NOTE: We are not advocating mass travel during this time, but we do want to continue to support the incredible businesses and destinations that make North Carolina so amazing. In the meantime, we encourage you to virtually travel through our articles and plan your visits for when it is safe to do get out there. Finally, while we do work hard to keep our posts updated, some activities and places may not be accessible at this time.
Outer Banks Hiking Trails for Kids and Adults

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

Last Updated on August 27, 2020

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When planning a week in the Outer Banks (or longer), 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.

This post is part of our series on the Outer Banks and elsewhere in Eastern North Carolina. A few of these trails featured in our guide to hikes in North Carolina.

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

Note: We’ve included addresses when they’re available. If not, Google Maps or Waze should be able to guide you to the correction location. And if you’d like to see all these Outer Banks hiking trails in visual form, check out our map.

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, plan to visit another day.

Currituck Banks Reserve

Corolla
Accessible: Yes

The northernmost trail in our guide is the 965-acre Currituck Banks Coastal Estuarine Reserve. Two paths will take you through this natural habitat, 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.

Duck Town Park Boardwalk

Accessible: Yes

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 a great one for popping in and out of locally-owned shops.

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

Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal  Reserve

Kitty Hawk
Not Accessible

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, also perfect for watching wildlife and even sunsets. This multi-use trail will also take you to a beautiful covered bridge!

We think you should stay on every path, but it’s especially important to do so 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 wisk 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.

Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve

701 Ocean Acres Dr, Kill Devil Hills
Accessible: Yes

Hiking North Carolina Nags Head Woods Outer Banks Image

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
Nags Head Woods.

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.

Jockey’s Ridge State Park

300 W Carolista Dr, Nags Head
Not Completely Accessible, but an There’s an Accessible Boardwalk View

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.

Our guide to Jockey’s Ridge covers the park in more detail.

The sand dunes here formed when storm surges pushed offshore shoals and they attract 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 the Sound Side Park, runs through marshlands, and offers a beautiful scenic overlook.

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 Tracks 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.

Bonus Jockey’s Ridge Fun: The Sand Castle!

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.

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

Bodie Island Lighthouse

8210 Bodie Island Lighthouse, Nags Head
Accessible

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 as well as a chance to watch crabs from the observation deck.

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

14500 NC-12, Rodanthe
Accessible

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?

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 Outer Banks hiking trails. Above all, remember to bring some binoculars and a bird identification guide for a fun educational experience!

Buxton Woods

Old Doctor’s Rd (4WD) or Water Association Road, Hatteras
Not Accessible

Alongside the unspoiled beaches of Hatteras Island, Buxton Woods is often among the overlooked Outer Banks 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. And while there are several established trails, 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 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.

Sea Breeze Trail Through the Hatteras Village Park

57262 Eagle Pass Rd Hatteras, NC 27953
Accessible

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.  

 Hammock Hills Nature Trail

Ocracoke
Not Accessible

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

Ready for These Outer Banks Hiking Trails?

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 of these Outer Banks trails seems most interesting to you.

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.

More Things to Do in the Outer Banks

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