It was time for us to move on to our next exciting destination: Outer Banks, NC! This was one of my bucket-list destinations and couldn’t wait to head out on the 3.5 hour drive. My hope was to get settled in early so we would have plenty of time to start exploring!
Our Outer Banks campground choice was The Refuse on Roanoke Island, located in the small fishing village of Wanchese. This ideal location is situated only a handful of miles off Highway 64; the main highway to the Outer Banks. We were directed to site 10 which backed up to a beautiful pond that is adjacent to Roanoke Island Marshes Dedicated Nature Preserve. We quickly set up camp, enjoyed lunch, then headed back out to explore the eastern side of Roanoke Island.
The quaint town of Manteo sits on Shallowbag Bay offering up some gorgeous views. The streets are lined with lovely shops selling everything from clothes to kites. Of course you can also find the requisite sweets and ice cream shops which Troy took the kids while I spent some time at Island Perks; a coffee shop that also offers wine-tasting of local favorites.
The Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse called to us at the end of the main street. Jutting out 40 yards into Roanoke Sound, the boardwalk tempts visitors to come have a look inside. This reconstructed cottage-style screw-pile building lighthouse mirrors the original lighthouse that was constructed in 1877 to help guide sailing vessels of all kinds to port. Inside, visitors will find historical and educational activities.
Located right across from the lighthouse is the Roanoke Island Maritime Museum, housed within the weathered George Washington Creef Boathouse. Inside we saw some small watercraft but the best feature of the museum is that it is a working boat-shop where volunteers do restoration and new boat construction.
After a stop at the aptly named Christmas Shop, we headed back to the campground for some pool time. While the kids splashed around, I soaked in the peaceful surroundings while reading my book before having to get dinner started. It had been a very busy day!
A grey and threatening morning greeted us when we awoke. The weather forecast said to expect rain all day. Not the forecast we wanted to see, however, we were going to stay on plan which was to head south to visit Cape Hattaras and Ocracoke Island. Right as we crossed the bridge to the Outer Banks, Troy stopped at a gas station to fill up for the day. He got to talking to a propane truck driver who informed us that there was a huge power outage around Cape Hattaras creating chaos. He suggested we may want to change our plans so we decided to explore the Northern destinations of the Outer Banks instead.
Our change of plans put us in the path of the famous Duck Donuts which I had read about repeatedly that said it is a “not to miss” spot. The rain did not deter the large crowd we found waiting in line to order their “warm, fresh and made-to-order donuts.”
To begin your donut adventure, grab a pencil and a menu sheet. Choose how many donuts you want first, then get started on creating your delectable masterpieces. You choose what flavor of icing (i.e. chocolate, peanut butter, lemon, etc.), then select a topping (think Oreos, peanuts, bacon, coconut, etc.), and last but not least, the drizzle (i.e. raspberry, chocolate, maple, etc.). The combinations are endless so use your creativity!
Have a fear of indecision? Duck Donuts also offers signature Duck combinations such as maple icing with chopped bacon and chocolate icing with vanilla drizzle. You really can’t go wrong!
Once you reach the cashier, you hand over your donut order page, pay, then watch the hard-working folks make your donuts on the “donut conveyor belt,” the name Drake and Mia gave it.
Next, the box heads to the “donut decorators”. The kids picked the name which sums their job perfectly. They frost, sprinkle, and drizzle before your name is called to pick up your one-of-a-kind masterpiece! Our donuts were so good that we made a second visit before leaving the Outer Banks!
Tip: Duck Donut is now a franchise and not only opening locations on the East Coast, but also in Southern California, Texas and Missouri (we are even getting one in Charleston!). Check the Duck Donuts website to see if there is a location near you.
Now that we were stuffed with donuts, we headed to our first stop of the day: Wright Brothers National Monument. We were prepared to spend most of our time outside as the Main Visitor Center was temporarily closed. Donning our rain gear, we headed out to the temporary center.
When Drake and Mia went to pick-up their Junior Ranger booklets, we learned there was a Ranger Program about to begin under a tent outside. We found the program was well worth our time as it gave an in-depth history of the extraordinary lives of the Wright Brothers including details of their early experiments, failures and successes.
With a break in the weather, we headed out to see the Flight Line before climbing Big Kill Devil Hill to see the impressive Wright Brothers Monument. As you stand at the top of this hill looking down upon the historic flight line, you can just imagine what it would have been like to take that first flight.
Next, we made our way to the 1903 Bronze Sculpture of the First Flight featuring a life size model of the 1903 Wright Flyer. There are some excellent photo opportunities for the whole family here.
The last stop of our self-guided walking tour was to visit the reconstructed 1903 Wright brothers’ camp buildings, giving visitors a taste of camp life. Returning the the visitor facility, it was time for Drake and Mia to become Junior Rangers of the Wright Brothers National Monument!
The rain still had not abated, however, we continued our journey north. Our next stop was the Currituck Beach Light Station. It had started to pour as we reached the parking lot so we decided to enjoy our picnic lunch inside the truck. Finally, the rain slowed to a drizzle and we made our way to check out the Light Station.
Unlike the other lighthouses of the Outer Banks, Currituck is made of brick (over one million were used). The structure stands over 160’ tall with 220 steps to the top. Unfortunately, we did not have the opportunity to climb due to the inclement weather but did get a chance to check out a few of the other Victorian-type buildings located on the grounds.
Tips: Open Easter through Thanksgiving only. Cost is $10 to climb and note they accept checks or cash ONLY. Also, everyone who climbs must sign a waiver (parents can sign for children).
Our last destination of the day was to hopefully see the wild horses of Corolla. Situated just north of Carova is a 4WD accessible beach that is free to use! With our new 4WD truck, Troy was looking forward to trying out some beach driving and the bonus was to hopefully see some of the elusive wild horses.
We began our journey and quickly realized that we needed to activate the 4WD feature. Troy had to really focus to keep up in the tracks laid down by others. What we found surprising was that people live in homes that are only accessible by driving on this sandy beach.
After miles of sandy driving, we got stuck. The tires dug in and there we were, stranded. Luckily, Troy has had experience in these matters and after a bit of nail-biting, we were free. After that excitement, it seemed like a good time to get out to stretch our legs and let the kids run around the beach.
Even though we had yet to have a wild horse sighting, we started back. On a whim, I asked Troy if he could take us up to where the homes were. And that is where we encountered the Wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs! The kids were in awe as the wild creatures grazed right on the side of the road. These beauties are descendants of horses stranded in the Outer Banks centuries ago.
It was time to return to our campground and get dinner going. We had to plan for extra time for our return to Roanoke as we knew the traffic South was at a crawl. It was a well-worth break to have a family talk and comment on all that we have seen.
Additional Opportunities – North Outer Banks: Weather was definitely a factor in exploring this area. We had wanted to stop at Jockeys Ridge State Park to have the opportunity to climb the massive sand dunes. Sliding down them was what seemed liked a great time to Drake and Mia. If you go, buy yourself a kite or two in town as this is suppose to the be the BEST kiting area! Another stop we missed out on was Historic Corolla to see Whalehead, a beautifully restored 1920s-era Art Nouveau style mansion listed on the National Register of Historic Places. During the summer they have children’s activities and tours especially for kids that sounded like fun.
Next up? Day 2 of our Outer Banks adventure!