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10+ Great Outer Banks Hiking Trails for Kids (and Adults, Too!)

Published by Christina Riley. Last Updated on February 29, 2024.

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When imagining things to do in the Outer Banks, thoughts likely head toward the beach, your soon-to-be booked rental, or your favorite barrier island restaurants.

But did you know there are some awesome Outer Banks hiking trails to explore, too? Many are accessible, and all that we’ll share in this guide are great for children.

And don’t worry if you think you’ll be staying too far away from these paths. Because we cover every town and to keep things organized, our guide moves from north to south on the map.

So what are we waiting for? Let’s hop on our favorite Outer Banks trails, specially crafted for kids.

Whether you’re a new resident, a frequent visitor, or a local, we’re leaving no detail behind. If you live in the Outer Banks area and are wondering, “What are the best hiking trails near me?” we think this NC travel guide will help you out!

Read More: 100+ of the Best Hiking Trails in North Carolina

Map of Outer Banks Hiking Trails (and More Things to Do)

This map appears on our Outer Banks page and will show you things to do, places to eat, and more in the area. We’ve also created a North Carolina travel map that covers the entire state.

a map of our favorite hiking trails in the Outer Banks

Leave No Trace and Respect the Trails

Before you head out, we want to remind you to leave no trace from these Outer Banks hiking trails. That way, we (and all Outer Banks visitors) can enjoy them as you did.

Also, if any of the trailhead parking lots are full or approaching full, go to a nearby hike instead!

Outer Banks Hiking Trails for Kids (and Adults, Too!)

Currituck Banks Reserve

The northernmost trail in our guide is the 965-acre Currituck Banks Coastal Estuarine Reserve. Two paths will take you through this natural habitat in Corolla, including a 0.6-mile boardwalk that is perfect for kids.

A 1.5-mile primitive trail starts at the end of that boardwalk and weaves through thick forest. While you’re enjoying the Currituck Banks Reserve, keep an eye out for birds.

This is an important stop along the Atlantic Flyway, which migrating birds follow from Greenland to the Caribbean. 

Note that the most northern part of the reserve requires a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

Read More: Currituck Beach Lighthouse on the Outer Banks (How to See It and Climb to the Top!)

Duck Town Park Boardwalk

a boardwalk with the Duck water tower in the distance.

Winding along with the sound side shores of Duck, the boardwalk extends nearly a mile and connects most of the town. It’s an accessible trail and great for popping in and out of locally-owned shops.

Or you can spend your time just enjoying the sights of the Currituck Sound.

Read More: 30+ Amazing NC Coastal Towns (+ Things to Do in Each One!)

Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Reserve

a covered bridge with our daughter looking over the edge

At 1,824 acres, Kitty Hawk Woods Reserve is one of the largest swamplands dedicated to preservation. Featuring a two-mile loop, a playground, and numerous primitive trails, it is a perfect kid-friendly Outer Banks trail!

The waters of Kitty Hawk Woods are especially popular among kayakers and perfect for watching wildlife and even sunsets. This multi-use trail will also take you to a beautiful covered bridge!

a small child running towards a one lane covered bridge

We think you should stay on every path, but it’s especially important to do so at Kitty Hawk Woods Reserve.

a scenic marsh at Kitty Hawk Woods Reserve

Why?

Because it is home to seven rare and unusual plant varieties. These plants are protected by the State of North Carolina.

They include the coastal goldenrod American featherfoil, wooly beach heather, southern twayblade, marsh pink, shoreline sedge, and whisk fern.

Parking is available at the David Paul Pruitt Park or the Sandy Run Park. To reach the bridge, follow the multi-use trail alongside the road until you reach S Covered Bridge Road. The Bridge will be up the road after a quick jaunt through the forest.

Read More: Eastern North Carolina (and 100+ Awesome Places to Visit)

Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve

Hiking North Carolina Nags Head Woods Outer Banks

Nags Head Woods Preserve was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1974 and is one of the largest maritime forests on the East Coast. More than 150 species of birds, 550 varieties of plants, and 20 mammals have been recorded here.

Outer Banks NC Things to Do Nags Head Woods Image

There is an accessible half-mile loop trail that is perfect for kids. This Outer Banks hiking trail features plenty of beautiful viewpoints and room for children to explore.

In addition to this loop trail, hikers can choose the easy Center Trail or the more challenging Sweet Gum and Blueberry Ridge Trails.

Read More: 40+ Fun Outer Banks Facts That You Should Know (History, Geography, Achievements, and More!

Jockey’s Ridge State Park

me and our daughter flying a kit at Jockey's Ridge State Park

Jockey’s Ridge State Park is certainly one of the biggest Outer Banks attractions and there are plenty of ways to explore these massive sand dunes. 420 acres span from the edge of the dunes to Roanoke Sound, providing impressive views all around.

a small boardwalk over the sand dunes surrounded by trees.

The sand dunes here formed when storm surges pushed offshore shoals, attracting thousands of tourists each year. The park is popular for hang gliding, sandboarding, and kite flying.

We also think (and others agree) that Jockey’s Ridge has some of the best kid-friendly hiking in the Outer Banks.

