There’s a lot to the Outer Banks. From Carova, at the border with Virginia, to Ocracoke, that’s well over 100 miles of some of the best beaches in the world.
Of course, the Outer Banks is much more than our beaches.
The Outer Banks is really just a thin strip of barrier island and the sounds on the western side are truly wonders of nature. And we don’t want to forget how much there is to do away from the water. There are some amazing maritime forests and landscapes to explore.
There is so much to do on the Outer Banks that a lot can get missed, so we’ve put together a list of what we’ll call the Hidden Gems of the Outer Banks.
The Beach Almost No One Knows About—The Jug Handle Beach
When word came that NCDOT was getting close to finishing the Jug Handle Bridge that would bypass the S Curves north of Rodanthe, US Fish & Wildlife told everyone not to worry, that they would put a parking lot in at the north end of the bridge and the public would be able to access the beach.
They were true to their word; the parking lot is there and although it’s a bit of a trek to the beach, that trek is worth the effort.
The sand is wonderfully, beautifully soft, and very fine-grained. Very few people seem to know about it, so even if someone has spread out their beach towel at one spot, there are quite literally miles of beach to explore.
A couple of things that are important to know.
Carry food, water, drinks, anything that will be needed; the nearest store is a good four miles away and there are no restrooms at the parking lot—although USFW did indicate they have plans to put one there at some point in time.
Depending on the time of year, there will be areas of the beach closed off because of sea turtle nesting activity. Since the whole point is to be at some place with very few people around, that does seem rather to emphasize the point.
The beach is part of Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Although CHNS does have some beaches with lifeguards, this is not one of them.
Soundside Beach Jockey’s Ridge State Park
Our ocean beaches are amazing, but especially for toddlers, that surf could be a bit tough to handle, and no matter what they can only venture so far out.
But over on the soundside, the waters are calm and stay shallow 20 or 30 yards out or more—perfect for little legs just learning how to handle the water.
What may be the best soundside beach on the Outer Banks is on the south end of Jockey’s Ridge State Park off West Soundside Road in Nags Head.
There’s a parking lot, the beach is sandy and the water is shallow and perfect for those little legs.
The Other Sand Dune—Run Hill
As hidden gems go, Run Hill is about as hidden as it gets. There’s a small grass strip by the side of 10th Avenue in Kill Devil Hills that serves as the parking area for the main entrance.
It is a North Carolina State Natural Area, meaning it’s protected land, but there are no facilities, no trails, and almost no information from the state. What’s there is 127 acres of living sand dune, meaning it’s migrating and always in motion.
But calling Run Hill a sand dune is a disservice to how diverse the environment is. Patches of dense forests dot the landscape. Birds flit through the trees; in the dune environment an occasional black snake is seen—they’re harmless. Tracks of raccoon and possum are common and there’s an occasional coyote track as well.
The entrance on 10th Avenue directs hikers west. Get to the top of the first ridge and find a trail to the left or south to get a sense of how wonderfully complex the ecosystem of the dune system is. That will lead to two freshwater ponds at the base of the dunes.
Disc Golf in a Maritime Forest
Located at the end of a dirt road that parallels the First Flight High School athletic fields in Kill Devil Hills, the Casey Logan Disc Golf Course was created with the idea that the course would take full advantage of a beautiful maritime forest filled with towering trees.
As a consequence, the course is considered challenging—those trees create some unique hazards—and beautiful. So beautiful that some people simply choose to walk through the course rather than play it.
There is an entrance to Run Hill between the ninth and tenth holes. The dune is not quite as steep at this entrance as it is at the 10th Avenue gate.