Weekend Camping at Nags Head, Outer Banks

Looking for pirates, shipwrecks, massive sand dunes, lighthouses, and, oh, by-the-way, just a little bit of history that changed the world? Only a short hop from your beachfront campsite at the Oregon Inlet Campground on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Oregon Inlet Campground
35.7714469 -75.5254812
National Seashore

The little spit of land that protects the North Carolina mainland from the torrents of the Atlantic is known locally as the OBX --- Outer Banks. Not more than a few hundred feet wide in some places, it's a wonder that it is still there and habitable given how many forces of nature are constantly bearing down on her.

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet,
Long live the weeds and the wildness yet.
                  ~Gerard Manley Hopkins

Oregon Inlet Campground

What the Outer Banks camping at Oregon Inlet Campground lacks in privacy, it more than makes up for in convenience to some prime attractions – both natural and historical – and access to the Atlantic. If coastal fishing is part of a great holiday, then you may never have reason to leave camp. A short hike through the dunes is all that stands between you and the migratory fishing waters of the Atlantic Gulf Stream.

Camping at the Outer Banks is often a challenge in both the rapidly changing weather and the relentless wind that comes off the Atlantic. Have a good plan for tethering down your tent and  a well-practiced one before you attempt setting up in 20-30 mph wind in the Oregon Inlet Campground. It's best to use all the tie-downs that your tent has available as the wind can shift from hour to hour. Also, don't leave anything out overnight --- it may be in the next county by the time you wake in the morning. We used this trip to prepare for the prairie winds of the Badlands in South Dakota.

  • Three loops with a tent-only loop (Loop A)
  • Limited RV hookups available
  • Non-site specific reservations mean that early arrivals get the best selection.
  • Cold showers

6 Kid-Friendly Outer Banks Activities

1. Bodie Island Lighthouse

Bodie Island Lighthouse on a sunny day with blue skies at the Outer Banks, North Carolina

If you look northwest from your Oregon Inlet campsite, you will probably see the beacon on top of the 156-foot Bodie Island Lighthouse, a few miles up Highway NC12. It is one of seven coastal lighthouses that grace the shores of North Carolina. Purchase tickets at the visitor center and climb the 215 steps to the top for a unique view of the National Seashore. Kids ---complete your Junior Ranger workbook and earn a Seashore Ranger patch.

2. Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

Photo of one great egret and three white ibis on a grass-lined river's edge in Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge close to Nags Head, North Carolina, of the Outer Banks.

Established in 1938 to provide habitat for migratory birds as well as endangered species such as Loggerhead sea turtles, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge also provides opportunities for public enjoyment of wildlife. A real gem hiding in plain sight, the refuge is only a short drive south from Oregon Inlet Campground. If you are looking for more wildlife refuges, check out the Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge, another eastern North Carolina jewel.

Arrive early for the best birding and parking. Don't forget your binoculars and camera. Along the trail, we spotted red-wing blackbirds, snowy and great egrets, terns, loons, buffleheads, coots, cormorants, white ibis, and cowbirds along with muskrats, yellow-and red-sliders, a corn snake, snapping turtles and otter tracks.

3. Wright Brothers National Memorial

Wright Brothers National Memorial monument at the Outer Banks, North Carolina

Almost no trip to the OBX is complete without a stop at the Wright Brothers National Memorial where the history of the December 1903 events come alive in a unique and immersive way. Run by the National Parks Service (NPS), a ranger-led presentation is given at a reconstructed barn and living space near the site of those first five flights. A larger memorial sits on a hill that overlooks the field from which you can see the surrounding area.

UPDATE: The restoration of the visitor center was completed in 2018 with fully accessible and interactive exhibits.

If you have a 4th grader, then admission for the entire family is free under the NPS Every Kid in a Park Pass. Children can earn a Flight Ranger patch when they complete their Junior Ranger booklet and attend one ranger program.

