If you’re looking for some local travel, a winter trip to the Outer Banks is a lovely, quiet escape in the Carolinas.
Coastal adventures aren’t just for the summer months, especially in North Carolina. The Outer Banks offers a wide range of activities that visitors can find during the off-season. To experience the Outer Banks to the fullest this winter, take a look at our seasonally-appropriate travel recommendations.
- Visit the Beach
Free public beach access
While the water might not be suitable for swimming, a day trip to the beach during the winter is still fun. The weather averages 50-60 degrees during the daytime, so visitors can grab a blanket and picnic on the soft sand with a warm beverage in hand.
- See and Learn About Wild Horses
Free museum entry, tour prices vary
As descendants of the Spanish Mustangs abandoned off of North Carolina’s coast, these wild horses have been calling the Outer Banks home for hundreds of years. There are plenty of tours available to view the herd at a safe distance, including those run by Wild Horse Adventure Tours and Corolla Wild Horse Tours. Because it’s the off-season, it’s easier to book tours and get close to the horses. Visitors can then stop by the museum at Corolla Wild Horse Fund to discover more about the work that goes into preserving their habitat.
- Camp at Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Free park entry, campsite reservation rates vary
Take that trip to the beach a step further by reserving a campsite near the ocean. Cape Hatteras National Seashore is a National Park with a sprawling campground open to the public. Cooler temperatures and less crowds make winter the perfect time to trek through the park at leisure. Those with an off-road vehicle can even drive out to select areas of the beach. Cape Hatteras is also an excellent place to learn about some Outer Banks history. The Park is home to three historic lighthouses that are open for viewing.
- Tour the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
Free park entry
Located on Cape Hatteras National Seashore land, the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is the seasonal home to around 400 bird species. This makes the refuge an excellent place for bird watching, especially during the winter months. Visitors who come between December and February can expect to see thousands of pintails, northern shovelers, ring necked ducks, tundra swans, and even green-winged teals — the smallest dabbling ducks in North America.
- Visit the Spot Where the Wright Brothers Made History
Adults (16 and older) $10, kids (15 and younger) free
The Wright Brothers National Memorial is a must-see destination for history buffs and families with kids. This park memorializes the place the Wright Brothers first took flight. Visitors can learn about their scientific journey in the park’s museum while also viewing historical replicas of their living quarters and first flying machine.
- View the Elizabeth Gardens Winter Lights
Adults $11, youth (ages 6-17) $9, child (5 and younger) $6
Every year, the Elizabeth Gardens transforms into a winter wonderland to welcome in the holiday season. Visitors can walk the whole garden while enjoying the twinkling holiday lights and festive décor. Don’t forget to stop by the shop for seasonal items, too.
- Visit the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
Free admission, donations always appreciated
The Outer Banks has gone by many different names throughout history, but few have stuck as well as The Graveyard of the Atlantic. This aptly named stretch of coastline holds the ruins of over 3,000 shipwrecks spanning all the way back to the 1500s. Museum goers can learn the true tales behind these wrecks and the conditions that made the area so treacherous for boats. Kids can even enjoy a museum scavenger hunt and special craft events while they tour.