Best Free Things to do in the Outer Banks, NC

Awesome Free Things to do in the Outer Banks, North Carolina

The Outer Banks is one of the many treasures of North Carolina! Sitting right off the coast of North Carolina, the Outer Banks (OBX) is easily a top vacation destination. And the best part you ask? While the Outer Banks can be an expensive vacation spot, there are lots of fun and free things to do at the Outer Banks throughout the year!

We visited the Outer Banks just after Labor Day and found that there were tons to see and do! So, below I’m covering some of the best free things to do in the Outer Banks, NC!

Bodie lighthouse is one of the best free things to see in the Outer Banks
Outer Banks Free things to do includes visiting the Bodie Lighthouse

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Getting Around the Outer Banks

You will definitely need a car when traveling to the Outer Banks. I’d even recommend renting a Jeep or truck with 4-wheel drive so you can cruise on the beach!

There are several ways you can drive directly to the Outer Banks, however, depending on where you are coming from, the quickest way might be to take your car on the ferry.

You will know this once you put in the address of your hotel on Google.

Best Free Things to Do in the Outer Banks

We spent a long weekend in the Outer Banks with Marley (our pup) and found tons of free things to do, all of which were dog friendly!

While the Outer Banks is most known for having beautiful beaches, the Outer Banks have a lot more to offer.

1. Jockey’s Ridge

By far, one of the coolest places I’ve visited in North Carolina, or actually in the United States, is, in fact, Jockey’s Ridge!

Have you ever heard of a “live” sand dune? Jockey’s Ridge, located in Nag’s Head, is the largest active sand dune in the Eastern United States.

With sand dunes that can reach 60 ft tall, it feels like you are in the Sahara desert! Visiting the dunes is such a unique experience in the USA, especially on the East Coast!

Jockeys Ridge Sand Dunes are one of the top free things to do in the Outer Banks

Jockey’ Ridge Dunes are considered live dunes because the strong shifting winds are always changing the sand dunes landscape.

Jockey’s Ridge is easily one of the best free things to do in the Outer Banks! Some things to do at Jockey’s Ridge (although not all are free) include:

  1. Sandboarding/sliding
  2. Hang Gliding
  3. Enjoy sweeping views of the ocean and dunes
  4. picnic
  5. Very popular for photoshoots

Dogs are allowed, but some things to keep in mind are that during the heat of the summer, the sand can be extremely hot and burn their paws. Also, the sand can blow a lot, hitting them in their eyes.

If you are going during the summer with your pet, I’d suggest in the morning or afternoon to protect their paws.

Furthermore, since dogs are lower to the ground, a lot of sand can hit them in the face. Some people actually put goggles on their dogs!

Address: 300 W Carolista Dr, Nags Head, NC 27959

Jockeys Ridge in the Outer Banks NC
Jockeys Ridge in the Outer Banks is one of the best free things to do - Woman on sand dunes in red dress with wind blowing

2. Bodie Lighthouse

Who doesn’t love a good lighthouse?! Bodie Lighthouse, located on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore is easily one of the most popular lighthouses to visit in the Outer Banks.

There were actually 2 Bodie lighthouses before this one. The first lighthouse had major structural issues and the second one was destroyed during the civil war. I guess the 3rd time is a charm!

The Bodie (pronounced Body) was built in 1872 and stands 156 ft tall. The light can be seen 19 miles offshore!

The lighthouse has a huge lawn in the front and walking trails around the lighthouse making this another one of the top free things to do in the Outer Banks!

You can even climb to the top of the lighthouse (214 steps) for a small fee—$ 10 for adults and $5 for seniors and children under 11 years old.

The first climb starts at 9 am and the last climb is at 5:30 pm. Tickets to climb the Bodie lighthouse here. The tickets are on a first-come, first-served basis and start at 7 am.

Additionally, while in the area of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, enjoy beaches, dunes, and scenic coastal views! It is also a perfect spot for a picnic.

Address: 8210 Bodie Island Lighthouse, Nags Head, NC 27959

OBX Bodie Lighthouse with black and white stripes.

