The Outer Banks experiences an extreme slowdown in tourism in the winter, but that does not mean there is nothing to do here this time of year. Some restaurants, shops and attractions do close for all or part of the winter, and obviously most of the outdoors outfitters cease operations in the cold months. But plenty of places are still open, including numerous restaurants, shops, museums and attractions, and you’ll find that visiting without the summer crowds can be quite enjoyable. In this blog, I’ll let you know which local attractions are open this winter, and what they have going on.
Wright Brothers National Memorial
Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The visitors center and park grounds are open. The half-hour program Wind and Sand is offered daily at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Jockey’s Ridge State Park
Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head is a great place to walk in winter. Bundle up in warm clothes and walk across the dunes and trails to explore dune, maritime forest and soundside landscapes. The newly renovated, 6,200-square-foot visitor center offers exhibits about the planta, animals and habitats at Jockey’s Ridge. The visitor center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For information and to sign up for programs, visit ncparks.gov/state-parks/jockeys-ridge-state-park/events
Upcoming events at Jockey’s Ridge include:
Jan. 12: Soundside Nature Trail Hike, 4 to 4:45 p.m.
Jan. 13: Winter Star Party, 4:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Jan. 17: Dune Hike, 10 to 10:45 a.m.
Jan. 20: Year of the Bear Kids Program, 1 to 1:45 p.m.
Jan. 26: Soundside Nature Trail Hike, 4 to 4:45 p.m.
Jan. 27: Native American Sports and Games, 1 to 3 p.m.
Jan. 28: Park Discovery Table, 1 to 3 p.m.
Photo: Jockey's Ridge State Park hosts guided hikes through the park in winter.
Fishing is slow (and cold!) on Jennette’s Pier this time of year, but you can fish if you want to. Or you can stop by to see the aquariums in the lobby and walk out onto the pier to see the winter ocean. The walk-on fee is $2 for adults and $1 for kids. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island
As one of the most popular Outer Banks family attractions, a visit to the N.C. Aquarium on Roanoke Island really is best in the off-season. They’re open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and you need to book online to reserve a time. Ncaquariums.com/visit-roanoke. You’ll see sharks, turtles, otters, alligators, fish, snakes, sea turtles, jellyfish and so much more here and learn about the Outer Banks environment. Every day the aquarium staff offers free daily programs as well. For a small fee, you can join in on special indoor daily programs like Behind the Scenes Shark Feeding, Animal Health Center Tour, Shark Exhibit Tour and Aqua Tots. Admission will be half-price on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and the aquarium is hosting The Ton of Love Food Drive from January 14 to February 14. Bring a bag of nonexpired and nonperishable food items and receive one complimentary admission.
Photo: North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island is open all year round.
Coastal North Carolina National Wildlife Refuges Gateway Visitors Center
This Roanoke Island museum and visitors center will give you all the information you need to know about the 11 national wildlife refuges in northeastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia. Families can learn about plants, animals and ecosytems. It’s open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily and is free to visit. You’ll find it on the north end of Roanoke Island near Fort Raleigh National Historic Site at 100 Conservation Way, Manteo. Hiking trails are also on site.
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
Right next to The Elizabethan Gardens, Fort Raleigh is the site of England’s unsuccessful first attempt to colonize the North American continent. It’s free visit the visitors center, museum and grounds, which includes exhibits about the New World settlements from 1584 to 1590, the cultural heritage of Native Americans, the Civil War and the Freedman’s Colony. It’s open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the grounds are open 24/7.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
You can’t climb lighthouses this time of year, but you can visit the Bodie Island Viistor Center at Bodie Island Light Station from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Nature trails around the building are great for walking this time of year. The Hatteras Island Visitor Center and Museum of the Sea at Cape Hatteras Light Station are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge on Hatteras Island has a visitors center where you can warm up before walking on the beach or along the trails around North Pond. Pea Island is a bird-watching paradise. More than 400 species of birds live or pass through here, and winter is the best time to see a huge variety of them. You can walk the trails anytime or take a free guided Bird Walk any Friday from 8 to 9:30 a.m. The visitor center is at 14500 N.C. Highway 12 in Rodanthe.
Photo: Frisco Native American Museum's collection of baskets from across the nation is just one of their many exhibits.
Frisco Native American Museum
This Hatteras Island museum features artifacts from many North American tribes as well as the original inhabitants of Hatteras Island. In the off-season, from January until the week before Easter, it’s open on Saturday and Sunday only from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for students and seniors or $20 per household. There are exhibit galleries showing thousands of artifacts from Native cultures across the country, a gallery dedicated to local tribes and nature trails. Find it on N.C. Highway 12 in the village of Frisco.
More attractions will be re-opening in February including The Elizabethan Gardens, Whalehead in Historic Corolla, Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education, Currituck Maritime Museum and Roanoke Island Festival Park. Island Farm and Currituck Beach Lighthouse will re-open in March. Bodie Island Lighthouse and Cape Hatteras Lighthouse will re-open to climbing in mid-April. Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum will be re-opening after a major renovation soon; we'll keep you posted!