The Outer Banks of North Carolina have been our primary escape for the last year. It is an easy (albeit boring) hour and a half drive from our house to Kitty Hawk. Mild winter weekends and affordable hotel and AirBNB rates make it hard not to run away any chance we get.
100 Miles of Beach
The Outer Banks (OBX) stretch over 100 miles, from the remote Corava Beach at the north end to Portsmouth Island, an uninhabited island south of Ocracocke Island. After walking the 14-mile stretch in Ocracoke, I set a goal to walk the entire beach line of OBX. I’m not the first to do it by any means. Locals have told us of people that walk from the southern Ocracoke Lighthouse to Corolla Lighthouse in the North all in a 48-hour period. My goal is much less ambitious; I plan on dividing the walk into much shorter spurts, and at my current 17 min/mile pace it should really only take 28 hours. Easy.
This trip we found something new to add to the collection of memorable “weird things we saw on a beach”; a freshwater snapping turtle. The newly hatched reptile must have taken a wrong turn or caught a ride in the grips of a seagull. Alex played Father Nature by returning it to a nearby swampy canal.
Pea Island Wildlife Refuge
Halfway through the drive of the Outer Banks you cross the unpopulated Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The refuge is a migratory stop for waterfowl, and is wildly (wink) popular for winter birders. In January we were lucky to spot a snowy owl, a rare sight in the US North Carolina Coast. Alice and Alex explored the birdwatching trail, while I was the only human on my five-mile February walk from the Visitor Center north to an abandoned Lifeguard station.
First Colony Inn (Through All of the Seasons)
First Colony Inn in Nags Head has been our escape over the past year. The 27 rooms all have exterior entrances and are perfectly set up for a socially distant vacation. We are able to opt for to-go boxes for the hot breakfasts, and enjoy happy hour drinks from one of the many common seating areas on the wrap-around porches. The Inn isn’t directly on the beach; it’s on the stretch of land between the busy Highway 158 and the NC 12 on the Ocean side. We prefer the third floor; the lower floors are somewhat noisier with both foot traffic and from the highway. The layouts of the room differ, and many offer trundle beds and day beds.
Our February visit followed a ton of rainfall, so the normally pristine grounds and lush gardens were flooded. The resort has its own boardwalk beach entrance, and we never found the area to be crowded. During the summer, the small saltwater pool was a convenient alternative when the waves were too rough for swimming.
The First Colony Inn is a convenient option if you aren’t looking for crowded beach hotels or long-term rentals in OBX. Also, one time I accidentally flushed a full bar of deodorant down the toilet and they didn’t even get mad when they had to call a plumber to replace it.