Part 3 and last in a series: No one visits North Carolina’s Outer Banks to go hiking. The narrow string of sandy barrier islands runs for 200 miles but never measures more than 3 miles between sound and sea. At 91 feet, Kill Devil Hill is the highest peak. Most nature trails stretch for less than a mile. We gave hiking a shot anyway.
Blame our persistence on an obsession with netting at least 10,000 steps a day on our respective fitness trackers. (The Geek prefers 15,000.) Back when we worked full time, our step target was merely a nice idea. While semi-retirement left us with no excuses, plotting out steps on our shoulder season visit to the Outer Banks required some creativity. It also introduced us to some unique trail companions.
The Beach at Kitty Hawk
Our evening walk to the beach from our Airbnb at Kitty Hawk was short, but the neighborhood streets were dark and lacked sidewalks. Not ideal. And crossing six-lane Croatan Highway (US 158) on foot was kinda harrowing. (Yes, we crossed at a signal.)
But once we recovered from our “Frogger” experience on the highway, we were thrilled with our dinner of blackened tuna at the Black Pelican Oceanfront Restaurant, which once housed the Kitty Hawk Life Saving Station, and an evening stroll along the beach. The late summer air was comfortably warm and a full moon hung low in the sky, lighting the breakers as they rolled to shore.
The surfers took advantage of the bright night sky, chasing the perfect wave until well after twilight. We contented ourselves chasing the ghost crabs that scuttled wraith-like ahead of our steps, and occasionally across our toes, before diving into their sandy lairs. Kind of creepy but in a good way.
It’s debatable whether a beach stroll qualifies as a hike, but we had fun and were able to polish off the last of our 10,000 steps for the day. In fact, we came back and did it again the next night, including more blackened tuna at the Black Pelican.
Currituck Banks Maritime Forest
When we lived in Southern California, we coped with black widows. Cincinnati? Spider crickets. (Because spiders and crickets aren’t creepy enough all by themselves.) In Montara, CA, our current home town, we parry with tiny black jumping garden spiders. The Geek is not a fan, but the arachnids in the Currituck Banks Maritime Forest knew their place – nestled in the center of their webs, posing obligingly for The Geek’s camera.
Come for the spiders but stay for the fairyland forest of stunted, moss-covered oaks, wax myrtle and holly. You’ll find two trails: A quarter-mile boardwalk from the parking lot to Currituck Sound that carries you safely across a swampy estuary, and a surface trail that branches from the boardwalk onto higher and drier ground for half a mile or so before it, too, ends at the sound.
Total length of both trails? About 2 miles. But the mix of terrain – from estuary to “high” ground to sound – packs a lot into a short walk. Just 10 days removed from hurricane Florence, we anticipated mosquitoes, but they were not an issue. Blame the spiders, perhaps.
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
Our stop at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge was an afterthought toward the end of a day of threading thunderstorms while cruising the length of the Cape Hatteras National Sea Shore by rental car. The visitor center was already closed and another rain shower was approaching, but we needed steps. So, we hiked three-quarters of a mile out to a lagoon overlook and back.
The lagoon, as promised online, held an abundance of waterfowl, including snowy egrets, blue herons and plenty of geese. A gaggle crowded our trail at one point before finally yielding the path. A tenacious baby bunny proved a bit bolder, hopping along ahead of us for much of our walk before finally darting into trail-side brush. A bale of turtles peered at us menacingly from the murk.
The rain began as we reached the overlook, the furthest point from our vehicle, so The Geek packed up her camera gear and we hoofed it back the last half mile in a light shower.
We devoted one day of our trip to Roanoke Island and managed to find plenty of steps by simply being tourists:
- We rambled the grounds of the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, which commemorates the 116 men, women and children of The Lost Colony who vanished while awaiting much delayed supplies from England. We didn’t find them.
- We strolled The Elizabethan Gardens, developed by the North Carolina Garden Club in the 1950s as a tribute to the missing colonists. Don’t pick the flowers.
- We walked from Manteo to Festival Park and watched costumed interpreters operate a forge, make pottery and engage in other traditional activities of an English settlement and Native American village. Skip the film.
But the best part of our visit to Roanoke Island – other than perhaps dinner, drinks, and the view of Shallowbag Bay from Avenue Waterfront Grille in Manteo – was our after-hours Graveyard of the Atlantic Walking Tour with Dread Pirate Diane.
Emerging in costume from the shadowed porch of the Laughing Lollipop candy store, Diane proved to be droll rather than dread. She also does ghost tours, and since we were the only tourists booked for the evening she agreed to give us a hybrid monologue, regaling us with local legends of marauding buccaneers and the supernatural.
We’d love to share a few of her tales but are loath to cross a dread pirate – “Dead tourists tell no tales.” – so you’ll need to book a ramble of your own. Plan on 3,000 steps.
This is the last in a three-part series of our “shoulder season” visit to North Carolina’s Outer Banks in late summer 2018.