speculation that a local Native American tribe captured the settlers as there were reports of Native Americans in the area with blue eyes. All they know for sure is that three years after the initial settlement, when more ships returned with supplies from Europe, the colony was abandoned.
Later, pirates became an integral part of Outer Banks history, with famous Pirates such as Calico Jack, Anne Bonney, and Mary Reed making the area (particularly Ocracoke Island) key points in their swashbuckling ways.
The Birthplace of the Coast Guard
For decades both before and after the Civil War, the Outer Banks was home to Lifesaving Stations up and down its coast. These stations were the precursor to the modern-day Coast Guard, performing many rescues for ships lost or wrecked on the notoriously dangerous waters.
The Civil War
While known mainly for its history as one of the first settlements and the birthplace of flight, the Outer Banks actually saw some military action during the Civil War. (It’s location was considered the gateway to the rest of the state. This made it very desirable to both the North and the South to have control of the Outer Banks.)
The World Wars
During both World Wars, the Outer Banks were stalked by German ships and U-Boats, which stationed themselves off the coast of North Carolina. These vessels harried ships in American territorial waters.
The Birthplace of Flight
One of the biggest points in Outer Banks history is its designation as the birthplace of flight. On a large hill in the Outer Banks, the Wright brothers had their first successful flight after several failed attempts.
Typical Outer Banks, NC Weather
The islands that make up the “Outer Banks” are home to many towns that dot the coastline. Even though North Carolina is considered a southern state, it still experiences distinct seasons with chilly winter months. (Though the winter sees average temps in January in the low 50s. Winter there is definitely not the frigid, deep freeze that New England has.) Summer months draw in peak beach crowds and offer long days with high heat and humidity. It is not uncommon for a late afternoon thunderstorm to sweep in and produce some short-lived downpours.
The shoulder seasons of Spring and Fall offer a delightful time to visit the Outer Banks. Low humidity, temperatures in the 60s/70s, and noticeably lower crowds make these times of year perfect for visitors. These times of year aren’t necessarily sunbathing weather, but they can be beautiful and enjoyable.
Popular Campgrounds in the Outer Banks, NC
- Outer Banks KOA Campground (Rodanthe, NC) Read our Outer Banks KOA review.
- Camp Hatteras Campground (Waves, NC)
- Ocean Waves Campground (Waves, NC)
- Hatteras Sands Campground (Hatteras, NC)
- Cape Hatteras National Seashore (4 campgrounds: Nags Head, Frisco, Buxton, Ocracoke)
- OBX Campground RV Park (Kill Devil Hills, NC)
- Frisco Woods Campground (Frisco, NC)
- St. Clair Landing Family Campground (Rodanthe, NC)
- Island Hide-a-Way Campground (Buxton, NC)
- Teeter’s Campground (Ocracoke, NC)
Popular Restaurants in the Outer Banks, NC
- Sam and Omie’s (Nags Head, NC)
- Mama Kwan’s Tiki Bar and Grill (Kill Devil Hills, NC)
- The Blue Point (Duck, NC)
- The Paper Canoe (Duck, NC)
- Aqua (Duck, NC)
- Blue Moon Beach Grill (Nags Head, NC)
- Kill Devil Grill (Kill Devil Hills, NC)
- Miller’s Waterfront (Nags Head, NC)
- Steamers (Southern Shores, NC)
- Dajio (Ocracoke, NC)
- The Flying Melon (Ocracoke, NC)
Our Favorite Spots in OBX for Sweet Treats!
- Booty Treats Shave Ice and Ice Cream (Nags Head, NC)
- Duck Donuts (locations throughout the island)
- The Spot (Nags Head, NC)
- Orange Blossom Bakery (Buxton, NC) *Try the APPLE UGLIES!!
- Surfin Spoon (Nags Head, NC)
Popular Attractions in the Outer Banks, NC
Remember to ALWAYS check with any museum or business BEFORE you head out for a visit to see what their hours are. Because the Outer Banks has a pretty distinct peak season (late Spring through early Fall) and off season, many attractions change their hours throughout the year based on current tourist levels.
