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Southeast Excursions

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Adventures on the Outer Banks

By Mark Alan Hudson
Correspondent

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Wild horses, a lighthouse, a wildlife “museum,” a rustic village and more await you at what was once the end of the world – as far as the northernmost Outer Banks are concerned.

Distance

From Charlotte, it’s roughly 370 miles, a 6 1/2- to 7-hour drive, one way.

To see and do

You know you’ve arrived when you can see the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. Part of the Currituck Heritage Park (home to three distinct but complementary attractions and a “must see” for anyone who enjoys nature and history), the lighthouse is one of only two in the Outer Banks you can climb. It began operation in 1875, filling the “dark space” along the North Carolina coast. Spring through fall, you can climb the 162-foot tower ($7 for 8 and older). The 360-degree view at the top is stunning: the Atlantic to the east, Currituck Sound to the west and the thin ribbon of sand in between that makes you realize how fragile a barrier island really is.

Next door is the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education, part of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (free admission; closed Sundays). Its 5,000 square feet of museum-quality displays reflect the natural and cultural history of the area; it also has more than 2 miles of very accessible trails through marsh and maritime forest. Programs, many held outside in natural settings, are popular for the almost 200,000 visitors each year.

The Whalehead Club, also within the park, was originally the retreat home of Edward and Marie Louise Knight, avid waterfowl hunters. Completed in 1922, the “art nouveau” style structure was very unusual for the locale then, and remains so today. The home is on the National Register of Historic Places.

There is a fee for inside tours ($9 and up), and the free-to-see grounds are open dawn to dusk. There is a public boat dock and boardwalk/pier that is a favorite put-in spot for kayakers and crabbers. The grounds are great for picnicking and for kids to burn off some energy; this is a favorite spot for weddings as well. Special programs and events are held throughout the year, many free or with a nominal charge.

To round out your visit, take a walk through the reconstructed village of Corolla, take a kayak tour or hike, or go on “safari” in an all-wheel-drive vehicle to see some of the wild horses (possible descendants of Spanish mustangs) that still can be found beyond where the road ends.

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