The Outer Banks is located on the coastal region of North Carolina, and it is one of the most beautiful places in the state. Many people think the Outer Banks, a collection of thin barrier islands jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean, are an expensive vacation spot but in reality there are a lot of free things to do in the Outer Banks.
In this guide we are sharing the best free things to do in the Outer Banks, NC to help you plan your next visit to North Carolina’s top vacation spot.
Best time to visit the Outer Banks, NC
The best time to visit Outer Banks is during the summer months of June to August, although prices will be higher for accommodations. Personally we think that the best time to visit the Outer Banks is from March to May and September to November, when accommodations are cheaper and the beaches are less crowded. In the summer months humidity is high and average temperatures consistently hit the upper 80s.
What to pack for the Outer Banks
When packing for the Outer Banks you must include sunscreen, hats, quick dry towels, sandals, snacks, water and of course beach items such as chairs and umbrella. Bring a rain umbrella as well, as there can be rolling rain storms in the region for short bursts of time.
Read more: Best things to do in Raleigh, NC
Best 5 fun and free things to do in the Outer Banks:
1. Jockey’s Ridge State Park
Jockey’s Ridge State Park is the tallest living sand dune on the East coast, reaching up to 100′ feet tall. It is located in Nags Head, across from the Kitty Hawk Kites flagship. Some of the activities you can do at the state park are flying kites, sightseeing, hang gliding, sand boarding, hiking, birdwatching, swimming, kiteboarding, kayaking, windsurfing, and watching the best sunsets in the Outer Banks.
The entrance to the park is free and the park is pet friendly. Dogs must be on a leash no longer than six feet at all times. Although pets are allowed in the park, we recommend avoiding taking them in the summer as it is super hot and the hot sand can burn their paws. Depending on when on when you go, it might be a good idea to put goggles to avoid sand blowing in their eyes. Without a doubt, Jockey’s Ridge is one of the best fun and free things to do in the Outer Banks with your dog.
2. Bodie Island Lighthouse
Bodie Lighthouse is the most popular lighthouses in the Outer Banks. It is located on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and it was built in 1872. Tickets to climb the lighthouse are $10 for adults and $5 for senior citizens, but you can take photos of the Bodie Island Lighthouse from the grounds, which is free to enter and one of the top free things to do in the Outer Banks.
The first climb up the lighthouse begins at 9am and the final climb is 5:30pm. To make it to the top of the lighthouse you must climb 214 steps, so come with proper shoes if you want to head to the top.
3. Spend the afternoon in Corolla
You must see the wild horses in Outer Banks. This wild horses are Colonial Spanish Mustangs that have been living on the beaches of Corolla for around 500 years. If you are in luck you will spot them and have the chance to check off one of the most unique free things to do in the Outer Banks. The best places to find the wild horses is at the Corolla beach.
After searching for wildlife in Corolla beach, head over to Currituck Beach Lighthouse. This lighthouse is also free to visit but will need to pay a small fee in order to climb it to the top. The lighthouse has 220 steps.
4. Spend time at the beach
All the beaches in the Outer Banks are free to the public and many of them are dog friendly before 9 a.m. and after 6 p.m during the summer and at any time from October 1 through April 30. Dogs must be on a leash and under the control of their owner or handler at all times. The best beaches to visit in the Outer Banks are: Corolla Beach, Kitty Hawk, and beaches around Bodie Lighthouse.
5. Spot a Bear at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
The Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is located along U.S. 64, the major highway taken from the mainland to Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Cape Lookout National Seashore on the Outer Banks. It is free to enter and you will find maps are available at the kiosk at Creef Cut Wildlife Trail and at the entrance to the Refuge Operations Facility on Milltail Road.
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge has an incredible Wildlife Drive where you can spot black bear, wild turkeys, all kinds of birds of prey, waterfowl, and other wildlife. The Wildlife Refuge offer guided tram tours weekly during the summer and monthly throughout the rest of the year, although you can do it on your own.
It is common for visitors to see dozens of bears on a one-hour drive through the refuge. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimates nearly 300 bears live in the refuge with estimated densities of 1-2 bears per square mile!