As the summer 2016 camping season winds down this weekend, I know many of you are looking forward to your fall camping plans. (We sure can’t wait until our October trip!) But as you enjoy cooler days and colorful foliage, it’s also a good time to start thinking about your
winter escape plans, errr, winter travel plans. Last March we escaped to North Carolina’s Outer Banks and discovered that even in the off-season it’s a fantastic destination rich with historical, cultural, and outdoor recreational opportunities where families will find something for everyone. Here’s 10 can’t-miss, off-season stops in the OBX:
Jennette’s Pier is a state-of-the-art, public fishing pier located in Nags Head. A wide-variety of ocean angling is permitted from this 1,000-foot-long concrete pier and although you will have to purchase an entrance/fishing pass, you don’t have to buy a special fishing license. If you don’t have your own gear, the facility offers rod rentals and stocked bait and tackle. New to fishing? No worries. The pier, which is open year round, offers a range of classes and educational programs geared for both novice and experienced anglers. One class will even guide you from catching a fish to cleaning and then cooking it.
We were super impressed with the family-focused atmosphere at the pier. When our sons each reeled in a skate (I had never heard of such a creature before and the best way I can describe it is it looks similar to a sting ray), friendly staff members were on hand to congratulate them and then guide them through the unhooking and release process. The pier even mailed each of the boys a certificate commemorating their first catch at the pier. Many thanks to Daryl Law for showing us around!
2. Roanoke Island Festival Park (Open March-December)
The Festival Park in Manteo is the perfect spot for families to delve into the region’s history, learning through hands-on exhibits about what life would have been like at the time of the first English settlement. The indoor and outdoor exhibits include a representative 16th century ship, Algonquian Indian town, early settlement site, and an adventure museum that traces the history of Roanoke Island life.
3. Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station (Open April-November)
Before there was the U.S. Coast Guard, there were teams of brave men who formed lIfe-saving stations along the coasts. Just down the street from our OBX campground, is the historic Chicamacomico site and museum dedicated to preserving the history of the life-saving service and chronicling the famous 1918 Mirlo rescue. The complex features several historic buildings, including the 1874 Station where the life-saving boat and life car (which looks kind of like a mini submarine!) are kept. Many thanks to Warren Renn for the great tour!
The aquarium is open year round, but also offers a variety of special programs like the behind the scenes tour of the Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation (STAR) Center. This special program includes an informational session about sea turtles and then a tour of the rehab center, where this past winter the personnel had to manage an abnormally large influx of distressed sea turtles.
This U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service facility is open year round and features interactive exhibits, audio-visual programs, and even a virtual airplane ride. The colorful and engaging displays were a hit with the kids, who enjoyed learning about migration schedules, the recovering red wolf population, and wildfire fighting. This would be a great stop on a rainy day!
Home to the largest natural sand dune on the East Coast, Jockey’s Ridge is open year round. Challenge your family to a dune climb, or let your kiddos spend some time working through a booklet to earn the park’s state junior ranger badge. You may even spot some hang gliders or sand boarders among the kite flyers.
As the daughter of a former Air Force pilot and a former Ohioan, it was pretty cool to be at the site where the first successful airplane flights took place. We immediately could feel why this was the perfect spot for the Wright brothers to test their plane: Oh my, the wind!
We were fortunate enough to be at the park in time to hear a ranger program with Darrell Collins. It was the best ranger program we have ever attended! This NPS site is open year round.
Both the Bodie and Hatteras lighthouses have small museum areas to explore year round, and plenty of iconic spots to capture a few family pictures. In 2016, the lighthouses were open for climbing starting the third Friday in April and closed after Columbus Day, so be sure to check the park information before you go.
Here’s the place to learn about England’s first settlements in the New World–including the infamous and mysterious “Lost Colony.” In addition to a video about the colony, you can explore year round a small but well-done museum area and the grounds.
Just off the coast of the Outer Banks lie more than 2,000 shipwrecks, which is why the region was once nicknamed the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” This small museum chronicles maritime and shipwreck history and is open year round.
But wait! There’s really more than 10 great things to do in the OBX during the off-season!
Whether you’re in the market for a cool new kite to fly on the beach, you want to tackle the indoor climbing wall, or you want to learn a new skill like kiteboarding, this is the place to get set up.
Laser tag, arcade games, bounce house, and more. Oh my!
Stop in an art studio where all ages can experiment with different art forms and create their own beach memory.
It may be too chilly to take a dip in the ocean or sunbathe during the off-season, so why not bring your off-road vehicle to explore the Cape Hatteras National Seashore?
If you’ve never been, be sure to enjoy your donut while it’s still warm. You’ll thank me later. 🙂
With so many options for fun and relaxation during the off-season, it’s likely you and your family will be plotting a return trip to the Outer Banks before you’ve even crossed back onto the mainland!
Many thanks to the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, which sponsored our visit.