Outer Banks Freebies

By Molly Harrison | Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Pea Island is one of the best Outer Banks freebies.

The family vacation - it's time to empty those pockets. Of course you're going out to breakfast and dinner. Of course you're going to get ice cream and snow cones and fudge. You wouldn't think of foregoing putt-putt and mini golf or The Lost Colony, Wright Brothers Memorial or the lighthouse. And you can't go to the beach without at least some new sand toys, chairs, rafts and skim boards. And who doesn't want a souvenir T-shirt? Or a new bathing suit or sundress to show off the tan? And shouldn't you get a little something for the folks back home who are feeding your pets? And don't forget to take some seafood home...

Of course you're going to spend money on vacation. That's just what you do. I'm not even on vacation and we've only been out of school five days and already I feel like I've spent a fortune on summertime activities! But since I live here, I know how to balance the costly activities with the free ones. So I'm going to share a few tips about some of the free - or very inexpensive - things you can do on the Outer Banks to entertain the family when you're feeling a little spent...

Jockey's Ridge State Park. This is no surprise to anyone. It's an Outer Banks absolute favorite and we'd love it even if it wasn't free to visit. Everybody loves climbing and exploring the dunes on Jockey's Ridge, and you should try sliding down the dunes on boogie boards (only the slick ones work). Another fun dune system to explore is Run Hill. You'll find it behind First Flight Middle School in Kill Devil Hills. It's worth seeking out because it's less crowded than Jockey's Ridge.

Free nature programs. Free nature-oriented programs are offered in several places on the Outer Banks. Jockey's Ridge State Park offers free, ranger-led programs just about every day, from Eco Hikes to Bat-ology to Sea Shell Show and Tell to Blackbeard's Treasure Hunt. Call (252) 441-7132 for info and to register. Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education offers really cool things like Fish Printing, Kayaking or Fishing the Sound, Nature Photography for Kids, Crabbing, Archery and more. These free programs are so good that they fill up fast. In fact, you might want to consider registering even before you come to the Outer Banks. But check when you get here to see what's available and register as soon as you can. Call (252) 453-0221. Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge offers free Bird Walks many mornings a week and free Turtle Talks and Soundside exploration trips too. Alligator River NWR offers free Bear Necessities bear-watching trips. Call (252) 216-9464 for info on both NWR areas. The National Park Service offers free programs at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site and in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Pick up a copy of the In The Park publication to find out more.

Nature Hikes. Due to ticks and mosquitoes, nature hikes are really better in the fall, winter and spring, but you can still do it in the summer if you protect yourself from those pests. The maritime forests of the Outer Banks provide a great respite from the sun. Try The Nature Conservancy's Nags Head Woods Preserve in Nags Head/Kill Devil Hills (trailheads on Ocean Acres Drive in Kill Devil Hills), Buxton Woods (trailhead near the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse) or Springer's Point in Ocracoke (my personal favorite). Another of my favorite trails starts at Fort Raleigh National Historic Site on Roanoke Island and leads to the sound.

Crabbing. It's not free because you'll have to get some equipment, but it's very cheap. You'll need some string, a bucket, a net and a chicken neck or fish head, at minimum. Find a soundside pier or dock. Tie your bait to your string, drop it in the water and wait for a crab to nibble at it. Then scoop it up with your net. It's not as easy as it sounds but it's fun. To keep, blue crabs must be at least 5" from point to point, and 50 is the legal limit. If you have no desire to catch and eat crabs, try Ghost Crabbing. Take flashlights out to the beach at night and chase the ghost crabs around on the beach.

Hatteras Ferry. It's free to ride the 45-minute ferry from Hatteras Village to Ocracoke Island (or vice versa). It's a nice quiet ride across the water, and once you get to the other side, it's fun to explore another island. This ferry probably won't be free forever, so enjoy a free ride while you can.

4WD to Carova. You can drive on the beach north of Corolla if you have a 4WD and you know a little about what you're doing. Kids love it because it feels like a real adventure. If you drive all the way up N.C. 12 to end of the road in Corolla, you can keep driving on the sand for another 20 miles. This is wild horse territory and you could see the wild horses while you're up there (and please be sure to keep a safe distance so the horses aren't in danger from your vehicle) . But while looking for them yourself is cheap, it's also iffy. If you're main objective is to see the horses, you should pay for a tour.