3. Visit the Corolla Wild Horses

Did you know the Outer Banks was home to wild horses?!? You read that right! There are wild Colonial Spanish Mustangs that have been living on the beaches of Corolla for around 500 years!

While trying to spot them for free is easier said than done, it is definitely one of the coolest free things to do in the Outer Banks!

Before you go searching for the horses, please do not go within 50 ft of these wild animals and do NOT feed them anything (horses have died from food given to them).

The wild horses are located on Corolla Beach and can be seen frolicking down the beach and walking around people’s beachfront properties.

To see them you can walk and search the beach or drive a 4×4 vehicle since they tend to be a couple of miles down the beach.

If you plan on driving on the beach (permit may be required) yourself, you NEED a 4-wheel drive to go on the beach! You will find stations to release air from your tires (tires need to be around 20 lbs of pressure) as well as stations to fill your tires back up.

Additionally, if you drive yourself, make sure to check the tide. At high tide, there won’t be much beach to drive on.

If you don’t have any luck seeing the horses on your own (like us), there are tours that have a better idea of where to find them.

Since we didn’t see horses, you can see cute horse pictures on the Corolla Wild Horse Fund.

Address: 1312 N Beach Access Rd, Corolla, NC 27927

looking for the wild horses in the Outer Banks Corolla
OBX Horses

4. Currituck Beach Lighthouse

While you are in the Corolla area, consider also checking out the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. This lighthouse is also free to visit and can be climbed (220 steps) for a small fee!

This lighthouse is unique because it’s not painted, so you can see all the bricks!

The lighthouse stands at 162 ft, has approximately 1 million bricks, and the light can be seen up to 18 nautical miles!

Address: 1101 Corolla Village Rd, Corolla, NC 27927

 Currituck Beach Lighthouse
Photo by Liz Fitch on Unsplash

5. Exploring the Waterfront Shops in Duck, NC

If you are looking for a little bit of retail therapy that comes with a view, then the Duck Waterfront shops are for you! Not only do they have regular shopping, but also restaurants.

So why are the Waterfront Shops on my guide to finding free things in the Outer Banks? Because you don’t actually have to shop at all, and instead just enjoy the vast boardwalk and listen to the water as we did!

There are a lot of sitting areas along the deck, giving tranquil vibes, along with a little pond area with chairs.

Address: 1240 Duck Rd, Duck, NC 27949

Exploring the duck waterfront stores is another top free thing to do in the Outer Banks

6. Outer Banks Beach Hopping

Let’s be real; you likely came to the Outer Banks to enjoy the beach, and lucky for you, it’s free, and many beaches are dog friendly during low season!

We were hoping to enjoy the beach during our visit but got hit with a cold front and the end of a hurricane in September.

Even though it was cold, some beaches we loved visiting include Corolla Beach, Kitty Hawk, and the beaches around Bodie Lighthouse. Honestly, I am sure you can’t go wrong with any beaches around OBX!

Besides sitting in the sun, OBX beaches are known for great surfing, fishing, kayaking, dolphin spotting, and SUP boarding.

Several beaches in Carova to Ocracoke even allow bonfires at night. Learn more about OBX bonfires here.

hitting the beaches is the best free thing to do in the Outer Banks

7. Drive the National Scenic Byway

Take a road trip down Route 12 and enjoy the scenic ocean views! The full Scenic Byway goes through 21 towns, 138 driving miles, and 25 miles on the ferry from North to South!

While the whole drive is not free (in the south end where you need to take ferries to cross) a large portion starting in the North all the way down to Hatteras is.

Outer Banks beaches in North Carolina.

8. Shell Hunting

Shell hunting is a pretty big deal in the Outer Banks; probably because North Carolina is known as one of the best places to go “shelling” in the world!

Therefore you can find people walking the coast in search of the best shells. Some of the best shell finds usually comes after a big storm, however, this isn’t the only time you can find shells!

Some common shells in the Outer Banks include the auger, the oyster driller, the periwinkle, the moon snail, and the sundial shell.

searching for shells in the Outer Banks is free and fun

9. Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

Over 360 kinds of animals, including migrating birds like snow geese and shorebirds, have a protected habitat thanks to the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. It was established in 1938 and is located on Hatteras Island.

