Roanoke Island in Outer Banks, NC  - Vacation Travel Guide

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Roanoke Island, NC
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Outer Banks Area Features

Natural Beauty of the Outer Banks

Sometimes there is nothing better than exploring the beauty of nature. In the Outer Banks, vacationers can walk on pristine beaches where the wild ponies roam or discover native plants and wildlife while quietly kayaking or paddleboarding through waterways. Experiences like these are why the Outer Banks is renowned for attracting eco-tourists who enjoy the region for its gorgeous natural settings and the serenity that comes with getting back to nature.

Currituck Banks Reserve

Visitors to the Currituck Banks Reserve, located north of Corolla, can explore some of the loveliness of the region and maybe even glimpse the wildlife. In addition to the birds, animals and reptiles you may see, feral pigs and horses have also been known to make appearances. Of the approximate 965 acres contained in the reserve, most is completely unspoiled natural paradise. Those who would like to explore are required to stay on the reserve’s trails. Arrive by either car or boat and follow the boardwalk and paths through maritime woodlands to get to the marsh. You may also happen upon scientists and educators with students in the area. NOAA  and the state’s Division of Coastal Management work together to maintain the ecosystems contained on the reserve, preserving it for the use of researchers and future generations. 

Kitty Hawk Woods Preserve

To explore over 1,800 acres of marshes and maritime ecosystems on the Currituck Sound, visit the Kitty Hawk Woods Preserve. Here, you’ll find forests and wetland habitats that provide shelter to many different species of animals. One specific animal that visitors find unique when visiting the Outer Banks is the marsh rabbit. These little rodents can swim! Contrary to most rabbits, this breed has webbed feet, shorter ears and darker fur that better acclimates it to its wetland home. Follow the trails throughout the park to discover these and many other interesting animals. Don’t forget to take in the flora as well. The trees, plants and flowers truly make this region beautiful. Visit the Outer Banks Arboretum and Teaching Garden in the neighboring town of Kill Devil Hills to discover more information about the greenery in the preserve and throughout coastal North Carolina.

The Picturesque Elizabethan Gardens

You should also take some time to stop and smell the flowers. By touring the Elizabethan Gardens on Roanoke Island, you will have many options of blooms to sniff. Spread over 10 acres are manicured topiaries, scenic paths, and plants and flowers of magnificent colors. The gardeners consistently plant new additions to ensure a beautiful landscape throughout the year. There are some noteworthy plants that shouldn’t be missed including the Ancient Live Oak tree that is over 400 years old, and the ever-increasing Camellia garden around the Great Lawn. Camellias have gorgeous flowers and many species bloom a few times a year, including during the winter. This particular collection started through the Camellia Society of North Carolina in 1960 and currently includes at least 85 different specimens. The rose garden features a bush that came directly from Windsor Palace in London, sent by HRH Queen Elizabeth II—but that’s not all! There are hundreds of other plants in this picturesque setting that will mesmerize both professional horticulturists and amateur gardeners alike. Visit their garden shop to take home a plant of your very own.

Sand Dune System at Jockey’s Ridge

Perhaps one of the most unique aspects of the region is the living sand dune system at Jockey’s Ridge in Nags Head. These constantly changing pillars of sand are the largest sand dunes on the East Coast of the United States. Visitors have the freedom to hike to the top of the dunes and see both the Atlantic Ocean and the Roanoke Sound, explore marshes and waterside groves, or stroll the boardwalk, stopping to rest on the deck. The ridge encompasses over 400 acres and is essentially a different experience with every visit. These aren’t the only sand dunes in the region, but because of their size, they are the best known.

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

South of Nags Head, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is a destination not only for migrating birds, but also for people who love to go bird-watching. Over 350 bird species can be seen throughout the refuge, which consists of several different types of terrain. Marshes there can be both brackish and saltwater and attract wading birds including heron and ibis. There are also grassy sand dunes, maritime grasslands and shrubs, wetlands and flats that all attract different types of birds and wildlife. Endangered sea turtles find sanctuary on Pea Island to nest, and threatened birds including oystercatchers and terns are protected here as well. Because the welfare of the wildlife is the refuge’s primary concern, only activities that can peacefully co-exist in the area are permitted. Canoeing tours are offered in the summer months and take visitors around the sound for a guided look at its resident populations. As with many other natural areas in the Outer Banks, visiting the refuge is free, but so is the visitor center that contains exhibits relating to the refuge and its variety of natural beings.

Did You Know?

There is a grapevine on Roanoke Island that covers an entire half-acre. To be this large it was planted a very long time ago... approximately when the English colonists first landed in the Outer Banks. This grapevine is called the Mother Vine and cultivates a Muscadine grape called the Scuppernong. It is not known if the settlers or the local Croatan Indians planted the vine, but records from the 1500s indicate the detailed location of the vine, as do land transfer forms dating back to the mid-1700s.

These are just a few of the many natural parks and reserves that are spread throughout the entirety of the Outer Banks. By visiting one of them or as many as you can, you’re likely to find your own little slice of heaven and refuge from the busy, modern world.

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