The Outer Banks Allure…
Keeps Coastal Virginians Coming Back Year After Year
For about as long as there has been an Outer Banks—the modern form didn’t appear until about 4,000 or 5,000 years ago—visitors have been coming from Coastal Virginia. That’s how Monkey Island, a gem of an island in Currituck Sound, got its name.
Evidence indicates the Pamunkey Indians—one of the most powerful tribes in colonial Coastal Virginia and still a part of the community—made regular hunting and trading excursions to a small island in the Currituck Sound. It’s difficult to say if it was intentional or a misunderstanding of language, but over time Pamunkey Island became Monkey Island.
The trend of traveling to the Outer Banks from Coastal Virginia continues today.
“Hampton Roads is a huge part of our market,” says Aaron Tuell, Director of Public Relations of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau.
Hard numbers are a bit difficult to come by—the best estimate of annual visitors puts the number somewhere between 4 and 5 million, but that doesn’t separate a weekend excursion from a family vacation or even a day trip. And no one has figured out a way to identify visitors who make the trip three or four times a year from a family spending a week in Nags Head.
The last survey of Outer Banks visitors was a couple of years ago, and a new one is underway, but Tuell was confident the numbers would not be changing significantly. According to the survey, 6.9% of visitors to the Outer Banks come from Coastal Virginia. Even a conservative estimate shows somewhere between 15–20% of the local population makes at least one trip to the Outer Banks per year.
Those are just numbers though, and they don’t really tell the story about why so many people come to this strip of sand by the sea.
So—here’s the key, and this will be preaching to the choir to return visitors: the Outer Banks is beautiful, diverse and very close. Even Williamsburg, which is about as far away from the Outer Banks as any other city in Coastal Virginia, is only a little over two hours drive.
Of course, that’s just to get on the Outer Banks—probably crossing the Wright Memorial Bridge at Kitty Hawk since the best way to get there from Coastal Virginia is to head south. Then the decisions about what to do begin.
There are more than 100 miles of beaches from Carova in the 4WD section of Corolla to the picture book village of Ocracoke on Ocracoke Island.
These are wonderful beaches, especially in Corolla and Ocracoke where the beaches have consistently been ranked among the top 10 in the country.
Depending on the time of year, it can be a bit chilly to lie out on the sand, but any time of the year is ideal for a romantic stroll or an hour of exploration.
If the only thing to do was to sit by the sea, the Outer Banks would never have gotten as popular as they have become. This is an area steeped in history. This is where the Wright Brothers proved that man could fly, and the Wright Brothers Memorial in Kill Devil Hills is a must-see for first time visitors and a great place for a return visit.
The Outer Banks was also the first attempt by the British to settle the New World, and Fort Raleigh National Historic Site on Roanoke Island is much more than a museum marking that first unsuccessful attempt. Also part of the complex is the Lost Colony—the longest running outdoor theatre in the United States. Telling the story of the unsuccessful 16th century attempt to colonize Roanoke Island, this is theatre, pageantry and performance not to be missed. Running May 30–August 22, it is now in its 77th year.
As much as the history of the Outer Banks is compelling, visitors return time and time again for the range of activities available in one of the most beautiful settings on the East Coast.
To truly grasp the beauty of the Outer Banks, take a trip to Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, which occupies the north end of Hatteras Island. Either the very easy trail that loops around an impoundment or a kayak tour are great ways to explore the area.
For excitement, check out hang gliding at Jockey’s Ridge State Park—an amazing experience.
The Outer Banks is a surfing mecca with conditions generally good and occasionally exceptional. Experienced surfers—check out the S Curves just north of Rodanthe.
With predictable and constant winds and wide shallow bodies of water in the sounds, the Outer Banks is considered one of the best places in the world for windsurfing and kiteboarding. Hatteras Island in particular has become a center of the sports.
Of course, when everything else is said and done and all the activities have been conquered—there’s nothing wrong with sitting on the beach and soaking in the sun.