They also save other threatened species, such as loggerhead sea turtles!

Enjoy a hike where you can keep an eye out for wildlife. If nothing else, you will be sure to enjoy the beach, ponds, and marshes! If you’re a bird lover, this is a great spot to enjoy in the Outer Banks!

Address: 14500 North Carolina Hwy 12, Rodanthe, NC

10. Wright Brothers Memorial

Considered “a moment that changed the world,” Wilbur and Orville Wright made history in 1903 by successfully piloting the first airplane.

The brothers spent a lot of time in The Outer Banks learning how to fly by experimenting with gliding inventions over the sand dunes near Kitty Hawk (Jockeys Ridge). This museum is a tribute to this iconic moment in history that changed the world!

Best yet, you can visit this attraction for free 7 days of the year. Generally, it is paid.

If you are a U.S. Military Veteran or Gold Star Families, you can always enjoy free admission. Also, if you have Annual Federal Lands pass, you can enter for free.

January 16: Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
April 22: First day of National Park Week
August 4: Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
August 19: National Aviation Day
September 23: National Public Lands Day
November 11: Veterans Day
December 17: 120th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first flight

Hours: Everyday: 9 AM – 5 PM

Address: 1000 N Croatan Hwy, Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948

Wright Brothers Memorial

What to pack for the Outer Banks

Here are some items you shouldn’t forget when heading to OBX!

Sunscreen: I recommend reef-safe sunscreen. I use both: Juice Beauty 30 SPF Sport & Blue Lizard Sensitive Skin

Quick Dry Towels: I love quick dry towels for the beach because they are sand resistant and as the name suggests, they dry quickly! I personally love Dock & Bay towels!

Beach Items: Umbrella, snorkel gear, surfboard/skimboard, snacks, cooler, drinks

Clothing: Check the weather before you go and pack accordingly for the temperatures. Please note it can be windy, so a light jacket can be nice at night. If you are heading to OBX in the summer, here are some cute summer dresses.

Additionally, here are some cute women’s bathing suits. Cute Cutout One Piece | Cute Bandeau Bikini | Ribbed Checky Two Piece | Bright Color Block One Piece | Cover-up

When to Visit the Outer Banks, NC

As I mentioned above, you can visit the Outer Banks year-round, however, if you are specifically looking for beach weather, the best time to go is during the summer months (June- August).

During the summer (peak season) prices will be at their highest and accommodations will be harder to find, so make sure to book far in advance.

In the Fall months, prices and accommodation availability will be way more moderate. Moreover, since the weather can be so crazy around this time, you might even get summer weather!

However, there is also a chance you can get hurricane weather since the fall is the peak season for hurricanes.

Although the Outer Banks is a beach town, North Carolina does experience winter with temperatures that go below zero.

However, if you are looking to have the coastal town to yourself, winter is a great time to go. Just keep in mind some attractions may be closed.

Best Free Things in the Outer Banks Review

As you can see, there are still plenty of awesome things to do in the Outer Banks that are free and still lots of fun!

Have any questions about these free things to do in the Outer Banks? Let me know in the comments below!

If you enjoyed these free things to do in the Outer Banks, I’d appreciate it if you could share this post below!

free things to do in the outer banks in North Carolina
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Samantha Oppenheimer

Samantha Oppenheimer (Sam Opp) quit her corporate marketing job in 2018 to travel the world and become a travel writer, blogger and content creator. She loves experiencing authentic travel experiences, photography, and nature. Sam shares helpful travel itineraries, travel tips, budget tips, and travel advice from her personal experiences. You can also find Sam's words featured in large publications including Mirror, Thrillist, and Well + Good.

5 thoughts on “Best Free Things to do in the Outer Banks, NC”

  1. Seeing your post is serendipitous as I was just talking about a beach holiday in North Carolina earlier today! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Looks really nice there! I recently watched a TV series happening here so it’s fun to read a blogpost about it! The sand dunes look amazing and love the lighthouses!


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