Scientists run these dolphin tours as part of their research on these beloved aquatic animals, so you know this will be an interesting trip. Passengers will be able to see how researchers with the Outer Banks Center for Dolphin Research, a nonprofit organization, conduct their research and hear about some of the discoveries from more than a decade of studies and monitoring. Some of the hundreds of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins in the area show up so frequently they’ve even been given names, like “Rake,” “Scarlet,” and “Onion.”
Hiking/walking – Head west to the Nags Head Woods for a series of rustic trails that wind through the maritime forest and eventually lead to the Albemarle Sound. The Tracks in the Sand Trail at Jockey’s Ridge State Park is a well-paced 1.5 mile trail that crosses the dunes en route to the sound and back, while the park’s 1 mile Soundside Nature Trail is a cool loop that meanders through estuaries and shrub thickets. In neighboring Kill Devil Hills, hikers will find plenty of trails through the Nags Head Woods Preserve, which is found at the end of Ocean Acres Drive.
Biking – Bikers will find an 11 mile bath that runs parallel to the Beach Road for easy trips through the town that are always close to the beach. Jockey’s Ridge State Park’s Soundside Nature Trail is also a good destination for a more challenging bike ride through the unpaved wooded hiking trails, while the Nags Head Woods Preserve has a network of rugged trails for hikers and bikers alike.
Kayaking – Venture to the Albemarle Sound for calm kayaking conditions, superb wildlife watching, and gorgeous on-the-water sunsets that span for miles. Locals like to launch from the convenient sandy waterfront access found on 6816 South Croatan Highway, (just north of the Outlet Mall), as well as the soundside beach close to the western entrance to the Jockey’s Ridge State Park. There’s also a public boat launch adjacent to the Washington Baum Bridge on US 64 / 264, but this area can be heavy with maritime traffic. Kayak rentals and guided tours are available through Kitty Hawk Kites, Causeway Water Sports, Grog’s Watersports, and other vendors which are found close to the water.
Birding – In Jockey’s Ridge State Park, birders can head to the 1-mile Soundside Loop Trail to spot woodland and migrating waterfowl, or the 360’ ft. boardwalk with a great view of the action on the dunes. Further south, the Bodie Island Lighthouse offers several trails that wind to the Albemarle Sound, and there are also a handful of observation decks dotted along NC Highway 12. The Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is also located just 10-20 miles away, and boasts some of the best bird watching in the Outer Banks.
Surfing – Surfing is big in Nags Head, and the beach that surrounds Jennette’s Pier is a popular year-round surf spot, as well as the home for regular Regional and National ESA Championships. Visitors with 4WD vehicles can also head to the Coquina Beach 4WD Access Ramps, located just south of Nags Head, to explore miles of relatively uncrowded shoreline in search of waves. Aim for a visit in the spring and fall months, or whenever a storm passes well offshore.
Lighthouses – The closest lighthouse is the Bodie Island Lighthouse, which is located just a 10-15 minute drive south from the center of Nags Head. The horizontally-striped black and white lighthouse was recently renovated and re-opened for climbers, and features an on-site gift shop, Visitors Center, and several soundfront nature trails. Lighthouse fans can also head further south to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, located about an hour drive away, or head north to Currituck Beach Lighthouse, found in Corolla, which is about 45 minutes away.
Fishing – With miles of shoreline to cast from, miles of Albemarle Sound waters, and three fishing piers, (Jennette’s Pier, Nags Head Fishing Pier and the Outer Banks Pier in South Nags Head), the possibilities are endless for anglers. Popular local spots include the public parking area on the edge of the Washington Baum Bridge, as well as Coquina Beach – a 4WD accessible shoreline that’s located just south of Nags Head. Fishermen can also head to the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center next to the Bonner Bridge for dozens of charter boats that offer Gulf Stream and inshore fishing trips.
Beaches – The Town of Nags Head has roughly 11 miles of shoreline, more than 40 public beach accesses, and 10 public beaches that offer seasonal lifeguards. This is in addition to the 4WD access ramps that are found just south of the town borders, as well 6 public sound accesses. All beaches are open to the public, and thanks to a recent Beach Renourishment project, are typically nice and wide, with plenty of room to spread out.
Wildlife Viewing – While the two nature trails that run through Jockey’s Ridge State Park are convenient and easy-to-traverse destinations for wildlife viewing, nature lovers will want to head south to the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, where more than 400 migrating species can be spotted. Several trails veer out towards the Pamlico Sound via the Visitors Center, which is found close to “Irene’s Inlet” and the Temporary Bridge north of Rodanthe. The nature trails adjacent to the Bodie Island Lighthouse are also good vantage points for nature fans and birdwatchers alike.
Swimming – In Nags Head, the ocean waters are generally warm enough for swimming from Memorial Day through September, and the town has 10 beaches which feature seasonal lifeguard stations, (and are located adjacent to public accesses.) Red flags are posted throughout the beaches when there is a threat of rip currents, or the conditions are too dangerous for swimming. The Nags Head YMCA also has an expansive indoor pool which is available to members and visitors with temporary passes.
