North Carolina Nature November 11, 2017
This 138-Mile Drive Is the Best Way to See North Carolina’s Stunning Coast
We all dream of packing up the car and driving away. It could be a great excursion across the U.S. or even just leaving without warning for a long weekend trip away. North Carolina is home to so many beautiful drives that ignite and fulfill the need to escape and see more. While there’s the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Outer Banks Scenic Byway takes you on an unforgettable journey down the coast with must-see stops along the way.
Spanning a total of 138 driving miles and 25 ferry miles, the Outer Banks Scenic Byway takes almost 6.5 hours to complete (adding in the 3.5 ferry hours) and is best completed in a day or two. Beginning at Whalebone Junction on HWY 12 in Dare County, you'll travel through 21 coastal villages. From cinematic Rodanthe, the rugged shores of Cape Hatteras and the isolated Ocracoke you'll be 1,000 miles away from the day-to-day while immersing yourself in the beauty that is the North Carolina coast. For lighthouse lovers, there are also several pit stops featuring North Carolina's most iconic guiding lights.
Two iconic stops include the Bodie Island Lighthouse, rebuilt in 1872 after the Civil War, it's a replica of the original. There's also the Ocracoke Light on Ocracoke Island, it dates back to 1823 and is the longest operating lighthouse in the U.S. Towards your endpoint, there's the iconic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Even after you've climbed to the top and taken in the view, there's still more adventure awaiting.
In the northern Outerbanks town of Carova, you'll be delighted to see wild horses roaming the beach. Left behind by Spanish explorers, these gorgeous mustangs have learned to adapt and survive in the harsh coastal landscape. Today, this is their home as much as the locals. While it's law to stay at least 50 feet away from the horses and to not feed them, they're quite used to humans and don't mind posing for a photo or two. You can also enjoy the quiet solitude Carova provides. As one of the northernmost beaches in the Outer Banks, it's a place where anything goes. Cars cruise along the beach, horses graze, and visitors enjoy nothing but solitude.
The byway crosses through several islands including Cedar, Ocracoke, and Hatteras Island and two inlets. With the Pamlico Sound on one side and the Atlantic on the other, this narrow road is like traveling through an Outer Space water world, it's hard to believe beauty this remote is achievable in our home state. Points of interest include Pea Island Wildlife Refuge, a stretch of island from Bonner Bridge to Rodanthe, a popular spot for bird watchers and nature lovers. There's also the 19th-century Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station. You can try kite surfing at Canadian Hole, a beach between Avon and Buxton, or visit the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum.
Save room for plenty of small town exploring. From the cinematic Rodanthe that inspired Nicholas Sparks (and the Serendipity house) to North Carolina's most isolated town, Ocracoke Village, and all the small coastal pit stops in between are perfect for booking a night at a quaint Airbnb while exploring around.
Read our full guide to Ocracoke
From the northernmost portion of the Outer Banks to the southern tip of Hatteras, the Outer Banks Scenic Byway is something like a dream. The majestic drive transports you from untouched nature to eclectic small towns all from the comfort of your own car. While there's plenty of must-do drives in the United States, this certainly makes a Top 10 slot.
Have you driven along the Outer Banks Scenic Byway? What are some of your favorite stops on this journey?
For another one-of-a-kind drive, hop on
Waterfalls Scenic Byway.