We love visiting the Outer Banks with our kids. It is the place to create long lasting memories in a pristine environment perfectly suited to outdoor adventures.
How can they ever forget doing these Outer Banks activities like hang gliding over the sand dunes, or breaking into a trot for the first time while horseback riding along the beach?
Not only will they be having fun, but learning about the unique history and landscapes of this North Carolina coastal region at the same time!
It’s through understanding that we can more deeply connect, love and protect. Don’t just give your kids ice cream on your OBX vacation, give them moments and experiences with you to remember forever.
We recently visited on a paid campaign with Outer Banks tourism and Shady Rays sunglasses.
About Shady Rays
Shady Rays are an online independent, American-Owned Sunglasses company making quality, polarized shades for adventure lovers since 2012. They are one of the leading mid-priced sunglass brands in the world.
We love companies that care and Shady Rays prove that by:
- Every pair of Shady Rays sunglasses features a signature Lost & Broken protection. If you lose or break your pair for any reason, they’ll send you a brand new pair just in time for the next adventure!
- In partnership with Feeding America, they donate 10 meals to fight hunger in America with every order!
We found their sunglasses a perfect match for our Outer Banks adventures. They provided adequate protection from the sun, were durable, and looked very stylish.
We love how affordable the sunglasses are, especially for the quality on offer. We’re now big fans and wear them all the time on our adventures across Raleigh and North Carolina.
Now, let’s put those Shady Rays to work by pairing it with an OBX adventure.
From intense activities to quieter experiences, here are seven of our favorite outdoor activities in the Outer Banks to have with kids.
We haven’t yet done all the adventurous activities in the OBX, so please leave a comment below with your favorites and why? But the below activities are an excellent start.
1. Hang Gliding at Jockey’s Ridge State Park
Flying over the sand dunes of Jockey’s Ridge State park was one of the most fun family activities we’ve done in the USA.
This is not just a wild adventure, but an opportunity to dive into the unique flying history of the OBX.
In case you don’t know, the Outer Banks is the First in Flight. Yep. It was in the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina that the Wright Brothers took the first flight in the early years of the 20th Century.
Their experiments began with hang gliding off the sand dunes!
As Jockey’s Ridge State Park is home to the tallest living sand dune system on the Atlantic coast, it’s the ideal location for flying activities.
Kitty Hawk Kites have been operating hang gliding lessons since 1974 with beginner, intermediate and advanced lessons from qualified instructors. Our instructor Micah, was awesome and helped our daughters feel safe as they took to the skies.
A Beginner’s Dune Hang Gliding lesson will take you on five solo flights (with an instructor running beside you) soaring over the dunes with beautiful views of Roanoke Sound and the Atlantic Ocean.
It’s safe and easy, and with all that sand, soft landings are guaranteed. If our 8 year old Savannah could do it, you can too!
TOP TIP: Visit the nearby Wright Brothers Memorial and Museum before your hang gliding lesson. It will help you connect more deeply to the significance of the experience and the history of firsts in the Outer Banks.
Video: Hang Gliding in the Outer Banks
Wait a minute! Don’t rush out after that hang gliding lesson. Jockey’s Ridge State Park has two other outdoor activities we recommend you do in the Outer Banks for kids!
2. Kite Flying at Jockey’s Ridge State Park
Let’s try flying of a different sort. This time you’ll have both feet firmly planted in the sand while you learn how to help a kite soar.
Ben from Kitty Hawk Kites took our family out on the dunes for a lesson on how to fly a 2-line stunt kite. Stunt kites, also known as sport kites, are known for their ability to perform impressive maneuvers in the air.
Most stunt kites have dual-line controls, which make it easier to control the kite and perform tricks. The triangular delta kite is the most popular stunt kite and the one we learned how to fly.
Ben taught us how to launch, steer and fly the kite as well as a few advanced moves to make the kite dive and loop.
I was worried the girls would find kite flying a little boring but they took to it immediately like a kite caught in the perfect upwind.
When Ben bought out the beautiful rainbow ribbon kite, I was more than content to sit and watch him maneuver that in the trickier wind conditions.
You can purchase kites from the Kitty Hawk store at the dunes and they also offer kite flying lessons.
OBX KITE FESTIVAL: This coming weekend, Sept 9-11, 2022, the Outer Banks Kite Festival will be in Jockey’s Ridge. Come watch some of the nation’s most talented kite fliers put on world-class displays of artistry and skill with kite flying set to music, synchronized performances, and more.
3. Sandboarding at Jockey’s Ridge State Park
While you’re at the tallest sand dunes on the East Coast, you might as well rent a sand board from the Kitty Hawk Kites kiosk and slide down them.
As the sand boards have no bindings, your feet aren’t strapped to the board so you can stand or sit.
It’s more like sledding in a straight shot, rather than being able to carve turns. It took us a bit of practice to get the hang of how to use it, so don’t give up if you don’t get it at first.
The Outer Banks had a lot of rain before our visit, so the conditions weren’t ideal. We had to try a few different dunes to get the right dryness and height for us to gain momentum and slide down the dunes.
But when we did it was loads of fun! If, like me, you find it a little scary standing up to slide down (especially with the speed up), sitting down is just as fun!
You’ll be grateful for your shady rays keeping the sand out of your eyes for this activity.
Sandboard rentals come with wax to assist you with the slide if conditions aren’t conducive to sliding.
TOP TIP: Sunsets at Jockey’s Ridge State Park are meant to be sensational. It’s still on our list of Outer Banks activities!
4. Horseback Riding on the Beaches of Hatteras Island
A unique Outer Banks adventure is horseback riding on the beaches of Hatteras Island, the place to go in OBX to escape the crowds.
