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10 Things to Do With Kids on the Outer Banks

The Outer Banks, also known by those in the know as the OBX, consists of over 200 miles of the North Carolina coastline.

Admittedly, this immense scope can be a bit overwhelming when trying to discover the most kid-friendly activities to do when visiting, as there is simply a lot to choose from.

Thankfully, with the historic landmarks and beautiful beaches at hand, there is plenty to enjoy; you need only select your favorites.

So, without further ado, I am happy to present you with some awesome options for your kid-friendly getaway to the OBX area.

See The Wild Horses

Herd of wild horses on the beach in Corolla, North Carolina

If your kids are anything like mine, you know that a visit to see horses of any kind is for sure a home-run activity. However, when visiting these horses, the Corolla Wild Horses, your kids are in for a different kind of treat.

The original wild Corolla horses were moved in the mid-90s to Carova Beach. They were named the “State Horse of North Carolina” in 2010 to ensure their continued care.

You can pick from many tours that allow you and your kids to see these majestic beauties that call the Outer Banks home, but perhaps the most family-friendly adventure is the Corolla Wild Horse Tour.

Your kids will love the 15-passenger open-air safari-style truck that you get to ride in while exploring over 25 miles of off-road cruising.

The horses roam in groupings of three to six throughout 7,500 acres. The guides know where to find them and will lead your group right to their location. There are over 100 wild horses that roam the land.

During your ride to see the beautiful horses, your kids will get to soak up the salty sea air and enjoy the fresh ocean breezes. This family-friendly excursion is designed for families, and all ages of kids can safely participate. You can even bring along a car seat if you so desire.

Aside from enjoying the horses, kids will also learn the history of the beautiful animals from the tour guides who are both entertaining and knowledgeable.

Enjoy a Beach Day or Morning

While your young kids will likely only tolerate the beach for a few hours at the most, you must add a beach day to your itinerary as the Outer Banks just have too much to offer to not plan a beach day or two as part of your vacation.

There are several beach options, and obviously, you will likely opt to enjoy the beach closest to wherever you are staying. 

Corolla Beach is known for its calm water, which is ideal for kids as well as swimming and kayaking. Duck Beach is also noteworthy as it is pet-friendly.

Another way to enjoy the beach is to watch sand crabs or ghost crabs that come out at night. Kids love this activity, and as long as they are big enough to walk unaided in the sand and use a flashlight, this can be a great way to spend an hour or so at the end of the day once the sun has set.

You can do this at virtually any beach in the area, but one of the best sunsets that can be seen beforehand is found at Nags Head Beach, which is located near Jennette’s Pier.

Please don’t harm the crabs! To see crabs the best, visit the Outer Banks from May to early September.

To create a successful beach trip for your kids, a few helpful tips:

  • Morning or evening. To prevent a meltdown, avoid the intensity of the sun’s midday heat and your kids’ naptime. To have the least “stressful” beach visit, work around nap time and the sun’s intensity. Aim for mornings or evenings for your kids to have the best beach experience.
  • Bring along shade. Yes, I remember those days when the whole point of visiting the beach was to get that beautiful glow. However, now, your whole goal is to protect precious skin, both your own and your kids. Therefore, make sure you bring along shade in the form of a tent, giant umbrella, or sun shelter of another type.
  • Bring a cooler. We all get cranky when we are hungry and thirsty, and your littles are no different. Make sure that you have some refreshing snacks, treats, and drinks in your beach cooler. Bring wet wipes and/or napkins if you opt for sticky or drippy snacks, or just to wipe the sand from little hands before snacking!
  • Play. While you might dream of a nice, relaxing day of sitting and listening to the waves, sorry to say that probably won’t happen. Instead, be ready to play with your kids. Build sand castles, play in the water, etc. If your kids are old enough, you can even bring along a soccer ball, frisbee, or more. Also, make sure you have some buckets for sand and water transportation for awesome sand castle making.

Visit The Aquarium

After spending a few hours at the beach, getting out of the sun and into the air conditioning can be a welcome respite. Thankfully, you can enjoy a world-class aquarium featuring the largest collection of sharks in the entire state when visiting the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island.

It’s wise to make reservations if you plan on visiting the aquarium, as it has been known to sell out.

Also, you can participate in their indoor program for a small additional fee. This allows you to join the Special Activities Instructors and explore the aquarium in a whole new way.

Your kids will learn more about the animals and the care they need from the instructors as well as touring the animal health center. This is an additional fee added to the ticket admission price. However, it can be worth it if your kids are at the right age when they are especially curious about how things work behind the scenes.

However, even if you just opt to visit the aquarium and its regular exhibits, it will offer a day of fun to be sure!

If you plan on just doing the regular visit to the aquarium, give yourself an average of two to three hours to see everything. The North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island is a Travelers’ Choice award winner for 2023 from TripAdvisor, so you know it’s a worthwhile stop.

