10 Things to Do in the Outer Banks with Kids

When you live in Northern Virginia, you go to North Carolina’s Outer Banks for a week at the beach during the summer. It’s what you do. So it came as a surprise when I realized it had been 25 years since I’d been to the Outer Banks.

Clearly it was time to make a trip back to the Outer Banks, and to check out more than Duck, a beach rental town in the northern section of the Outer Banks. Duck is where we’d always stayed when I was growing up where many (including us) opted for Outer Banks vacation rentals.

However, there are more than a dozen towns along North Carolina’s Outer Banks, each with their own personality and each worthy of a stay as a family, whether in a mom-and-pop motel, a chain hotel or one of many Outer Banks house rentals. During our four-night visit, we stayed in both Buxton in the south and Kill Devil Hills in the north.

It’s about a 2.5 hour drive from Corolla to Hatteras, which will take you almost all the way along the Outer Banks from north to south. You can also take a one-hour ferry ride from Hatteras to Ocracoke if you want to see the southernmost part of the Outer Banks.

My childhood memories of the Outer Banks mostly revolved around going to the beach day after day. I really don’t know what else we did, so I was excited to see just how much there is to do in the Outer Banks since I’m really not much of a spend-the-whole-day-at-the-beach kind of girl.

From hang gliding to ghost crab hunting to mini golf, I feel like we did it a lot of Outer Banks activities in four days. And there were still several items left un-done on my itinerary. Fortunately, we’re going back next month for a week-long stay in Southern Shores with extended family.

Things to Do in the Outer Banks

If you’re looking for a week at the beach as a family, here are 10 fun things to do in the Outer Banks as a family.

1. Climb to the Top of a Lighthouse. There are several lighthouses in the Outer Banks, including Bodie Island Lighthouse and Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Since we were staying at Lighthouse View Oceanfront Lodging in Buxton, which is just a mile from the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, our first order of business on arrival was to visit to the lighthouse.

Well, our first order of business was really to attend the ranger program. Every day there’s a “Light Station Talk” at 3:30 pm. Two fun facts: 1) the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was moved – in one piece – 2,900 feet in 1999 and 2) every lighthouse has a different color pattern. Then we climbed 257 steps to the top. Oh, the views.

2. Watch the Catch of the Day Come In. I’m going to be honest, we did not get to watch the catch come in, but this is something I want to do next month when we go back. Every day at 4 pm, head to the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center in Nags Head. This is when all the fishing boats come in with their daily catches, like sea bass, flounder, sea mullet and trout.

You can also book fishing charters at the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center, so if you want to go out on a fishing excursion, this is the place to do so. You can book full- and half-day fishing adventures, which are offered for all levels of fishing experience. Sounds like so much fun.

3. Take a Hang Gliding Lesson. This was one of the highlights of our stay in the Outer Banks. I signed up my three kids for a three-hour hang gliding lesson on the sand dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head with Kitty Hawk Kites. Three hours sounds like a long time, but when you factor in 45 minutes of classroom instruction, it was just the right amount of time.

My 7 y.o. and 9 y.o. took a kids class taught by two ultra kid-friendly instructors, Wolf & Dom, and they had such a great time. Meantime, my 12 y.o. took a class with adults, which was less hands-on, giving her more opportunity to fly (or crash) on her own. It was cool and cloudy the day of the lesson, which was perfect. No hot sand or sunburns to contend with this day.

4. Hunt for Ghost Crabs. I honestly had never even heard of ghost crabs before doing my initial research into what to do in the Outer Banks with kids. But hunting for ghost crabs after dark is a thing and it’s so much fun. You absolutely must do this in the Outer Banks.

We signed up with Ghost Crab Quest and met our guide, Brian, at the Bonnett Street Beach Access in Nags Head at 8 pm. He had buckets, nets and flashlights ready for us, and even gave us an overview of the animals and sea creatures that make the Outer Banks their home. We collected a few dozen ghost crabs (we let them go at the end) and had an absolute blast.

