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The Wild Side: Exploring Nature’s Wonders in The Outer Banks, NC

The Outer Banks, a chain of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina, is a nature lover’s paradise, brimming with wildlife and natural beauty that is truly captivating to explore.

The region is home to a diverse array of flora and fauna, including black bears, river otters, the endangered red wolf, rabbits, raccoons, ghost crabs, foxes, wild horses, sea turtles, a vast bird population, and even alligators. With lush woods, pristine beaches, marshes, maritime forests, wetlands, and dunes, the Outer Banks provides a habitat for these species that is well-protected and preserved for both current and future generations to enjoy.

When you visit the Outer Banks, you have the opportunity to immerse yourself in several wildlife refuges and nature preserves that offer a glimpse into the region’s natural wonders. You can remain active as you explore activities like participating in a variety of water activities and sports, such as kayaking, paddleboarding, and surfing.

This blog will bring you a guide for exploring nature’s wonders in the Outer Banks.

Let’s take a walk on the wild side!



The Currituck Banks Coastal Estuarine Reserve

The Currituck Banks Coastal Estuarine Reserve is located on the borders of Corolla and the 4WD-accessible areas of Carova. This nearly 1,000-acre natural retreat comprises a variety of wildlife and ecosystems, including shrub thickets, intertidal dunes and flats, maritime forests, and brackish and freshwater marshes.

In the park, there are miles of boardwalk leading to a stunning view of the Currituck Sound, a great pier, and walking trails through beautiful live oaks leading into a whimsical maritime forest. The trails are well-marked, and as you explore, you might even come across wild horses.

Into fishing? Anglers will find a rich supply of game fish in the brackish sound and marsh waters, species including largemouth bass, yellow perch, tidewater silverside, blue-spotted sunfish, pumpkinseed, bluegill, black crappie, and channel catfish, to name a few.

It’s also worth looking up into the sky, as migrating birds pass through the reserve. Hunting is allowed on the reserve as well, but make sure to check the updated North Carolina regulations and ask locals for advice before you start your hunting escapades. Bear in mind you need a special permit to hunt in a state reserve.


Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge

Established in 1984, this 152,000-acre National Wildlife Refuge aims to preserve the unique pocosin wetlands found in the southeastern United States, along with their diverse wildlife. Characterized by thick layers of peat and stunted, shrubby vegetation, this ecosystem is teeming with life, including alligators, black bears, wintering waterfowl, endangered red wolves, river otters, and more.

Visitors will also find a variety of hiking and wildlife trails, observation platforms, and fishing spots. For those looking to explore further, kayaking and canoeing routes are available. Hiking enthusiasts can enjoy two half-mile (one-way) universally accessible trails: the Sandy Ridge Wildlife Trail and Creef Cut Wildlife Trail. Hiking is permitted in all areas open to the public, including many miles of refuge roads, providing ample opportunities to immerse oneself in the natural beauty of the surroundings.

For those interested in learning more about the refuge, guided tours and presentations offered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service are available. Check the refuge’s website for further details.

Historic Corolla Park

Nestled in the heart of Corolla and open to the public, this picturesque 39-acre park boasts four unique attractions and vast green spaces for activities like biking, crabbing, and fishing.

Manicured walking trails, picnic areas, and waterfront benches provide opportunities for relaxation amid the natural surroundings, where a diverse array of wildlife including ducks, geese, osprey, carp, and crabs can be spotted.

Within the grounds lies Whalehead, a historic Art Nouveau-style mansion-turned-museum listed on the National Register of Historic Places, along with a historic boathouse that adds a touch of nostalgia to the secondary.

Nearby, you can climb 220 steps to the top of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse for a breathtaking view of the surroundings, and visit the Currituck Maritime Museum showcases historic wooden boats and artifacts in its 10,000-square-foot self-interpretive space.

Local Tip: As the day comes to an end, Historic Corolla Park offers some of the most stunning and picturesque sunsets in the Outer Banks. Don’t miss the chance to pack a picnic and witness the beauty firsthand.

Jockey’s Ridge State Park

Situated in Nags Head, North Carolina, and boasting the largest natural living sand dune on the East Coast, this 426-acre park offers two self-guided trails and fantastic nature programs year-round. As the most visited park of the North Carolina park system, its popularity speaks volumes.

Curious about the sand dune? It’s an ideal spot for kite flying, sightseeing, and catching breathtaking sunsets, providing sweeping views of the massive sand dunes against the backdrop of the ocean. Nearby, a visitor center houses a museum and a boardwalk with exhibits detailing the ecology of this natural wonder, complemented by information panels describing the diverse plant and animal life found in the dunes.