4. Jockey's Ridge State Park

Young girl with boots over her shoulder walking barefoot across sand dune at Jockeys Ridge State Park on Outer Banks, North Carolina

Located in Nags Head, Jockey's Ridge State Park contains the tallest living sand dune on the Atlantic coast, reaching heights of over 60 feet.  This 426-acre North Carolina state park contains three ecosystems: the Roanoke Sound, the dune system, and the maritime forest, as well as offering spectacular sunset views and a premier place for kite flying, sand boarding, and hang gliding.

Picnic shelters are available and can be reserved. Time permitting, make your way across the dunes to the Roanoke Sound for a peaceful outing along the shore.

UPDATE: With 24-hour advance notice, park staff are able to provide a trip to the top of the dune on an all-terrain vehicle for those with reduced mobility.

5. North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island

mother and four daughters reaching hands into the touch tank at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, North Carolina

From Nags Head to Roanoke Island is but a mere 16 miles so a visit to the aquarium is a must! Also consider this as an option on a rainy day or when you just need to get out of the summer heat for a spell. Educational films, stories, and an immersive touch tank all introduce you to the waters of North Carolina. Special programs offered throughout the year so check the North Carolina Aquarium website for details.

6. Jennette's Pier

Exterior of Jennettes Pier on a sunny day with blue skies and white clouds at Nags Head, North Carolina

If you spend any time on the beach near Nags Head, it's kind of hard to miss Jennette's Pier. A local gathering place, the pier stretches 1,000 feet out into the Atlantic which makes for some awesome fishing, if that is your passion. The pier is also just a great place for a picnic or to enjoy the views. A nominal fee is required for walk-ons, but if you have a North Carolina Aquarium membership your entry is included.

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*Tent campsites only; accurate at time of publication
12001 NC-12
Nags Head
Wind is a huge consideration when camping at Oregon Inlet no matter the time of year. If looking for a place to try out your tie-down system, this is a great proving ground. There are no camping pads, so your staking should be optimized for sand. Bathrooms - clean. No hand soap; cold showers only
8210 Bodie Island Lighthouse Road
Nags Head
Visitor Center: 9am-5pm; Junior Ranger program available
200-Step Lighthouse: 9am-4:30pm (3rd Friday April - Columbus Day in Oct )
Cost: $10/adult; $5/child 11 and under; maximum 8 people/tour group
Children must be at least 42” and capable of climbing all the steps on their own.
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1500 Fort Raleigh Road
Grounds hours: Sunrise-Sunset (picnic tables)
Visitor Center: 9am-5pm daily (17min film)
Youth trading card program & guided ranger tours
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Oceanfront, MP 16.5 Beach Road
Nags Head
Hours: May-Oct 6am-midnight; Dec-Mar 9am-5pm; Apr-May 7am-9pm
All Day Walk-on Fee: $2/adult; $1/child (12 and under)
All Day Fishing Fee: $14/adult; $7/child (12 and under)
Phone: 252-255-1501
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300 W. Carolista Dr
Nags Head
Visitor Center Hours: Mar-Oct 9a-6p; Nov-Feb 9a-5p
Park Hours: May-Sept 8a-9pm; Oct 8a-8p; Nov-Apr 8a-6pm; closed Christmas Day
Activities: hiking, picnicking, hang gliding, sand boarding, kayaking, ranger activities
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374 Airport Road
Hours: 9am-5pm daily
Admission: $12.95/adult (13-61); $10.95/child (3-12)
Phone: 252-475-2300
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14500 NC Highway 12
Visitor Center: 9am-4pm
Guided Tours and Scheduled Programs (June-August)
Phone: 252-987-2394
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1000 North Croatan Highway
Kill Devil Hills
Visitor Center: 9a-5p; closed Christmas Day
Fees: $10/adult 16 or older; free 15 or younger; free with America the Beautiful pass
Junior Ranger program and ranger-led tours
Phone: 252-473-2111
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