Adventures, Less Traveled : The Outer Banks of North Carolina

Featuring Solo Stove Content Creator, Paul Swisher

If there is anything we crave, it’s adventure. We live to don our packs, grab our hiking sticks, and roam. With a new year, you might be feeling the itch to get out and explore lands you’ve never been, to feel the rush of finding your own hidden adventure.

“Adventures, Less Traveled” is our new blog series dedicated to exploring America’s tucked-away depots, waterfalls, beaches, canyons, and so much more. Each edition explores a secluded location that might just become your next adventure destination.

We know the Yellowstones, the Mojave Deserts, and the Rockies this country has to offer, but there are scores of other hidey-holes and quiet places waiting for you to discover. Join us for our first adventure in a new series where we discover the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Welcome to The Outer Banks.

The Outer Banks is a 200-mile long string of barrier islands that span the coast of North Carolina and parts of southeastern Virginia. Really a collection of sand bars, the Northern Beaches, Roanoke, and Hatteras Islands that make up the Outer Banks shield the Carolina coast from the tumultuous waters of the Atlantic to the East. East of the islands, known as the “sound side,” lie five serene and shallow sounds without clear definition where one begins and one ends.

Understanding the Outer Banks and the people who make it their home is a lesson in resilience and adaptivity. The land is always changing. Beyond the three main islands, the exact number of smaller islands and inlets are unknown. Tropical storms flood the land causing old inlets to close and new ones to open. Despite the ever shifting landscape, those who live on the Outer Banks are a tight-knit, family-first community. Some of them can even trace their lineage back to the first English and Irish settlers of the Americas.

We’re lucky one of our content creators calls the Outer Banks home. Paul Swisher is a well-known facet of the Outer Banks community. While he wears many hats, Paul is a professional photographer and tour guide. The stunning photography you see here comes from his own camera lens. Paul’s also a stand-up gentleman, and would be happy to guide you on your own adventure to the Outer Banks.

I can put my feet in the sand every day of my life. I can watch the sunrise on the ocean and the sunset on the sound.” — Paul Swisher, Solo Stove content creator, on why he loves calling the Outer Bank “home.”

Paul Swisher

Legendary Horses. Beach Cruises. Irish accents?

Take it from a local. These are Paul’s insider tips on the best things to experience while exploring the Outer Banks.

Photo by Paul Swisher

The “Banker Ponies” of Corolla

Centuries ago, Spanish ships wrecked off the coast of the Outer Banks and their horses washed ashore. Their wild descendants still roam free amongst the Northern Beaches near the town of Corolla. According to Paul, this legend is true. You can experience the horses in their natural habitat by booking a wild horse tour, and Paul just might be your guide! 

Be mindful, these horses are wild! While you aren’t able to interact with the horses, you can still get close enough to get some amazing photos. The best time to see the horses is in late spring or mid fall for great weather. The weather is great and you can roam the beach during times when normal tourist traffic is low.

Jockey’s Ridge State Park

After visiting Corolla, an hour’s beach cruise to Nags Head will take you to the tallest sand dune on the Atlantic coast. At Jockey’s Ridge State Park, dare devils can get hang gliding lessons and rent ATVs to kick up a little sand. If hang gliding and dune buggying aren’t your thing, the sound side offers plenty of places to wade in the sound, sunbathe, and hike its nature trail through wetlands, dunes, and thickets.

Jockey’s Ridge is one of Paul’s favorite places to go on the Outer Banks when he needs to leave town and be alone in nature for miles around.

Photo by Paul Swisher

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge

Adventure in the Outer Banks isn’t limited to the islands. From Jockey’s Ridge, the Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge will take you on a 30 min jet across the calm, Croatan Sound to Manns Harbor and the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. Here, the diversity of the region’s wildlife is on full display. Wild turkeys, birds of prey, black bears and elusive red wolves roam here on over 70,000 acres of land. You can see them all up close without even leaving your car by taking one of the many roads that snake through the refuge.

You can see a bear has decided to mark up this road marker a bit.”

The Graveyard of the Atlantic

Tropical storms and shallow waters near the Outer Banks have plagued ships for centuries. Since the time of its first English settlements, it’s estimated some 3,000 ships have wrecked along the island, thus the Outer Banks is nicknamed “The Graveyard of the Atlantic.” Many of these wrecks can be explored while snorkeling and scuba diving.

Lighthouses have guarded the coast line and guided many ships through the treacherous waters for two centuries. Some of the tallest in America, these lighthouses are a symbol of hope and inspiration to the people of the Outer Banks.

Photo by Paul Swisher

Bodie Island Lighthouse

The Bodie Island Lighthouse, pronounced “body” according to Paul, was built in 1871. The lighthouse you see above is actually the third iteration of the lighthouse. The first lighthouse’s foundation fell apart leading to its abandonment. The second was destroyed in 1861 during the Civil War. You can find the Bodie Island Lighthouse just south of Nags Head.

Photo by Paul Swisher

Currituck Beach Lighthouse

Located in the heart of Corolla, climbers of the lighthouse can get a birds eye view of the coastline and the beaches where the wild horses roam. Completed in 1875, the 162’ tall lighthouse can be seen for 18 nautical miles and is still in operation today.

Photo by Paul Swisher

Cape Hatteras Light Station

The shores of Cape Hatteras are some of the most hazardous waters for ships in the Atlantic Coast. In 1980, a winter storm destroyed a large portion of the beach front and the lighthouse needed to be moved in order to keep it from collapsing. In 1999, the lighthouse was moved 2,900 feet over the course of 23 days. Paul told us how they did it:

Some friends of mine owned the company that moved it. It was so awesome. They laid out railroad tracks, put the lighthouse on a train-like contraption, and moved it an inch a day. It was such an intelligent thing to watch. If they didn’t do so, the lighthouse would have been gone.”

“Hoi Toide On The Saind Soide!”

If you go far enough south on the Outer Banks and take the ferry from Hatteras, you might find yourself on Ocracoke island. After a relaxing walk on the beach or strolling through its streets lined with quaint shops and fisheries, hopefully you’ll be lucky to hear an accent that sounds more Irish than American.

The first English and Irish settlers who came to the Americas on the islands we call the Outer Banks today. Only up until the last century, the only way to access the Outer Banks was by boat. Still today, the only way to reach Ocracoke is by ferry. This has led to a tight-knit community of maritime fishers and traders to make Ocracoke their home for generations, leaving much of their English and Irish accents unchanged. Through the years, the accent on Ocracoke has been called the “Hot Toider” brogue, as in their most famous phrase “Hoi toide on the saind soide!” (High tide on the sound side).

Ocracoke is a great place to experience some of the freshest seafood you’ll find on the islands. Paul mentions that if you walk out on the docks you can see the boats come in, unload their catch, and take them straight to the restaurant where you can eat dinner in the evening. Paul’s only request is that if you go to Ocracoke, mind your Ps and Qs. The people of Ocracoke are a tight-knit community who enjoy their work and are passionate about their culture and history.

What are your favorite “less traveled adventures?” We want to hear about the hidden gems you’ve found along your journeys. Share your story and your photos with us!