Day Tripping– An Outer Banks Drive to Hatteras

One of the best features of the the Outer Banks is how many places are within an hour to two hour drive, and a day trip to Hatteras is a great way to explore the area. Keep in mind that the geography of barrier islands is long and skinny, so folks staying up in Corolla will have a longer ride to get to Hatteras than someone in Nags Head.

You can’t get lost driving to Hatteras. Get in your car and head south. Although the main towns of the northern Outer Banks have kept much of their charm, the area is well developed and  the real sense of what a barrier island is and how it exists with the sea, begins at the crest of the Bonner Bridge as it crosses Oregon Inlet and connects the northern Outer Banks with Pea Island.

Pea Island, the northernmost part of Hatteras Island, is little more than a thread of sand holding back the Atlantic Ocean. The dunes to the east were constructed in the 1930s by the CCC (a Depression era make work program) and are constantly being replenished to protect the road.

To the west there are a series of ponds that are impoundments built in the early 20thcentury to attract waterfowl for the hunt clubs that populated the Outer Banks. There is a trail around one of them at the Pea Island Visitor Center about four miles south of the Bonner Bridge. It’s about a mile around and worth the effort.

A little farther down the road there’s a weird bridge that looks like it was slapped together in a big hurry–which it was, although the bridge is actually very well built. The inlet it crosses did not exist until Hurricane Irene created it last year.

On the north end of Rodanthe, the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station may be the best preserved and most complete site of its kind in the country. It is located in a subdivision called Mirlo Beach  named after a British tanker that was sunk off the coast in WWI.

About nine of ten miles south of the Tri-Villages (Rodanthe, Salvo, Waves) is Avon. Once upon a time Avon was known as Kinakeet, which explains the signs calling calling out Kinakeet Shores or Little Kinakeet. Centrally located, Avon has become the commercial center of Hatteras Island. However, it began its life as a fishing village and there are still remnants of that lifestyle.

Turn right  at the light at the intersection of NC12 and Harbor Road. Follow the road around and it leads to a small commercial fishing dock. It’s a short drive, but it goes right through the core of what was Kinakeet–and there is a clear sense of what the village looked like before commercial development took over.

As an aside, the fish market at the intersection gets a lot of its fish from those docks, so if seafood is on the menu, that may be the worth a visit.

The heart of Hatteras Island is the Hatteras Lighthouse, about 15 miles south of Avon in the village of Buxton.

Hatteras Light can be climbed and the view is worth the effort–which is considerable. However, climbing is on a first come first served basis, so plan accordingly. For families, children must be at least 42” in height. There is a fee.

Frisco is immediately adjacent to Buxton. The Frisco Native American Museum is a lot of fun. Exhibits, a short nature walk and occasional activities make it an interesting stop along the way.

Hatteras Village is at the southern end of the island. An eclectic blend of shops, art galleries restaurants, it also features the largest harbor on the island with a substantial fishing fleet–both commercial and recreational. Especially in the fall and winter, when blue water fishing is at its peak, the docks are busy.

At the very tip of Hatteras Village is the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. Probably not an all day museum, but some really interesting artifacts and exhibits.

Be sure to stay in the left hand lane when driving to the museum. Bear to the right, and you’ll end up in line for the Ocracoke Ferry–and that is a tale for another day.