Get Outside: Recreation in the Outer Banks

leadouterbankshangglideSince English settlers first laid eyes on Roanoke Island more than 400 years ago, the rugged beauty of the Outer Banks of North Carolina continues to entice visitors. With 130 miles of unspoiled miles of shifting sand and undulating dunes dotted with whispering sea oats, the Outer Banks represents the ultimate playground for outdoor sporting enthusiasts.The area’s remote national wildlife refuges, sheltered seashores and protected maritime forests afford both peaceful retreats and awesome adventures.

Hang Gliding

Prospective aviators can fly near the same location where the Wright Brothers took their historic flight in 1903. To date, more than 260,000 students have learned to hang glide at Kitty Hawk Kites, the world’s largest hang-gliding school.

After sitting through a ground-school class, students trek over to Jockey’s Ridge State Park, the tallest natural sand dune on the East Coast.

After some additional instruction, it’s launch time. With a constant breeze at their backs and the sounds of the waves in their ears, students run into the wind. Once their feet no longer touch the ground, they soar over the rolling sand dunes until they glide down and come to rest on the soft, forgiving sand.

Thanks to tandem aero-towing, there are no physical restrictions other than weight limits for anyone who wants to touch the sky and fly.

Windsurfing programs at Kitty Hawk Sports range from beginning to advanced.
Windsurfing programs at Kitty Hawk Sports range from beginning to advanced.

Water Sports

Since 1981, Kitty Hawk Sports has been offering a range of water sports, including windsurfing and kayaking programs for beginning to advanced adventure enthusiasts. Kayak nature tours take visitors on two-hour, four-hour, all-day or overnight excursions to Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the Kitty Hawk Maritime Forest.

As kayakers glide through the salt marshes, sounds, tidal creeks and ocean, they have the opportunity to spot a diverse range of marine and animal life, including ospreys, deer and dolphins. Carolina Outdoors, a division of Kitty Hawk Kites, also offers kayak rentals and eco-tours, as well as sport-wall climbing, parasailing, surfing, wave-runner rentals and tours, and jet-boat dolphin tours. Other active water sports available through area outfitters include jet skiing, canoeing, diving, sailing and recreational boating.


Hundreds of blue marlin, white marlin and sailfish are caught in the waters of the Outer Banks each year, as well as record-size black sea bass, Spanish mackerel, bigeye tuna, kingfish and sheepshead.

Additional species anglers can target include albacore, wahoo, speckled trout, gray trout, flounder, striped bass (or rockfish), black drum, largemouth bass, tautog, cobia and a variety of pan fish.

Flyfishers, spincasters and bait rodders looking for some action closer to shore can check out close-range ocean and inlet fishing. While most anglers fish these shallow waters in a skiff or shallow-bottom boat, kayak fishing is gaining popularity for those who wish to get up close and personal as they target their prey.

Also, the Outer Banks offers some of the best wade fishing on the East Coast. Anglers can surfcast into the Atlantic Ocean’s rocky waves, wade into the quieter waters of the sound or cast their lines from one of the public fishing piers. Freshwater enthusiasts can check some of the Outer Banks’ interior freshwater ponds.

A freshwater fishing license is needed to fish any freshwater species. Effective January 1, 2007, a saltwater fishing license will be required, as well.

The Elizabeth II gives visitors an idea of what sailing was like in the 16th century.
The Elizabeth II gives visitors an idea of what sailing was like in the 16th century.


Visiting sailors can explore Roanoke Sound from the deck of the Downeast Rover, a replica of a 19th century coastal schooner. During a daytime or sunset cruise, guests help trim the sails, take a turn at the helm or just relax on waters made famous by the first English settlers to the new world. TheElizabeth II, a replica of a 16th century sailing vessel, allows hands-on activities, such as setting a sail, for visitors touring Roanoke Island Festival Park in Manteo, North Carolina.

In addition to sponsoring a summer learn-to-sail program for youth and adults, the North Carolina Maritime Museum, on Roanoke Island, offers a variety of maritime-related educational programs and interpretive exhibits throughout the year.

If You Go

Outer Banks Visitors Bureau



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