This entire island is protected as the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, USA’s first coastal preservation area. The focus on this island is old-style, simple living in tune with nature.
An early morning guided horseback ride in Frisco is the perfect way to start your Hatteras Island adventures.
We joined Equine Adventures for a three hour ride through the maritime forest of the Buxton Woods Coastal Reserve onto the beach. Our uninterrupted views of the ocean as we rode out of the forest and over the sand dunes was stunning.
I was shocked and stoked when Kalyra (our 14 year old), who has been cautious on our last couple of horseback rides – said “move out the way Mum, I want to trot.”
Of course, I had to push aside my nerves to join her. It was exhilarating trotting along the beach in the soft light of morning with nothing else but the spray of the ocean in our way.
Savannah’s cheeky horse was happy to slowly walk most of the way and then would randomly break into a trot, which gave Savannah (our 11 year old) quite the happy thrill. Again, these are the moments that kids will always remember and share with others.
Experienced riders will be happy to know they can take their horses to a canter along the beach, and Equine Adventures have horses to suit all riding abilities. They had beautiful, gentle spirits and took great care of all of us.
To ride, kids must be at least 10 years old and 4’8″ tall.
Be prepared for a little stiffness in your legs and butt when you alight. Three hours on a horse makes an impact, but this is definitely one of the coolest Outer Banks activities. Click to watch our Reel of this horseback riding experience.
TOP TIP: Sunset dinner with a live local band at Breakwater Restaurant will be a highlight of any visit to Hatteras Island
5. Bird Watching in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
Bird watching is one of the unusual things to do in the Outer Banks and something we’d never considered doing until we did it on a previous winter vacation to the Outer Banks.
Then we wondered why we had dismissed it for so many of our travel years. I felt a similar energy to being on safari in Africa.
It’s one of the slower paced outer banks activities that gives you space to disconnect from the chaos of life, to be transfixed by nature and wildlife, and totally immersed in the present moment.
Yep, watching a bald-headed eagle unsuccessfully chase a duck close to the tree line was mesmerizing. Even our kids enjoyed the early morning experience!
This protected area consists mostly of a pocosin wetland, marshes, agricultural fields and a phenomenal amount of wildlife, especially birds.
Due to its geography and position in the eastern migratory flyway, the Outer Banks is a popular place for bird watching and people flock to it from all over the eastern seaboard.
We were thrilled to experience the Tundra swans visiting for the season and a few rare sightings such as two rough-legged hawks flying together, and a sand-hill crane lost on his way from Texas.
It might not be just birds you see either. The Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge has the highest concentration of black bears on the eastern seaboard AND the last remaining red wolves in the wild. And yes, there are alligators too!
We didn’t get lucky on this tour, but I have my fingers crossed for you!
Jonathan offers tours year round from full-day to half-day birding trips, shorter birding walks, and private tours! Bird Watching tours also occur in the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.
Want to up the ante on the adventure? Consider kayaking beneath bald cypress and loblolly pine trees in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.
This is something on our list of OBX adventures for a future visit.
6. Standup Paddle Boarding: Ocean or Sound
Stand-up paddle boarding (supping) is one of our favorite family-activities and the Outer Banks has miles of Intracoastal waterways and Atlantic ocean suitable for paddling.
While you can also paddle in a kayak, we find our daughters enjoy paddle boarding more.
A local recommended Corolla Beach as one of the best places for supping in the Outer Banks due to its gentle waves and shallow water.
We had a fun couple of hours paddle-boarding out there with the girls. The water was a little choppy so we did fall off a couple of times, which only makes the stories to tell after better!
Corolla Beach is also a popular spot for surfing lessons, which is another of the Outer Banks water activities kids will love!
Another popular place for paddle boarding/kayaking is the Historic Corolla Park at the Whalehead Club. There’s a public launch spot for small boats/kayaks/SUPs and there are shallow canals to paddle in.
In Nags Head, West Soundside Road comes recommended as another great soundside location for paddling in the Outer Banks. And one of our favorite places to go paddling was at Silver Lake on Ocracoke Island.
If you don’t own your own SUP boards, consider renting a paddle board or joining a tour.
7. Watch a Sunrise or Sunset
Outdoor activities don’t always have to involve adventure. They can be quiet moments spent appreciating the beauty of nature.
Kids need to learn the importance of slowing down, reflecting and connecting to gratitude. Sunrises and sunsets in the Outer Banks are the perfect experience for that.
I know it might be a challenge to get the kids out of bed early for a sunrise – even for yourself – but I urge you to do it as a fantastic way to kick off your day and one of the most magical things to do in OBX!
Sunrises in the Outer Banks are some of the most beautiful I have seen anywhere in the world.
The soft colors of the morning light are magnificent and I am yet to see an Outer Banks sunrise on the beach that was not graced with the presence of dolphins. Starting the day with a serenity is transformative.
Sunsets in the Outer Banks are also just as wonderful with many sunset viewpoints along the Intracoastal Waterways.
Enjoy it over dinner in one of the Outer Banks restaurants that face west such as Miller’s Waterfront Restaurant, or pack your own picnic, take a sunset cruise, or even head out on a kayak or paddle board.
However you do it, remind your kids to stop, watch, and express their gratitude for a day lived well.
TOP TIP: The Bodie Island Lighthouse is one of our favorite places to take in the sunset views in the Outer Banks.
There you have it. I hope this post gave you great inspiration on what do in the Outer Banks with kids, and if you are kid-free, any of these Outer Banks activities can be done as a couple or solo!
More tips for your Outer Banks Vacation
- 25 Awesome Vacation Rental Properties in the Outer Banks
- 20+ Essential things to do in the Outer Banks
- 30+ Delicious Outer Banks restaurants
- 15 Things to do in Manteo and Roanoke Island