5. Become a Junior Ranger. If you know me, you know that anytime I visit a park, seashore, historic site or monument that’s part of the National Park Service, I’m all about the Junior Ranger program. We picked up Junior Ranger activity booklets for Cape Hatteras National Seashore at the Hatteras Island Lighthouse and the kids were off and running.

As far as Junior Ranger programs go, this was a pretty easy one to complete. It required each participant to complete just five in-book activities and attend one ranger program. The website says two, but the activity booklet says just one. We also got our national parks passports stamped, though I was disappointed that there was no sticker for Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

6. Play Mini Golf. You really can’t go to the beach without getting in at least one round of mini golf. We had to wait until we got to our second stop, Kill Devil Hills, before playing mini golf. There was a course in Buxton, but it was pretty small, and Nags Head (the town next to Kill Devil Kills) has loads of super-fun mini golf courses.

Our first night in Kill Devil Hills, we noticed Galaxy Golf across the street from where we met up to do ghost crab hunting, so we went there the next night. After 5 pm, it’s $8 per person for one round (cash only), but we had a great time. There are two courses. Quick note that you want to play Venus if you want to putt into the volcano. You’ll understand once you’re there. 🙂

 7. Go Stargazing. Since there’s not a lot of light pollution, the Outer Banks is a great place for stargazing. During the summer, Cape Hatteras National Seashore offers night sky programs a few times a week – Tuesdays and Thursdays at Hatteras Island and Mondays at Ocracoke Island. We met up for the Tuesday program, but I think the park ranger forgot about the program. 🙁

If you’re looking for more things to do in Nags Head, Ghost Crab Quest also offers Starry Night Live, a one-hour astronomy lesson on the beach. This is great option if you’re staying on the upper section of the Outer Banks, like in Duck or Kill Devil Hills, since Hatteras Island is about an hour away by car, which can make for a late night with kids.

8. Learn to Surf the Waves. In addition to hang gliding lessons, Kitty Hawk Kites also offers surf lessons at four different locations along the Outer Banks, including Corolla, Duck, Nags Head and Rodanthe. The two-hour lessons are offered for ages seven and up, giving participants a primer on surfing fundamentals and ocean safety before taking them out in the water.

Kitty Hawk Kites also offers three-day surf camps for kids ages 5-10 at the Nags Head and Corolla locations. This could be a great option if you’re planning to spend a full week at the beach and your kids are eager to Hang 10. Private surf lessons are also an option if you’d like more one-on-one time with the instructor to perfect your technique.

9. Go Crabbing. My kids have been crabbing before (as have I), but it’s always involved dangling a chicken neck off the side of a bridge. Our two-hour adventure with OBX Crabbing was our first time on a real-life crabbing boat with a real-life professional crabber. Needless to say, it was very cool. Easily one of my favorite Outer Banks activities.

We started the trip by boating out about 20 minutes or so, and that’s when the real fun began. The kids got to pull in the crab pots, help shake them out of the trap, then pick them up and toss the right-sized crabs into a bucket. OBX Crabbing offers both crabbing and shrimping charters, but our guide let us know that crabbing is much more fun and hands-on for kids.

10. Wake Up Early for Sunrise. I still can’t believe it, but I woke up in time for sunrise all four mornings while we were in the Outer Banks. As a bonus, I even ran every morning just after sunrise. That’s a first for a vacation.

I only got to see the sunrise the first two mornings of our vacation, while in Buxton, and it was completely beautiful. Unfortunately, despite our room at Cavalier by the Sea in Kill Devil Hills being right on the beach, it was a foggy start to both days. However, my friend, Tonya at The Traveling Praters, was lucky enough to catch the sunrise from that same location.

Given all there is to do on the Outer Banks, does it really come as any surprise that the beaches here are among the best family beaches on the East Coast? If you’ve taken an Outer Banks vacation, let me know some of your favorite things to do in the Outer Banks in the comments section below.

Disclaimer: We were hosted by the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau. However, all opinions expressed here are my own.