At Jockey’s Ridge State Park, you can partake in various activities such as hang gliding, kite flying, hiking, sandboarding, and even enjoy facilities for picnics. Whether you seek adventure or simply want to unwind, this park offers something for everyone. Plus, it’s dog-friendly, so you can bring along your furry friend!


Kitty Hawk Woods Preserve

Nestled in the heart of Kitty Hawk and bordering the Currituck Sound, the Kitty Hawk Woods Preserve spans over 1800 acres of maritime forest, swamp lands, and marshes. Protected by a sturdy dune, this preserve allows the maritime forest to flourish, offering a serene and diverse ecosystem for you to explore.

Thanks to its unique location, the Kitty Hawk Woods Preserve is home to a wide variety of wildlife. The woods are bustling with life and beautiful, but as you explore, it’s encouraged to stick to the designated walking trails. Horses are allowed, provided riders clean up after them.

Hunting is also allowed, but, as always, remember to check the state hunting regulations and remain within appropriate boundaries. Don’t forget to get your North Carolina Coastal Reserve hunting permit before hunting within the preserve.



The Nature Conservancy at Nags Head Woods Preserve

Encompassing one of the largest remaining maritime forests on the East Coast, Nags Head Woods Preserve offers visitors a unique opportunity to explore a diverse ecosystem spanning more than a thousand acres. From sand dunes to ponds, marshes, wetlands, towering oaks, hickories, and beech trees — a total natural wonder.

The freshwater ponds are home to several species of fish and various reptiles and amphibians, while over 100 bird species, including 50 nesting on-site, make it a birder’s paradise. It’s an ideal spot for hiking, with well-marked and maintained trails catering to foot traffic only. Note that dogs, bicycles, and horses are welcome on the gravel roadway but not on the trails.

Nags Head Woods also holds historical significance, once a thriving village community during the 19th century through the 1930s. You can still catch glimpses of its past, with remnants like home foundations and cemeteries dotting the landscape.

The park provides helpful handouts and maps, and best of all, it’s mostly free of crowds!

Corolla Beach

Want to see wild horses roaming freely along the ocean shore? Then head to Corolla Beach in the northern Outer Banks.

The relationship between Corolla Beach and the wild Spanish mustangs is deeply intertwined with history. Descendants of horses brought to the New World by the Spanish in the 1500s, these Spanish Mustangs have roamed the Outer Banks for centuries, including the area around Corolla Beach.

Besides the wild horses, visitors can enjoy wide, clean rolling dunes and engage in a variety of activities like kayaking, paddleboarding, and surfing. Dogs are allowed on the shores of Corolla but must be kept on a leash at all times.

Buxton and Frisco Woods

Part of the NC Coastal Reserve System, Buxton Woods and Frisco Woods cover around 1,000 acres, boasting one of the largest remaining maritime forests along the Carolina coastline. Stretching across both towns on the oceanside, these woods are linked by a network of hidden trails snaking through dense forests, marshes, saltwater ponds, and towering sand dunes.

ese expansive woods are teeming with diverse wildlife, including red foxes, deer, turtles, nutria, waterfowl such as egrets, herons, cormorants, pelicans, and great blue herons, along with squirrels and “racing lizards” darting across sandy trails.

Heads up: The trails in Frisco and Buxton Woods aren’t heavily marked, and you might not encounter many people along the way. If you’re not an experienced hiker, consider going with more experienced friends or trying somewhere else. And don’t forget to pack water, snacks, bug spray, and a good sense of adventure — it’s easy to spend long hours exploring these winding trails.

Exploring Nature’s Wonders in The Outer Banks, NC

The Outer Banks, NC is truly a nature lover’s paradise, with plenty more to explore — not just nature-related. For more relevant local tips, head to our blog. We cover many topics from the best restaurants to the best spots to watch sunsets, and there’s much more coming.

Wondering where to stay in the Outer Banks, NC?

Booking your stay with Village Realty means staying in one of our exceptional, handpicked homes. From the oceanfront to the sound front, we offer outstanding OBX vacation rentals from South Nags Head to Corolla.

Our number one priority? Your ultimate comfort and happiness. Our local staff will always go the extra mile to make sure you and your family have a special vacation in OBX.

Staying with us, all you have to care about is letting the coastal beauty whisk you away – and you can rest assured it will!

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