It all started when my son received a kite as a Christmas present. It’s a really nice kite – too nice to end up stuck in a tree in our neighborhood. Rather than surrendering the kite to a Bradford pear I was inspired to head towards the coast where there is plenty of wind and open space. But not just any coast. My synapses were firing on all cylinders and I decided to take a cue from a famous pair who also headed for the North Carolina coast with their gliders – the Wright brothers. We headed to Kitty Hawk and the Outer Banks in January. The Outer Banks isn’t just a summertime destination. It may be cool but there’s still plenty of opportunity for adventure, education, and discovery. There’s also the prospect of great savings.
The Lost Colony
Our first stop was at Fort Raleigh National Historic site in Manteo. Located on Roanoke Island the park preserves the story of England’s first settlement in the new world and recounts the tale and unsolved mystery of these first settlers. The visitor center is open year-round and houses excellent displays telling of the Native American inhabitants, the story of the Elizabethan period settlers, as well as the significance the area played in the Civil War and World Wars I and II.
There’s a seventeen-minute film highlighting the ‘Lost Colony.’ It’s a fascinating explanation of how the settlers arrived, settled the land, and ultimately disappeared. Viewers are left pondering questions that remain today as to what became of these brave settlers who completely vanished.
Although summer is the season to see the famous play “The Lost Colony” performed at the amphitheater overlooking the Albermarle Sound, it’s still fun to roam the theater in the off-season.
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
1500 Fort Raleigh Road
Manteo, North Carolina 27954
We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Kitty Hawk. The beachfront hotel was a perfect hub for our Outer Banks adventure. The hotel features an indoor pool and workout room, and a restaurant. We were able to take advantage of the sands and OBX ocean breezes outside the hotel and launch our kite. We also enjoyed collecting shells and walking the beach – which we practically had to ourselves. On a side note, the hotel WiFi was very dependable which is a huge plus for this travel writer.
Outer Banks Dining
While not all restaurants remain open during the off-season, there are still plenty with their doors open to tourists and locals. It’s wise to call beforehand but on the Outer Banks, seafood is still bountiful and delicious in the winter months.
Our hotel offered a wonderful breakfast buffet at a reasonable price but in the evening we ventured out. We were in search of a spot with good seafood, a casual atmosphere, and plenty of television screens to watch the NFL playoff games.
We found Longboards Island Grill fit the bill. Longboard’s specialty is tasty local seafood. Even better, there were TV screens in every direction my head turned. We had the good fortune to dine there the night before they closed for renovations. The waitress explained, “we’ll be closed for a couple of weeks so everything we have is half-off tonight.” They may have been out of a few things, but half-off made me smile and was an Outer Banks off-season savings bonus.
Wright Brothers National Memorial
I’ve been to a number of National Parks but I have to say this one ranks high on my list of favorites. The visitor center is replete with details of the historic events surrounding the first flight the Wright Brothers made on December 17, 1903. However, it was the ranger’s presentation that held the entire group spellbound.
I can’t remember a more silent room as he detailed the “lives of consequence” that brought man’s centuries-old dream of flight to fruition.
Even more amazing was his use of the replica plane to guide us through how the Wright Brothers got off the ground and controlled the thoroughly modern plane that chilly morning on the Outer Banks.
Thoroughly modern because the identical principles the Wright brothers utilized are still in use today. In fact, the ranger explained that the curve of the wings on the Wright brother’s plane in 1903 is just a fraction of a percent different from the curve of the wings on the Space Shuttle.
Lives of consequence – indeed.
You’ll want to spend time exploring the grounds and visiting the monument, but I encourage you to stay and listen to the ranger speak at the visitor center. You won’t be sorry.
Wright Brothers National Memorial
1000 North Croatan Highway
Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina 27948
Wright Brothers National Memorial is open seven days a week, year-round. The visitor center and Centennial pavilion are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. (closed Christmas Day, December 25).
“Legend says the name ‘Jockey’s Ridge’ came from the early inhabitant’s practice of capturing and racing wild ponies in the area.”
~ Jockey’s Ridge State Park
Jockey’s Ridge State Park
Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head is an amazing natural phenomenon. This Outer Banks treasure is the tallest sand dune in the eastern United States. The ever-changing character of the dunes offers several forms of recreation.
If you’re a kite enthusiast the dunes are a wonderful place to take advantage of the sustained winds. Hikers can travel the dunes and experience the sand first-hand. Journey along one of the multiple self-guided trails and discover the beauty. If you prefer a briefer walk, take to the 360-foot boardwalk situated near the parking lot and stay above the sand while enjoying the interpretive signs along the route.
For adventurous types longing to soar above the dunes, hang-gliding is permitted on certain dune faces. A USHGA Hang 1 or other agency-approved rating card is required to hang-glide in the park. All hang-gliders must register and lessons are available at the on-site hang gliding school.
From October 1st through March 31st sand-boarding is permitted in specified areas. Sand-boarders may obtain a permit in the visitor center and anyone under 18 must have parental permission. If you’re traveling with kids, the park is a giant sandbox they’ll love. My little one let his imagination run wild and soon was pretending he was Survivor Man – a favorite show in our house.
Jockey’s Ridge State Park
The entrance to the park, Carolista Drive, is in the town of Nags Head at milepost 12 on the Hwy 158 Bypass (South Croatan Hwy).
Outer Banks Inspiration
While all it took was a simple Christmas gift of a kite to inspire an off-season trip to the Outer Banks, it was immediately apparent there’s an abundance of attractions and activities on the barrier islands.
We’re already planning our return trip. There’s still more to see.
Have you visited North Carolina’s Outer Banks? Let me know in the comments!
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