Let’s Go Fly a Kite, Then Enjoy Some Fun Activities Nearby

As the song goes in Mary Poppins, “Let’s go fly a kite, up to the highest heights”! You and your kiddos can enjoy flying a kite in a unique way by visiting Jockey’s Ridge State Park.

Here, you can climb to the top of the East Coast’s largest living sand dune. This location also happens to be one of the best places to fly kites in the entire Outer Banks.

You can also bring along a lunch as this park area has a picnic shelter available. There is even a location inside the concessionaire of the park that gives you kite flying lessons and sandboard rentals if your kids are old enough to enjoy that activity.

Speaking of sandboarding, during this activity, kids can slide down the sand at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. It’s super fun!

After your kids have had their fill of the sand and wind, you can move over to nearby Jockey’s Ridge Crossing, located right across the street, where there are plenty of kid-friendly shops and events that take place regularly.

At Jockey’s Ridge Crossing, there is always something going on to enjoy throughout the summer. In fact, Kids Day happens every Wednesday.

During this time, you can expect to see performances by actors from The Lost Colony Outdoor Drama, indoor rock-climbing, toy demonstrations, and visits from pirates along, with mechanical shark riding. All of this, and there are kites flying overhead to add to the fun!

See a Lighthouse/ Climb a Lighthouse

Lighthouses are an interesting place to visit, no matter where you travel. However, the Outer Banks just happen to have some amazing options, so make sure to add a visit to one of the following destinations on your itinerary.

Of course, use your discretion in terms of whether your kids can handle the climb to determine if that is an option. If they are small enough, you can carry them in a sling or another way and increase your own calorie burn as you make your way up and down the lighthouse. 

Tip: If you plan on carrying a child up, ask the lighthouse ahead of time if this is allowed. Many will not permit parents to carry their children up.

If your kids are old enough, though, then making it to the tip-top of the lighthouse can be a grand, fun, adventure and can be a brag-worthy accomplishment for them to share with friends and family when you get back from the OBX.

  • Currituck Beach Lighthouse: Open daily from 9 am to 5 pm, weather permitting, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse offers breathtaking, panoramic views after you climb the 220 steps to get to the top. Climbers aged 4 and older are welcome, so again, this is up to you if you think your kid can handle the climb.
  • Bodie Island Light Station: Located in Nags Head, North Carolina between freshwater marshlands and tall pines, the Bodie Island Light Station is another option for a fun, family activity. You can opt for tours in the summer months but you have to order online. Interestingly, this lighthouse is still a functional navigational aid but is open seasonally. Climbers must measure at least 42”, and all children 11 aged and younger must be accompanied by an adult. No kids can be carried up the lighthouse.
  • Hatteras Lighthouse: Perhaps the most iconic lighthouse of all time, this lighthouse is located on the Hatteras National Seashore near the village of Buxton. The lighthouse is closed to climbers for several seasons for restoration work, but you can still enjoy visiting the lighthouse keepers’ quarters housing a museum, and hear park ranger talks on various topics about local history and wildlife.
  • Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse: If you are unable to enjoy either of the previously mentioned lighthouses due to the difficulty climbing the hundreds of stairs necessary to get to the top, this lighthouse can offer something a little different. Unlike the other lighthouses, the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse isn’t for climbing. Instead, you can enjoy a small museum and a self-guided tour of this replica lighthouse built in 2014.

Explore The Wright Brothers National Memorial

This is yet another activity that you can do to get out of the heat and sun. This memorial honors the team of dreamers who taught the world to fly, the Wright Brothers, and their accomplishments.

This unique and interesting stop is located in Kill Devil Hills. Start your trip at the Wright Brothers National Memorial visitor’s center to learn more about the memorial.

Kids especially will enjoy exploring the area as they see the first airplane flight site. They can walk through the Wright Brothers’ flight path and see how long they stayed in the air. In addition, kids are allowed to touch the sculpture of the plane itself.

The memorial is open daily throughout the year with the exception of Christmas Day.

Use your own discretion of course when it comes to whether your kids will enjoy such an activity. This is a unique stop as it marks and highlights the first flight and is very history-rich and educational. It is especially entertaining for kids who are interested in planes or flying.

See Wildlife At Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

Established in 1938, the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge provides resting, nesting, and wintering habitats for migrating birds. The refuge is located on the northern end of Hatteras Island.

Currently, there are 370 bird species that call the refuge home. There are also 25 species of mammals, five species of amphibians, and 24 species of reptiles to see.

Kids will love the park as the small but mighty location boasts scavenger hunts, canoe outings, and nature programs like the Turtle Talk Tour. There is even an activity page you can access to find out what you can do when visiting the refuge.

Between March and November, you might even be able to spot some hatching sea turtles as the Loggerhead Sea Turtles hatch during this time.

Bird walks, which is a popular activity at the refuge, are free of charge and available every Friday throughout the year.

