The miles of wild terrain along the Outer Banks serves as an ideal locale for adventurous hikers, and vacationers who adore a good nature walk will find plenty of off-the-beaten paths to discover, from the national refuges and reserves to the small but well-manicured trails. On the Outer Banks, hikers can simply choose their own adventure, and enjoy miles of gorgeous sunsets and undisturbed coastal environments along the way. As one of the most unpopulated coastal destinations along the East Coast, the Outer Banks offers miles of grounds to explore.
Hit the Trail: Hiking the Outer Banks of North Carolina
The Outer Banks isn’t just about the sun, sand and surf. It’s also about beautiful, untouched wild places. And while it’s a great place to catch a wave, it’s also the perfect place to strap on your hiking boots and hit the trail.
Outdoor enthusiasts are delighted to discover that our barrier islands are rich in maritime forests, ecological preserves and coastal ecosystems that offer unique hiking opportunities for anyone looking to disappear into nature for a while.
When you are ready to hit the trail – instead of the beach – here is our top five picks when in comes to Outer Banks’ trailheads. Listed from north to south, you won’t want to miss these. Each offer unique terrains, fauna and wildlife that make the Outer Banks such a diverse and beautiful environment.
See you out on the trail!
Parking for both the boardwalk and trail is located three-quarters of a mile north of Corolla on N.C. 12. Access is located at a sharp right-hand turn in the road. The boardwalk trail is an easy .6-mile hike round trip. The 1.5-mile primitive trail departs from the boardwalk and heads north through a maritime forest. Both trails take hikers to the Currituck Sound, and past habitats that include grasslands, shrub thicket, maritime forest, brackish and freshwater marshes, tidal flats and sub-tidal soft bottoms. The northern portion of the reserve is accessible only by four-wheel drive. N.C. Highway 12, north of Corolla Village • 252.261.8891
This 1,824-acre preserve is one of North Carolina’s largest tracts of deciduous swamp, forest and marshland, which features a variety of fauna and wildflowers as well as a diverse wildlife population. A two-mile loop trail begins at the parking area located at the north end of The Woods Road at the David Paul Pruitt Playground, but there are numerous primitive trails throughout the preserve. The reserve also includes seven rare plant varieties, including the coastal goldenrod American featherfoil, wooly beach heather, southern twayblade and hop hornbeam. Hikers can also access the interior of the woods at the end of Eckner Street, Amadas Road, and Birch Lane. Boaters can access High Bridge Creek from the public boat ramp on Bob Perry Road. The Woods Road, Kitty Hawk, NC • 252.261.889
Nags Head Woods, which includes more than 1,400 acres owned by The Nature Conservancy, offers a unique and diverse ecosystem that features more than five miles of trails that take hikers through maritime forests full of beech trees, hickories, oaks and pines as well as ponds, wooded dunes, and marshlands. Hikers can choose from short, easier hikes like the Center Trail to more challenging ones such as the Sweet Gum and Blueberry Ridge trails. There’s also a .5-mile ADA accessible loop trail. Parking is located at the end of Ocean Acres Drive at milepost 9 in Kill Devil Hills. Also part of the preserve is the Nags Head Town Trail, an out-and-back trail that leads to the Roanoke Sound. Parking for the trail is at the end of Barnes Street in Nags Head. MP 9.5 • W. Ocean Acres Drive, off the Bypass, Kill Devil Hills • Phone: 252.441.2525
This 1,007-acre reserve is reachable via N.C. 12 at its intersection with Old Doctor’s Road or Water Association Road. Four-wheel drives can access the reserve from Old Doctor’s Road, whereas two-wheel drive vehicles can park at the end of Water Association Road. Hikers will enjoy several trails in the reserve. The Buxton Woods Trail, which begins from the Buxton Woods Picnic Area, is a three-quarter mile loop that takes hikers through a diverse maritime forest as well as some of the highest points on Hatteras Island. The Open Ponds Trail, a nine-mile round trip route, runs between the British Cemetery near the picnic area and Frisco Campground. The Woods is home to more than 360 species of birds including the peregrine falcon and bald eagle. Two rare butterflies can also be found in Buxton Woods – the Northern Hairstreak and the Giant Swallowtail. Trails here link with the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Old Doctor’s Road, Flowers Ridge Road or Water Association Road (all off N.C. Highway 12), Buxton, NC • 252.261.8891
The Hammock Hills Nature Trail is an .8-mile trail located at the entrance of Ocracoke Campground and leads hikers past dunes, scrub thickets, maritime forest and salt marsh. At the halfway point, a raised platform offers hikers views of the Pamlico Sound. Kiosks along the way provide information about wildlife and fauna.