Regional Guide

Overview - North Carolina Coast

Encompassing a 300-mile section of shoreline, from the Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge on the Virginia border to Cape Fear and Bald Head Island in the south, the eastern shore of North Carolina is one of the most beautiful and beloved coasts in America. Much of the focus is on the Outer Banks, an elbow of long, thin islands famous for their huge sand dunes, white beaches, and proud lighthouses. But this area is much more than the boundary islands. Fishing communities on the mainland shores of Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds, Colonial villages in towns like New Bern, and an extensive network of recreation and adventure—hang gliding, scuba diving, sea kayaking, and wolf watching to name a few—do their part in attracting millions of visitors each year.

If you're coming from the north, get your start on Route 12, the main artery through the Outer Banks. Stop by the Wright Brothers Museum in Kill Devil Hills to see where the first powered flights took place, then spend a night in Nags Head, a favorite resort since the 1830s. Cruise on down to Cape Hatteras National Seashore and climb America's tallest lighthouse. Tour Roanoke Island, home of the first British settlers. Take the ferry to Ocracoke Island for a look at the wild ponies.

To get away from the crowds flocking to the beach, take the ferry to the mainland at Cedar Island Wildlife Refuge. This beautiful park is one of the many refuges and state parks that protect coastal wildlife. Also helping in that capacity is Croatan National Forest, the only true coastal national forest. North of Croatan, you'll find the colonial village of New Bern, the state capital in its early years. Furthern north is Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, so named for the gators that call it home. See if you can spot one in the refuge.

There's an abundant diversity of activities on this southern coast. If your desire is to lay on a warm, breezy shore looking out over the endless green waters of the Atlantic, come on down. If you're looking for more of an adventure, involving paddling kayaks in choppy seas, camping in bear country, and fishing for big game, coastal North Carolina is also your answer.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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