When thinking of places to visit in North Carolina, the first thing that comes to many people’s minds is an OBX vacation. Along with amazing beaches, great restaurants, and more things to do, we think you should know these fun and informative Outer Banks facts.
With a mix of history, geography, and what to expect today, we think these fun Outer Banks facts will perfectly pair with your vacation on this special collection of barrier islands.
Here’s what you’ll find inside this guide:
- Outer Banks Geography and Location Defined
- Outer Banks History
- Graveyard of the Atlantic
- The Carolina Charter and Division
- Pirates, Proprietors, and Royals
- Civil War
- After the War: Rediscovering the Outer Banks
- The 20th Century: Wright Brothers
- Cape Hatteras National Seashore
- Outer Banks Facts of Today
- Getting to the Outer Banks
- More Things to Do in the Outer Banks (Related Posts)
Before getting into the nitty-gritty of Outer Banks facts, here are some posts we’ve created that cover the area for folks like you who plan to visit:
- Outer Banks Towns
- Things to Do in the Outer Banks
- Outer Banks Restaurants
- Off-Season in the Outer Banks
- Outer Banks Hiking Trails
- Jockey’s Ridge State Park
- Outer Banks Distilling in Manteo
- Weeping Radish Brewery
Fun Outer Banks Facts That You Should Know
Outer Banks Geography and Location Defined
Beyond amazing rentals and NC beachside fun, the Outer Banks is an area full of interesting geographical features and history.
- The number of islands and inlets here always changes, due to severe storms opening some up and closing others.
- The lowest point in North Carolina is where it meets the Atlantic Ocean (sea level).
- In fact (hey, that’s the name of this post!), the stretch that runs along the Outer Banks is so historically rough for sailors that it’s long been referred to as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” We’ll touch more on that later.
- Our next set of Outer Banks facts might be a bit controversial, considering there are a few different ideas about borders and what defines these barrier islands. Some have declared the Outer Banks to only include Currituck, Dare, and Hyde Counties. Others have expanded them all the way south to the Bogue Banks (Atlantic Beach, Emerald Isle, etc).
- Ultimately, until we see an official declaration on borders, our definition of the Outer Banks of North Carolina remains as follows: from north to south, Carova Beach to Portsmouth Island.
Outer Banks History
For the “History” section, we’re going to keep these Outer Banks facts as chronologically organized as possible.
- Prior to the first European arrival here, the region we now know as the Outer Banks were occupied by various Native American tribes and bands throughout history.
- The Croatoan Indians are thought to have inhabited Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands when Europeans arrived near the end of the 16th century.
- After various scouting efforts and a couple of failed attempts, an English settlement known as Roanoke (today’s Roanoke Island) was established in 1587. This was the first attempted English Colony.
- Virginia Dare, whose namesake is you’ll recognize when entering Dare County, was the first English child born in America, also in 1587.
- Sadly and mysteriously, the colony and all its inhabitants disappeared not long after arriving.
- The wake of this mystery, also known as The Lost Colony of Roanoke, continues to perplex people even to this day.
- You can learn more about the Lost Colony at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. It sits just a few miles from Manteo on Roanoke Island.
Graveyard of the Atlantic
- The fate of Roanoke played heavily into the delay in returning to the Outer Banks. It’s also due to the notorious danger of the waters surrounding this area.
- If you ever look at a map of all the shipwrecks that surround The Outer Banks, you’ll know exactly why it’s known as “the Graveyard of the Atlantic.” There’s even a museum named that in Hatteras.
Before all that, there was a colony to settle! However, it did take some time for Europeans to arrive.
The Carolina Charter and Division
- Some colonists did “overflow” from Virginia in the 1650s but this area was largely left alone by English and European settlers. Of course, an official Carolina Charter would change things.
- Another thing holding back colonization of this area was the Royal Court back in England. Long story short, a charter was originally granted in 1629, rescinded due to disagreements over which religious group would go, and indefinite postponement due to Interregnum.
- Following the monarchy’s restoration in 1660, the second Carolina charter was issued in 1663. Even then, it took decades for large-scale settlement to take place.
Pirates, Proprietors, and Royals
- In 1712, Carolina was divided into two separate colonies (North and South).
- From 1712-1729, North Carolina remained a Proprietary Colony which meant its people answered (mostly) to Lord Proprietor. That gave a select group of men (eight to start) extended powers over the region, even though the King back in England held sovereignty over the colony.
- The proprietors of North Carolina struggled to attract settlers (especially along the coast), due to the former’s inability to promise safety in the wake of Indian attacks, piracy, and other dangers.
