North Carolina

The Outer Limits

Jul 1, 2003
Outside Magazine

   Photo: Illustration by Zohar Lazar

Tips & Resources

CALL AHEAD for reservations for the Cedar Island ferry to Ocracoke (800-293-3779) or you might spend all day waiting in line. For more info, contact the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau (800-446-6262,

ROUTE: Cedar Island to Corolla, North Carolina
ROADS: North Carolina 12
MILES: 130

Driving North Carolina's Outer Banks takes you off the pavement so many times, you almost forget it's there. With the ferries and four-wheel beach access along these barrier islands, the road seems to come and go as often as the tides. When your tires hit the sand-dusted two-lane on the narrow spit of Ocracoke Island (after a two-and-a-half-hour ferry ride from Cedar Island), you'll find yourself surrounded by 409 square miles of sand and crashing sea. To the east, the Atlantic surf breaks against 70 miles of nationally protected seashore. To the west, the indigo-blue waters of Pamlico Sound lap grassy marshes thick with egrets and blue herons. You'll pass through Hatteras and Buxton on Hatteras Island, where cedar-shake-shingled cottages sit on stilts above the dunes, pastel surf shops keep their doors propped open for the droves of summer "dingbatters," and local fishermen in one-dock marinas work off boats with names like Sweet Caroline. Out here, the road is an afterthought to the beach: Expect to get plenty of sand on the floor mats.

Scuba Diving Diamond Shoals: Some 1,500 vessels have sunk off the Outer Banks. Dive cargo and tanker ships like the Australia and the Northeastern at Diamond Shoals, ten miles of shallow, shifting sandbars off Cape Hatteras. DiveHatteras, in Hatteras, offers charters and equipment rental. (703-818-1850,
Surfing at Cape Hatteras National Seashore: Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, near Buxton, is a surfing legend known as the Wave Magnet. Annual competitions are held at this left break, where the north and south swells can stir up waves of ten feet and higher. For longboard rentals, check out Windsurfing Hatteras, in Avon, about five miles north of the lighthouse. ($15 per day; 252-995-5000,
Windsurfing Pamlico Sound: Throw your board out at Canadian Hole, famous for its steady winds, shallow waters, and throngs of pro Canadian windsurfers (go figure). Four miles north of Buxton, look for a small parking lot on the left side of the road—you'll see license plates from as far away as California and Ontario. Rent a rig at Windsurfing Hatteras, which also offers kiteboarding lessons ($45 per day).
Hang Gliding at Jockey's Ridge State Park: A 420-acre sandbox with the tallest dune in the East, this park near Kill Devil Hills is the perfect launching and landing pad. A three-hour lesson with Kitty Hawk Kites is $85; tandem flights at 2,000 feet go for $125. (800-334-4777,

The Sanderling Resort, three miles north of Duck, offers 88 guest rooms plus suites and villas overlooking the Atlantic, as well as a spa and fitness facility. At the 3,400-acre Audubon Sanctuary next door, you can hike or bike the five-mile trail along Currituck Sound, and the resort's eco-center organizes kayak tours to spy the area's 21 species of waterfowl. (Doubles start at $240; 800-701-4111,

Check out the Blue Point Bar and Grill, a swank diner on Currituck Sound, in Duck; hit the deck and order the oyster stew with fresh dill and smoked bacon. (252-261-8090)

Join the pack of humans that gathers weekly to howl with the 100 or so red wolves at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, a 15-minute detour west off North Carolina 12. With only 255 of the captive and wild animals remaining in the U.S., the howling is part of the Red Wolf Recovery Project's efforts to teach visitors about habitat protection. (252-473-1131,

They don't call them the Outer Banks for nothing. Try the Raveonettes' Whip It On (to get your big-wave courage up), Band of Bees' Sunshine Hit Me (for après-surf barbecues), and Yo La Tengo's Summer Sun (for the sunsets, of course).