Go See The Dolphins

Dolphins are just one of several marine animals that call the Outer Banks home. For many people, they are the favorite, thanks to their friendly demeanor and frolicking ways.

Why not take your kids out on a dolphin tour, such as Captain Johnny’s Dolphin Tours to see these fun mammals themselves? This cruise, which lasts around two hours, takes place either at sunset, afternoon or morning. The best part of the experience is dolphin sightings are a guarantee for this tour.

Kids of all ages are welcome and encouraged to take part in these tours to learn more about dolphins and see them playing and splashing in their natural habitat. Throughout the cruise, Captain Jamie Westcott, will guide you in this family-friendly activity.

While your family enjoys the views, there is narration to listen to about the bottlenose dolphin, which is the type of dolphin that calls the area home. Kids are encouraged to ask questions as they enjoy seeing dolphins, perhaps for the first time ever in their natural environment.

Another option to enjoy the playfulness of the area dolphins is a cruise with Paradise Dolphin Cruises. Board this cruise at Safe Harbor in Outer Banks.

What makes this cruise unique is the 40-passenger canopied top on the boat that keeps the sun off of you, complete with cushioned seats. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention that this boat even has a bathroom! That’s right, I know what a lifesaver that can be, for sure.

Whether you choose one of these two companies or another, try to add a visit to see the dolphins via a dolphin tour to your family vacation itinerary. Kids will absolutely love seeing these friendly creatures swimming around, and it is a safe experience that can be enjoyed by virtually all ages simultaneously.

Spend Some Time Go-Karting and/or Mini-Golfing

This family-friendly fun center at Paradise Fun Park is a great way to spend a day or at least the better part of a day.

The park includes two mini golf courses, an arcade, bumper cars, go-karts, and more.

Located on Kill Devil Hills, this location is the perfect way to take a break from the beach or to do in the evening when the sun goes down.

Prices aren’t bad for a family at Paradise Fun Park, and there are two different mini-golf courses, which allow for varying skill levels, meaning kids and adults can both enjoy the experience. Go-karts offer double-karts for kids who are too small to drive themselves.

Keep in mind that bumper cars do not have the option of double riders, so kids have to be old enough to operate them on their own.

The overall design of this family fun destination includes a miniature lighthouse, a replica of a pirate ship, and other neat features. Kids will love put-putting around the “pirate ship” as they seek to make their way through the miniature golf course.

While prices are pretty good overall, activities like the arcade, bumper cars, and go-karts are all priced separately, so make sure you take that into consideration when planning your visit.

If you don’t think your kids are old enough to enjoy a visit to the previously mentioned park, but you still want to try miniature golf, you might instead prefer a visit to Frisco Mini Golf and Go- Karts.

Kids aged six and under can play golf for free at this location. They also offer Go-Karts complete with double rider options, and kids ride for free with paying parents.

Either mini golf/ go-kart locations are worth visiting, as are the many other locations throughout the Outer Banks not mentioned. Kids, even small kids, will enjoy playing golf and going for a ride in a go-kart!

Get Wet at H2OBX Waterpark

Nothing is more enjoyable on a hot summer day than spending some time at a fun waterpark. One of the best to visit is the H2OBX Waterpark.

This park features a wide variety of rides including thrilling rides, family rides, and even areas and rides designed just for kids. While your small kids won’t be able to do the thrill rides, there is plenty to do to keep them busy and having a blast.

The park even allows you to enter, leave, and then renter with your stamp. This means you can leave and get a nap in and then come back later to enjoy the rest of your day.

The Blue Heron Twirl, made especially for toddlers, is a good example of the types of kids’ rides featured at this family-friendly park. The minimum height for a rider is 36” and features an enclosed experience with a few twists and turns.

In addition to rides, there are areas like Calico Jack’s Cove especially designed with kids in mind.

In this unique feature, what was once a “fearsome vessel of the seas” has been transformed into a wet playground for kids. There is a water slide that goes into shallow water, a geyser that bubbles over your toes, and a water cannon that blasts water through the air.

In addition, there are cones, troughs, and buckets filled with water, soaking everything around. Calico Jack, the captain, can be found standing near the flowing sails of the ship.

A helpful hint to know before your visit is that they have flotation devices like life jackets available free of use. The park does not allow any flotation devices to be used that do not meet US Coast Guard standards, so know this going in as you will likely have to use some of the park’s equipment to ensure your kids stay safe. Thankfully, they have plenty of equipment available!

Also, it’s worth noting as a final addition that you can and likely should bring your own towels to the water park. If you don’t, you will have to purchase towels from the Wright Stuff Retail store within the park.

Thankfully, there are three sizes of lockers available for rent, so don’t worry about bringing along stuff that you will have to tote around all day.

Also, you can eat here as there are plenty of family-friend food options within the park, so you can truly make a day of it if you desire.