In 2021 I committed myself to a new goal; walk the entire beach stretch of the Outer Banks of North Carolina over one year. I’ve heard that other people are much more dedicated than me have done it all at once. However, my walk stretched over 10 visits, and was far from linear. I jumped on and off depending on weather and the cost of accommodations. My pit crew dropped me off and picked me up in parking lots, culdesacs, and on public beaches.
The northernmost point for walk was Corolla (pronounced Ca-raw-la). To travel north past Corolla, you’ll need a ORV (off-road vehicle), as Highway 12 turns into a beach road. Going south, the nearly 16 miles of public beach has mostly private rentals and residences.
In between walks in Corolla we spent most of our time around the Village and visiting Currituck Beach Lighthouse.
I completed most of Corolla Beach in April, starting at Corolla Village Road Beach Access near the Lighthouse and hopping on and off at Albacore Street in a residential/rental neighborhood.
I returned to Corolla September for my only night walk. The jumping off point for this trip was the Hampton Inn & Suites, one of just a few hotel accommodations north of Kitty Hawk (the iconic Sanderling Resort was out of our price range.)
Duck is a small village with shopping, restaurants, and residential neighborhoods with house rentals scattered throughout. I was most apprehensive about this walk, because I had to cross the property of the US Army Corps of Engineers Field Research Facility. It turned out to be uneventful, and my fears of being swarmed by a brigade of nerdy engineers worried I would discover top secret information turned out to be unfounded.
There is limited public beach access on the 6-mile beach stretch between Duck and south Kitty Hawk Pier.
Kitty Hawk is the entry point to the Outer Banks after a one-hour drive from Norfolk. From there, we go north toward Corolla or south toward Ocracoke.
Kill Devil Hills & Nags Head
IKill Devil Hills and Nags Head are two of most densely populated destinations in OBX, and an easy place to find beach access along the stretches of hotels, condos, and houses.
My second walk that day took me from ORV Ramp 1 to our favorite OBX Accommodation, the First Colony Inn. We also rescued a wayward ocean-bound snapping turtle, relocating it to a Sound-side retention pond.
In April we we parked on the beach near the ORV Ramp 4 to access Bodie Island. At low tide this stretch of the beach was filled with shallow pools, so Alice could splash in the water in April without risk of a cold crashing wave. They had yet to remove the wrecked Ocean Pursuit, which had become a tourist destination in itself. From there, I continued north until I reached the populated southern end of Nags Head.
Pea Island Wildlife Refuge
Pea Island Wildlife Refuge is a 13-mile wildlife refuge and popular birdwatching station. Walking along this section occasionally required Alex to drop me off along the side of the road and cross his fingers that I would show up at an equally remote planned meet-up spot. The visitor center was one of the only crowded winter destinations in OBX, with migratory birds are the main attraction. There is public beach access, but ORVs are restricted.
In February, I was the only person on the 5-mile stretch between the visitor center northward to the now-vacated Oregon Inlet Lifesaving Station.
We returned to Pea Island for a three mile walk in the National Wildlife Refuge in April, after spending some time further south. Without ORVs, it was a relief to not have to weave in and out of fishing lines after the Hatteras portion. I was alone for the entire walk, with the exception of one crab that was very adamant that I not pass.
Rodanthe to Avon
Rodanthe, and Waves are small towns with a laid-back surfer vibe. The 6-mile beach along this stretch allows for ORV, but it is also residential.
Going south from Salvo, the 17 miles to Avon is the go-to for people who want to drive on a beach with no houses, hotels, etc.
In May, I attempted to walk a four-mile stretch from Rodanthe to Avon, but was (for a second time) thwarted by the mating behavior of some type of OBX bird. This time, Alex and I could wave at each other across the football field size stretch of sanctuary temporarily reserved for bird courtship. This stretch of OBX isn’t inhabited (by humans), but is open to ORVs, so luckily the next entrance with parking for Alex only required backtracking for two miles.
In November, I had a few walks to clean up loose ends on the way back from Ocracoke. My last sunset walk was on the beach in Rodanthe. After a year of observing fishermen and fisherwomen trying their luck, I saw the first actual fish pulled out of the water; a small shark that was promptly returned to the ocean.
Despite my best efforts to make it to Cape Point (near the iconic Cape Hatteras Light Station) from Frisco, I was thwarted by “American Oyster Catchers exhibiting pre-mating behaviors.” I hadn’t thoroughly researched the mating rituals and geographic range of this particular species, so I was surprised to not have access to this stretch of the beach.
At that point my easy ocean-side walk turned into a miserable 1-mile walk through the interior ORV access road. While the beaches offer hard-packed sand at low tide and cool breezes, the access roads along this stretch are blocked from the beach by high dunes and are not made for walking. It didn’t help that the predicted 65 degree day and turned into an unseasonable 75 degrees. Eventually Alex was able to reach me at the Cape Hatteras National Park Campground.
On our drive south to spend Thanksgiving on Ocracoke Island, I finished the remaining stretch on Hatteras Island. This included returning to the spot that Alex had picked me up in May, dehydrated and sweaty, after backtracking from the closed beach.
Hatteras Village to Frisco
We spent Spring Break in OBX, driving all the way to the southern tip of Hatteras has always been Hatteras and taking the Ferry to Ocracoke.
We spent a night at Hatteras Landing by Kees Vacations, with beach access a quick walk across the road. There was also ORV access, so we drove to the southern tip of the island and from there I walked 8 miles north to the parking area at Frisco Beach.
Ocraocke Island Beach at the southern point of the Outer Banks and is only reachable by boat. The island was our “socially distant” refuge during COVID in 2020, and we spent the winter holidays in waterfront rental. I started at the ferry terminal at northernmost point and ended at sunset on South Point.
Finishing The Walk
I started my final day of walking on a short stretch in Avon
My last walk was fittingly where my endeavor began, on Pea Island. I found huge stretches of untouched shells, as well as a complete CONCH? shell. I also had a beach CSI moment as I tried to identify a large collection of bones (my not expert opinion is that it was a dolphin spine.)