Children can run through the sand or explore the Soundside Nature Trail, which is a mile loop. It begins at Sound Side Park, runs through marshlands, and offers a beautiful scenic overlook.

a little girl in a pink hat and pink shirt walking along the sand

There are two more kid-friendly hikes at Jockey’s Ridge. One is a small accessible boardwalk near the main entrance, with educational signs explaining local flora and fauna.

And if you (and your kids) are looking for more of a challenge, the Track in the Sand Nature Trail is a 1.5-mile trek over the sand dunes to the Roanoke Sound. This one also starts at the Visitor Center.

Read More: 41 North Carolina State Parks Sites and How to Enjoy them All!

Bonus Jockey’s Ridge Fun: The Sand Castle!

a putt putt prop in the shape of a castle on the beach

If you’re up for an extra challenge, walk over to the castle in the sand! This the what remains from a 70s-era putt-putt course that was eventually swallowed up by Jockey’s Ridge’s ever-changing dunes.

Park at Kitty Hawk Kites and cross US 12 to reach this hidden gem. You should be able to see the castle from the road, but many people don’t even realize it’s there!

Read More: Sanderling Resort in Duck (+ 7 Things We Love About It!)

Bodie Island Lighthouse

a small boardwalk leading out to Bodie Island Lighthouse

Wandering through the marshes of Oregon Inlet, the trail at Bodie Island Lighthouse is fantastic for children of all ages. The half-mile nature trail offers great views of the Lighthouse and a chance to watch crabs from the observation deck.

Read More: How to Enjoy the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island (7 Important Tips!)

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

a viewing area at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is an incredible destination for bird enthusiasts. But did you know there are quick, easy, and kid-friendly trails here?

some public binoculars along the North Pond Wildlife Trail

There are two officially designated paths at Pea Island. The North Pond Wildlife Trail is only half a mile long, while the slightly shorter Salt Flats Wildlife Trail provides beautiful views of North Pond.

Canoe tours and summer programming accompany these awesome hiking trails in OBX. Above all, remember to bring some binoculars and a bird identification guide for a fun educational experience!

Read More: 100+ Unique Things to Do In North Carolina (Your NC Bucket List)

Buxton Woods

a path through the dense Buxton Woods

Alongside the unspoiled beaches of Hatteras Island, Buxton Woods is often among the overlooked OBX hiking trails. They’re also kid-friendly, but because of preservation efforts, the paths at Buxton Woods are not as easy to find.

But once you do, it is worth it!

Buxton Woods is the largest forest on the Outer Banks. While several established trails exist, the most popular and kid-friendly one starts from the picnic area near Hatteras Lighthouse.

The Buxton Woods Trail is a 3/4-mile loop that traverses some of the highest points on Hatteras Island. This path is perfect for listening to the busy sounds of the migrating birds, identifying various plants, and enjoying the wonderful wildlife found along the National Parks-managed Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Another option is the longer Open Ponds Trail, which starts from the British Cemetery. It is also part of North Carolina’s Mountains to Sea Trail.

Read More: 7 Awesome Coastal NC Lighthouses (+ How to Visit Them All!)

Sea Breeze Trail Through the Hatteras Village Park

a platform for looking at the lake along Sea Breeze Trail

The Sea Breeze Trail is a very short and beautifully maintained path, with educational markers along the way. Winding over a maritime forest and salt marsh, the trail is mostly accessible and a perfect way to connect with nature.  

Read More: 7 Wonderful Aquariums in North Carolina and How to Visit them All!

 Hammock Hills Nature Trail (Ocracoke)

the boardwalk at Hammocks Beach State Park

Located on Ocracoke Island, the Hammock Hills Nature Trail is a lovely 3/4-mile loop that wanders through diverse seaside vegetation. Hitting some of the highest points on the island, a spectacular view awaits halfway along the trail.

From there, you’ll look out into Pamlico Sound. You can find the trailhead on Highway 12 across from the National Park Service-managed Ocracoke Campground.

Among all the Outer Banks trails we’ve shared, this one is great for kids because it offers plenty of birding opportunities from the viewing platform!

Read More: Ocracoke Lighthouse (How to Visit NC’s Smallest Lighthouse!)

Springer’s Point Nature Preserve

the view of the ocean at Springer's Point Nature Reserve

Springer’s Point Nature Preserve is a well-maintained and protected plot of land that hugs the coastline bordering the Pamlico Sound. A short walk in the sandy woods will take you to the serene soundfront beach where the world’s most famous pirate—Blackbeard—was killed.

Along the way, you’ll pass through a mix of maritime forests, salt marsh, and wet grasslands. You’ll feel rewarded when you think back on Springer’s Point while dining at one of Ocracoke Island’s great restaurants.

Read More: Portsmouth Island (How to See this Beautiful Uninhabited Place)

Ready for Hiking in the Outer Banks?

We hope you’re as excited to try these Outer Banks trails as we have been while exploring them.

It was a joy putting this guide together because it reminds us of just how much beauty one can find when exploring North Carolina’s barrier islands.

And if you’ve gotten out there, we’d love to know which of these trails you love, too. For first-time visitors or folks itching for their first hike, let us know which Outer Banks trails seem most interesting to you.

More Things to Do in the Outer Banks

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