- Edward Teach, also known as Blackbeard, lived in Bath and terrorized much of the southeastern coast until 1718 when he and many of his many were killed during a battle on Ocracoke Island.
- Among the many treasures he and other pirates sought, rum was one commodity with a legacy that lives on today. You can learn about this at Outer Banks Distilling, where the flagship Kill Devil Rum is a testament to this area and rum’s history. Sip responsibly.
- The Proprietary Era ended in 1729 when King George paid those in control to make North Carolina a Royal Colony. While this move brought more stability to the region, the Outer Banks remained fairly remote until the mid-20th century.
- Both sides used parts of the Outer Banks during the Civil War. It was also here where the Union launched its official campaign against the Confederates on August 27, 1861.
- After the war, the Outer Banks mostly returned to its seclusion, known for fishing and, on rare occasions, as a vacation destination for wealthy planters of the Inner Banks.
- One major development did occur after the war, as a series of lifesaving stations were built all along the Atlantic Coast (including Bodie Island). Aiding sailors and offer rescues for wrecked ships, the stations are known as a modern forerunner to today’s’ Coast Guard.
- In fact, Pea Island’s lifesaving station was the only one manned by a black crew between 1890 to 1900.
After the War: Rediscovering the Outer Banks
- The completion of the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal just before the Civil War (1859) was a huge player in connecting the Outer Banks to the rest of North Carolina. That led to a shift to more commercial fishing and visitors seeking hunting lands and those seeking a peek at the beautiful beaches of Nags Head and elsewhere.
The 20th Century: Wright Brothers
- Other than Blackbear, the early 20th Century is when the most famous of Outer Banks facts took place, with the achievements of Wilbur and Orville Wright. Thanks to the winds and sands of the Outer Banks, the two men were able to launch and safely land multiple gliders. On December 17, 1903, the first motor-powered airplane flew for 12 seconds.
- Each December, the Wright Brothers National Monument celebrates their “First Flight” along with activities held throughout the day.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
- Many of us would still not know the Outer Banks today if not for donors and the New Deal. During the 1930s, Cape Hatteras National Seashore was the first authorized by Congress (1937).
- The Government-led Civilian Conservation Corps worked to preserve the area’s beaches and sand dunes.
- However, the funds for purchasing much of its 28,500 acres were provided by philanthropist Paul Mellon.
- As a result of Mellon’s generosity and the hard work of so many people, we have a beautiful stretch of land and a ferry-connected road (Outer Banks Scenic Byway) to drive through much of it.
Outer Banks Facts of Today
- If you visit the Outer Banks today, you’ll notice concentrated development around Nags Head and further north. Duck is one of the most popular spots for vacationers. Further north, vacationers and travelers alike enjoy seeing the beautiful Corolla Wild Horses, a bucket-list-worthy thing to do.
- Drive south and you’ll see smaller towns and huge stretches of protected land within Cape Hatteras National Seashore. A couple of our favorite places to stop include Bodie Island Lighthouse, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, and the towns of Rodanthe and Avon.
- Speaking of lighthouses, Bodie Island is one of four on the Outer Banks. From north to south, Currituck, Hatteras, and Ocracoke are the other three.
- Ferries will take you from Hatteras to Ocracoke Island (more info at NC DOT), where one can easily spend an entire vacation. 16 miles of beaches accompany a wonderful community that’s perfect for any visitors.
Getting to the Outer Banks
- There’s no major airport in the Outer Banks, which means commercial air travel isn’t a possibility. However, booking a private air charter or helicopter to get you there is definitely something doable.
- Driving to the Outer Banks depends on the direction you’re driving from. Of course, GPS tells us all what to do these days (me included!). However, here are the ways that many of you will arrive.
- From the north or if you’re heading to the northern towns, you’ll come in via I-95, then I-64, and Route 168.
- Along this route, you’ll pass Weeping Radish, also known as North Carolina’s first microbrewery. We definitely suggest stopping if you’re hungry. Drink responsibly.
- Folks driving toward the southern towns will also spend time on I-95. Around Rocky Mount (and the awesome Rocky Mount Mills), you’ll hop on US-64 for the remainder of the trip. And if you’re like us, you’ll come in from the West via I-85 or I-40 until meeting I-95, followed by US-64.
What are Your Favorite Outer Banks Facts?
We think this is a great stopping point for all the Outer Banks facts we’ve dropped on you. Of course, we’re always open to more tidbits if you’ve got them. Let us know in the comments if so!
Otherwise, we hope you enjoy one of our favorite places in all of North Carolina, especially on the coast.