Camping – While there are no campgrounds within the town limits, Nags Head visitors will find two campgrounds on the soundside in neighboring Kill Devil Hills, Joe & Kay's Campground on Colington Road and OBX Campground on Marshy Ridge Road, as well as a National Park Service (NPS) managed campground just south of town. The NPS campground is open seasonally, close to the shoreline, and is located almost directly across from the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center. Camping is not allowed on any of the Nags Head beaches, or in any of the state or public parks.
Stand Up Paddleboarding – Stand up paddle boarders can head to the soundside beach in Jockey’s Ridge State Park, as well as several public soundside accesses throughout the town, to launch. These accesses are found at the end of West Danube Street, on Forrest Street, and at the “Little Bridge,” which is adjacent to the 64/264 Causeway. For rentals and lessons, head to the flagship Kitty Hawk Kites store across from Jockey’s Ridge, or the Nags Head-based Farmdog Surf School. Rentals are also available at small watersports shops that are stationed next to the Albemarle Sound on US 64/264.
Golf – Nags Head is home to the Nags Head Golf Links, a Scottish-style course that has been featured in Golf Digest, Southern Links and GolfWeek. The course is open to members as well as the public, and is located on the soundside, close to the Jockey’s Ridge State Park. Nags Head also has a handful of themed mini golf courses, including Blackbeard’s Miniature Golf, Jurassic Putt, and Mutiny Bay Adventure Golf.
Scenic spots – For an aerial view of the town, head to Jockey’s Ridge State Park and make the arduous climb to the top of the 80’ – 100’ ft. tall sand dunes. Top-of-the-world vistas can also be enjoyed from the Bodie Island Lighthouse, which is seasonally open for climbers, as well as from the end of the 1,000’ foot long Jennette’s Pier, which overlooks the expanse of Nags Head’s oceanfront shoreline.
Boating – Mariners can access the Albemarle Sound via the NC Wildlife Resources Commission Public Boat Ramp at Washington Baum Bridge, or via the Pirate’s Cove Marina, located right across the street. There’s also a National Park Service Boat Ramp at Oregon Inlet, located at the Oregon Inlet fishing center, which is ideal for mariners who want to trek out to the Gulf Stream 15 miles away.
Educational – The Jennette’s Pier is an exceptional educational resource, as the pier offers a number of school outreach and public programs for kids and adults alike, and which include Beach Explorations, Plankton Investigations, and even fishing lessons. Visitors can also head to Roanoke Island, where the Roanoke Island Festival Park, Elizabethan Gardens, North Carolina Aquarium, and Island Farm make a full day of learning effortlessly fun.
Museums – Nags Head is home to the Beachcomber Museum, a collection of salvaged treasures and area antiques, as well as Jennette’s Pier, which features a series of exhibits borrowed from the North Carolina Aquarium. Nearby, the Wright Brothers Memorial and its extensive Visitors Center / museum can be found in neighboring Kill Devil Hills, while the Bodie Island Lighthouse, just south of Nags Head, features a small museum and gift shop with relics from the original coastal light keepers.
Shelling – Beachcombers will have good luck on the Nags Head beaches after a summer storm, fall hurricane or winter Nor’easter, and typical finds include scallops, razor clams, moon snails, sea glass, quahogs, and three types of whelks. The 4WD accessible Coquina Beach is also a great shelling spot that’s relatively uncrowded, and which lives up to its name with hundreds of colorful coquina clams that are seasonally spotted digging along the ocean wash.
Windsurfing and Kiteboarding – Wind sports are very popular in Nags Head, thanks to the miles of wide-open Albemarle Sound waters. The soundside beach at Jockeys Ridge State Park is arguably the most popular launching spot, but boarders can also launch via the Harvey Sound Access at Milepost 16 (near the Tanger Outlets), and the W. Danube Street access in the Old Nags Head Cove subdivision. For rentals and lessons, head to Kitty Hawk Kites, or drive south to the town of Waves on Hatteras Island, which is the headquarters of Real Watersports.
Nightlife – With more than 60 restaurants and bars, Nags Head has a thriving nightlife scene with plenty of local establishments staying open after-hours to cater to bar patrons. Local hot spots like Kelly’s Lucky 12 Tavern, Mulligans and Sam & Omie’s are popular with locals and visitors alike, and often feature live music, DJ nights, or karaoke. Note that bars and restaurants are allowed to serve alcohol in North Carolina until 2:00 a.m., and the central Outer Banks has a number of cab companies, including Coastal Cab Company and A1 Taxi.
Crabbing – Visitors can crab off their own soundfront or canalfront dock, or head to the small parking areas that are adjacent to the Washington Baum Bridge, which are very popular with hand-lining crabbers. Collapsible “pyramid” or “two-ring” crab pots are also allowed at the Jennette’s Pier. Meanwhile, mariners can venture to the waters of the Albemarle Sound, Roanoke Sound and Pamlico Sound. All of these regions features small marshy islands and shallow depths of 3’ to 5’ feet of water, making them ideal crabbing grounds.