Visiting the Outer Banks outside of peak season? Here are our favorite things to do at the Outer Banks in the fall, winter and spring.
Ah, a beach vacation. Warm sand, hot sun — and, all too often, crowds!
Going to the beach any time of year can be amazing, but there's something to be said for visiting off-season. My family started going to the Outer Banks in the fall some time ago and never looked back.
An off-season vacation can be a great way to relax, savor the slower pace, and sometimes even find more affordable deals.
When we spent a few days at the Outer Banks this fall, I took note of all the things there are to do. Here are my top ten!
These activities are all fun in peak season too, but this list is for anyone wanting to sightsee in the Outer Banks when it's too cold to lay on the beach.
1. Walk the Beach to Jennette's Pier
Jennette's Pier at Nags Head, North Carolina, is open year-round, and parking is free.
The beach here is beautiful, wide, and clean, so it's a great place to walk along the shore.
Besides being a scenic walk and a great opportunity to take photos, there's also a pier house with aquariums and changing science displays. There's even a gift shop.
And, of course, if you're into fishing, you can check the Jennette's Pier Fishing Report for the day and buy yourself a pass in hopes of making a catch off the 1,000-foot-long pier.
2. Climb a Lighthouse
The Outer Banks is home to five lighthouses, but they aren't all open for climbing.
If you're visiting off-season, head to Currituck Lighthouse. It's open throughout the year, but days and hours can change seasonally, so check the website before you go.
For $10 admission (price current as of 2021), you can climb the spiral staircase to the top of the tower for some breathtaking views.
Historical exhibits inside the building will give you a quick rundown of the importance of the lighthouse to this area for over 100 years.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse with its stunning spiral black and white design is usually open seasonally for climbing, but as of our visit in November 2021, it was closed for a multi-year renovation project. For now, a virtual tour is the closest you can get to seeing inside.
3. Explore the Cape Hatteras National Seashore
The Cape Hatteras National Seashore consists of three islands in the Outer Banks: Bodie, Hatteras, and Ocracoke.
About 70 miles of coastline give you plenty of room to explore and relax! You can camp year-round at Oregon Inlet or Ocracoke if that's your style.
The Bodie Island Lighthouse and Cape Hatteras Lighthouse are both worth visiting. If you arrive during the off-season you won't be able to climb to the top, but you can still enjoy the beautiful exteriors.
One of the best things about visiting the Outer Banks in the late fall through spring is that you might be able to build a cozy fire on the beach!
Check the National Park Service's regulations about beach fires before you attempt it, and make sure to have a free beach fire permit with you.
4. Visit Jockey's Ridge State Park
Jockey's Ridge State Park has the tallest sand dune on the east coast, so it offers some pretty impressive views.
There are a couple of easy walking trails and also picnic facilities at this state park.
Jockey's Ridge is also a great spot for hang gliders — either experienced or novice ones! You can sign up for 3-hour lessons if you're interested in trying it out for yourself. The lessons are offered year-round.
Or you can just watch and admire. That's fun, too.
5. Visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial
The Wright Brothers National Memorial is open year-round.
It's owned by the National Park Service, and there's a fee to enter. (Kids get in for free.) A National Park Pass will also get you in for free.
The museum has both indoor and outdoor components.
We only explored the outside part on our most recent visit, but there was plenty to see.
You can check out the monument to the Wright Brothers if you want to take a little stroll to the top of the hill where they experimented with their aircraft.
You can also visit the airplane sculpture pictured below, an installation that welcomes climbing and touching.
The exact spots where the Wright brothers first took flight and landed are marked on the ground, and you can also explore reconstructed camp buildings to get some idea of how they lived while working here in 1903.
6. Go on a Wild Horse Tour
Want to see the famous wild Spanish mustangs of the Outer Banks? Book yourself in for a Wild Horse Adventure Tour in Corolla!
Guides will bring you via Hummer on a 2-hour trip to view the horses, complete with plenty of story-telling and photo ops.
The horses at Corolla, known as Banker horses, currently number around 100. They're likely descended from ones brought over from Spain in the 16th century, and they're an unforgettable part of the Outer Banks landscape.
Since you'll cover about 20 miles of beach during the trip, odds are good that you'll see not only wild ponies, but other kinds of wildlife as well!
The wild horse tours only take place during part of the off-season, so if you're visiting in the middle of winter you won't be able to book. But if you're here in the fall or spring (or, of course, summer) you should be able to snag a spot!
7. Go on a Kayak Tour
For kayak enthusiasts, no season is off-season, am I right? That being the case, you can find a couple of kayak tours still available at the Outer Banks even during the colder months.
Kitty Hawk Kites is one of the companies that can guide you via kayak through the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge or the Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Preserve.
Just remember to check the weather, and prepare for cold temperatures if needed! If you're a beginner wanting to get into kayaking, check out my suggestions for the best gear, including waterproof dry bags and water shoes.
8. Book a Chartered Fishing Tour
Oregon Inlet, located between Bodie Island and Pea Island, is a famous starting point for Outer Banks fishing trips.
You can charter a boat for a half-day or full day from the fishing center there. Traditional catches vary by season, but there's always something to try for!
9. Cold-Weather Water Sports
The Outer Banks is known for its windy weather, and is a perfect place to go kitesurfing or kiteboarding, even when the weather is cold!
It's also a fantastic area to kayak, canoe or paddleboard. If you're looking for calm water, stick to the calmer sound areas.
10. Visit Local Businesses and Restaurants
Some Outer Banks businesses are only open for peak-season, but others are open year-round.
It goes without saying that even in off-season, you're going to be looking for amazing local restaurants.
One we found (and loved!) on our last trip was Aqua Restaurant, which has both indoor and outdoor seating, beautiful views of Currituck Sound, and a delicious array of food.
A number of local art galleries, book shops, boutiques, and eateries welcome visitors off-season. So if the weather isn't ideal, you should be able to find some place indoors to browse!
Have you ever visited the Outer Banks during the off-season, or are you planning a future trip? Let us know in the comments what activities you're most excited about!