Outer Banks Historical Sites
These sites offer a chance to get up close and personal with history. From monuments celebrating the Wright Brothers to the Outer Banks Scenic Byway, all of these sites allow families to experience history in a different way. These sites offer an insight into the history of the Outer Banks from its part in the Civil War to being the birthplace of the modern-day Coast Guard.
- Corolla Historic Schoolhouse, Corolla
- Historic Corolla Park, Corolla
- Monument to a Century of Flight, Kitty Hawk
- Wright Brothers National Memorial, Kill Devil Hills
- Jockey’s Ridge State Park, Nags Head
- Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Nags Head
- Elizabethan Gardens, Manteo
- Civil War Trail, Manteo
- Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, Manteo
- The Freedman’s Colony of Roanoke Island, Manteo
- Island Farm, Manteo
- Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, Rodanthe
- Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station Historic Site, Rodanthe
- Outer Banks Scenic Byway, Rodanthe
Outer Banks Lighthouses
Perhaps one of the most iconic sites along the Outer Banks are its lighthouses. Not only can you visit these lighthouses and explore the grounds around them, some even offer the chance to climb to the top! (Note: paid admission is required to climb. Check with each lighthouse for current climbing status.)
- Currituck Beach Lighthouse, Corolla
- Bodie Island Lighthouse, Nags Head
- Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, Manteo
- Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Buxton
- Ocracoke Island Lighthouse, Ocracoke
Outer Banks Museums
There’s no better way to really understand an area than visiting its museums. The Outer Banks has some great museums devoted to sharing its history. From the area’s beginnings as a Native American seaside home and a haven for pirates to the exploration of the natural beauty of the area, the museums of the Outer Banks offer visitors the chance to immerse themselves in its rich history.
- Corolla Wild Horse Fund Museum, Corolla
- Buffalo City Exhibit – Logs & Moonshine, Manteo
- Dare Country Regional Airport Museum, Manteo
- National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center, Manteo
- Pea Island Cook House and Herbert M. Collins Boathouse at Collins Park, Manteo
- Roanoke Island Festival Park, Manteo
- Roanoke Island Maritime Museum, Manteo
- Island Farm, Manteo
- Outer Banks History Center, Manteo
- Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station Historic Site, Rodanthe
- U.S. Weather Bureau Station Hatteras Welcome Center, Hatteras
- Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, Hatteras
- Teach’s Hole Blackbeard Exhibit & Pirate Ship, Ocracoke
- Frisco Native American Museum, Frisco
Outer Banks Historical and Educational Events
Learning should always be fun, and the events hosted in many parts of the Outer Banks do that so well. Ghost Tours, kite festivals, a pirate jamboree, and more all welcome visitors, inviting them to enjoy the history and culture of these gorgeous barrier islands.
- Ghost Tours of the Outer Banks, Manteo
- The Lost Colony, Manteo
- First Friday, Manteo
- Outer Banks Kite Festival, Nags Head
- Wings Over Water, Rodanthe
- Day at the Docks, Hatteras
- Blackbeard’s Pirate Jamboree, Ocracoke
- Festival Latino de Ocracoke, Ocracoke
- Ocracoke parade of Boats, Ocracoke
Explore Outer Banks History as a Family
Outer Banks North Carolina history is rich, deep, and diverse, and with so much to offer, it makes the perfect place to take a vacation filled with both fun and education. There is a plethora of educational sites and museums along the Outer Banks in addition to the natural beauty and one of the nation’s scenic byways.
You can find a wealth of information online about all of these places. You will be able to create the perfect itinerary for an Outer Banks trip. With so much to see and do, your family will enjoy the history of the area as well as its natural beauty.
If you’ve already been camping somewhere on the Outer Banks before, where did you stay, and how was your experience? Please feel free to leave a comment down below and tell us about it!
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