North Carolina’s longest highway – U.S. 64 – runs 564 miles through 24 counties, from the Tennessee line all the way to the Outer Banks. The 64-mile stretch connects Plymouth, Columbia and – on Roanoke Island – Manteo. These county seats offer many great places to visit.
England’s first colonists to the New World found a lot to like on Roanoke Island, and 400-plus years later, it’s still a prime destination. What other place in the state could offer such a varied assortment of attractions and activities so close to each other? The Fort Raleigh National Historic Site ( www.nps.gov/fora) preserves the location of Sir Walter Raleigh’s famed “Lost Colony.” Adjacent to Fort Raleigh is the beautifully landscaped Elizabethan Gardens ( www.elizabethangardens.org), a tribute to the original settlers.
Nearby attractions include the N.C. Aquarium on Roanoke Island ( www.ncaquariums.com), which features a 285,000-gallon tank with a scale replica of the USS Monitor, and the Coastal North Carolina National Wildlife Refuges Gateway Visitors Center ( www.fws.gov/ncgatewayvc), which serves as the hub for 11 refuges in the general vicinity; at the center, you can get a free taste of what the various wild tracts offer. Check out the exhibits gallery.
Another relatively new attraction is Island Farm ( www.theislandfarm.com), an 1850s-era working farm depicting life on Roanoke in the 1850s. Kids will love the re-enactors and the animals.
In downtown Manteo, check out the Pea Island Cookhouse Museum ( http://bit.ly/1li2qYK), significant because Pea Island was the only lifesaving station in the United States manned by an all-black crew.
Roanoke Island Festival Park ( www.roanokeisland.com) is Manteo’s single biggest tourism draw. Located across Manteo’s picturesque harbor and only a few miles from the Lost Colony site, it’s an engaging, 25-acre family attraction that celebrates the 1580s settlement. A highlight there is the Elizabeth II, a ship that is a composite of 16th-century vessels. Aboard this seaworthy sailing ship, you can explore below deck, stretch out in the “spacious” captain’s quarters, or scan the horizon from the quarter deck. You can “learn the ropes” (practice navigational skills) and perhaps witness the firing of the ship’s swivel gun.