Back in 2019, a bunch of friends invited me to join them in Corolla, North Carolina for an Outer Banks vacation. (Of course, I said yes.) Here’s a brief overview of what attractions I saw while down in Outer Banks (or OBX).
Getting to the Outer Banks
Some of my friends drove down to our Outer Banks vacation…some of us flew into Norfolk and then drove to Corolla for the vacation. Flying into Norfolk and then driving to Corolla was pretty easy. It’s just over a two-hour drive.
We rented a 12-bedroom house and enjoyed a hot tub, an inground pool, a theater room, and a short walk down to the ocean. And a bit longer walk into Corolla. We also walked from the rental house to the wild horses’ beach.
Tip: In my opinion, the best time to have an Outer Banks vacation is late April. The rates are much cheaper than in the middle of Summer. And there are a lot fewer people!
Corolla Outer Banks Vacation Attractions
There are several areas we visited within Corolla itself:
Currituck Beach Lighthouse
The lighthouse is still functioning and stands 162 feet tall. The brick exterior remains unpainted to help sailors discern which lighthouse they are looking at. This lighthouse still retains its original first-order Fresnel lens.
If you want to climb to the top, be prepared for 220 spiral staircase steps!
While we didn’t tour the inside of the lighthouse, you can see pictures of the interior here.
Historic Corolla Village
A short walk from the Lighthouse is the historic Whalehead mansion, from the 1920s. The Whalehead is also available for tours. Don’t miss going across the wooden arched footbridge while you’re there!
Currituck Bank Maritime Forest Trail Head
If you are looking to get away from the Outer Banks vacation crowds, this might be the place for you. One of the evenings I went out here to watch the sunset and was the sole person there the entire time.
The boardwalk, a 0.3-mile walk, leads you out to Raccoon Bay in the Currituck Sound. At the end of the boardwalk, you are facing almost due West – perfect for sunsets.
There is another trail near the parking lot which is the Maritime Forest Trail. I haven’t been down this trail, but per Hiking Project, it’s 0.75 miles one way. You can take your dog with you on the walk, so long as it’s leashed.
For more history on the Currituck Banks Coastal Estuarine Reserve, which the Trails are in, go here.
The Wild Horses of the Outer Banks
North of Corolla is the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge. In the Refuge, you can find, depending on the time of year, thousands of waterfowl, songbirds, bald eagles, owls, shorebirds, wildflowers, sea turtles, and wild horses.
Some believe the horses were left behind by a Spanish explorer in 1521. However, no one really knows how the Spanish Mustangs arrived in the Outer Banks, but the horses have been residents long before any European settlers. (You can read more about possible theories here.)
Tip: The horses are wild and have been for the last 500 or so years. Treat them like wild animals. Don’t walk up to them expecting them to want or like your presence. Give them their space. In fact, it’s illegal to be closer than 50 feet to a wild mustang.
Tip: Do not feed them! The horses have a specific island diet and are not used to “normal” horse feed or treats.
We went out at sunset and saw them one night. I was on the wrong side of the vehicle…but didn’t get out since we were close to the 50-foot mark.
Sometimes you spot evidence of their presence just walking the Refuge…
Sunrises and the Corolla Coastline
One of my friends and I made an effort to get up and view the sunrise each morning of our Outer Banks vacation. It is well worth the effort to do so.
Wouldn’t you agree? You may even spot dolphins… And not a bad way to start the day stress-free!
You never know what you’ll see along the coastline when you go for a long walk. Sometimes it’s weird sea creatures, or birds, or beautiful and inspiring vistas.
Outer Banks Vacation Attractions Outside of Corolla
Here are a few I enjoyed:
Bodie Island Lighthouse
The present Bodie Island Light Station was a long time coming. The first lighthouse was abandoned in 1859 due to a poor foundation, which caused the lighthouse to lean. While repairs were attempted, none were successful.
The second lighthouse was completed in 1859 but was blown up in 1861. The reason? Confederates feared the Union soldiers might use it, so the Confederate blew it up during a retreat.
A third lighthouse was slow in coming, but after repeated requests from sea captains, a third one was completed in 1872. The duplex keepers’ quarters were completed shortly afterward.
Being a lightkeeper at Bodie was a lonely existence. Back before the bridges and roads, we use today, the lightkeeper lived alone most of the year. His family could live with him during the summer months, but normally they lived on a neighboring island so the kids could go to school.
Tip: While visiting the Lighthouse, make sure to take the boardwalk out to the freshwater marshland.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
Tip: Take a walk around the park, you might see turtle sunning. The beach isn’t far away either.
About two hours from Corolla is the Cape Hatteras Light Station. A very distinctive lighthouse with its black and white slanted bands.
The first lighthouse went into service in 1803 and used whale oil for its lamp. However, since it was only 90 feet tall, the lighthouse was inefficient in warning ships of the local shoals. Its sandstone color also helped the lighthouse blend in with the sand.
The second lighthouse, if you want to call it that, was really just an increase of elevation to the first lighthouse. Sixty feet was added onto the lighthouse in 1853 and got a red and white paint job.
Lighthouse number 3 was first used in 1870, but not without construction issues. The groundwater levels in the area are quite high, so a “floating foundation” was used. The lighthouse is the tallest brick lighthouse in the US at 198 feet with 269 steps.
The fourth lighthouse was a skeletal steel tower, which was in use from 1935 until 1950. In 1950, after the reconstruction of the beach around the third lighthouse, the third lighthouse was put back into use. However, the beach kept eroding. So in 1999, the third lighthouse was moved 2,900 feet to its present location over the course of 23 days. All the dwellings around the lighthouse were relocated as well. (For more information on how the lighthouse was relocated, go here.)
Note: The Outer Banks have slowly been forming and reforming over the centuries due to the material of the islands and the forces of tides and winds.
Wright Brothers Memorial
Kitty Hawk (originally Chickenhauk) is about 45 minutes from Corolla and home of the Wright Brothers National Memorial.
There is a museum to wander through and learn more about the lives of brothers Wilbur and Orville and why they chose Kitty Hawk to test their theories about flight.
After you are done with the museum, wander the grounds and see the boulders where their first flights landed. See the harsh conditions the brothers lived in during their flight experiments.
Walk to the top of the sand dune, Big Kill Devil Hill, where the brothers experimented with gliding. And of course, to view the stone memorial. And get some nice views from the 90-foot tall hill of the surrounding landscape.
Why You Should Avoid Going Barefoot on Your Outer Banks Vacation
The below sign I saw one day too late while at the Wright Brothers Memorial.
Seriously, the sign would have been so useful the day before when I tried walking barefoot on the “grass” at Cape Hatteras.
The sign is not joking about the caucus spurs. I was pulling them out of my feet for a few minutes after walking on the “grass”.
Learn from my mistake, don’t go barefoot!
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