Bike Riding on Roanoke Island. If you brought your bikes, one of the best places to ride with a family is on Roanoke Island. The bike path there is much safer than the beach paths because there is less traffic crossing the path. Haul your bikes to Roanoke Island and park at Roanoke Island Festival Park. Look for shark's teeth in the fossil pit at Festival Park, then bike over the bridge to downtown Manteo. From there you can bike through neighborhoods to the bike path along the main highway. Follow the path all the way to the north end of the island, where there is a nice little beach and picnic spot on the sound. On the way back, visit Fort Raleigh National Historic Site (free!).

Fish-Gawk at Marinas. In the late afternoon, head to Pirates Cove Marina in Manteo, Oregon Inlet Fishing Center south of Nags Head, Broad Creek Marina in Wanchese or any of the Hatteras Village marinas to see the fish that the charter boats have brought in for the day. They'll throw the fish on the docks for everyone to see. Kids love this.

Beach Bonfire. Beach bonfires are allowed when the wind conditions are right, but you must get a permit in advance. With a little planning ahead, your family could be sitting on the beach at night around a fire, roasting hot dog and marshmallows under the stars. Check with the Town Hall in the town where you're staying about a permit.

Boardwalks & Playgrounds. The Manteo waterfront is definitely worth exploring. You can walk along the boardwalk to look at the boats, play in the playground, tour the lighthouse and maritime museum and have a picnic by the water. The Town of Duck also has a boardwalk that's nice to stroll, and the adjacent Duck Town Park has a great playground.

So there are a few ideas of things to do for free. I'm sure many of you have found other great things too. If you want to add to my list, make a comment below on Add Your Voice...

Here are a few more things you can do this week:

Students at UNC-Pembroke are presenting programs at Roanoke Island Festival Park this week. Thursday morning at 10:30 is the presentation of Stuart Little. Wednesday and Thursday nights at 7 p.m. is show called I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change!

OBX Pridefest is this weekend. It's a weekend chockfull of activities for the LGBT community, but the events are all-inclusive and everyone is welcome. The main event, OBX Pridefest Festival, on Saturday is an all-day music festival with six bands, food, kids' activities, vendors, beer and wine and more. It's free and it's from noon to 6 p.m. at the First Colony Inn in Nags Head.

Teens looking for something to do (away from their parents) have several options this week. The Pit's Teen Night is Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and it's a safe environment that local parents trust. Rockin in the Rec is a teen dance party sponsored by Dare County Parks and Recreation at Dare County Recreation Center in KDH on Saturday from 9 p.m. to midnight. Spa Koru's Beach Klub has a Teen Night on Wednesday at 8 p.m. And OBX Pridefest has the Gay/Straight Alliance Teen Karaoke Disco on Friday at 7 p.m. at the First Colony Inn in Nags Head.

There is so much more going on this week, and to find it all you need to hop over to OuterBanksThisWeek.com. Check By Day and Nightlife and don't overlook our Shopping page for sale information or our Coupons page for some great deals all around the Outer Banks.

And before I go, I want you to see this. It's a trailer for a new movie called Sol. Much of the movie was filmed around Nags Head (Jockeys Ridge and Cape Hatteras National Seashore) in 2009-10. The movie was just released on iTunes and Amazon and it's starting to play at film festivals around the world. Here's the link to the Sol trailer, or you can download the whole movie here.

Gotta run. Have a great week on the Outer Banks!

Outer Banks This Week Giveaway



This week you have a chance to win a Free Beginner Hang Gliding Lesson from Kitty Hawk Kites and a $25 gift certificate to Old Nags Head Cafe!

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About the Author Molly Harrison
Molly Harrison is managing editor at OneBoat, publisher of OuterBanksThisWeek.com. She moved to Nags Head in 1994 and since then has made her living writing articles and creating publications about the people, places and culture of the Outer Banks. When not working she practices and teaches yoga and spends as much time as possible outside and in or on the water with her husband and two children.