Outer Banks National Scenic Byway

  • Start: Manteo, NC
  • End: Harkers Island, NC
  • Last Modified: 2012-03-29 20:21:25
  • Total Mileage: 138 Miles
  • Number of stops: 20


The 21 maritime communities on the Outer Banks National Scenic Byway evolved in response to barrier islands, capes and shallow sound waters. That village culture is intimately linked to striking natural features and nationally significant historic places along the Byway corridor. The Byway offers grand scenic views of barrier islands bracketed by the Atlantic Ocean and an estuarine system of shallow, fertile sounds. On half of the Byway’s 137.8 land miles, visitors see the corridor’s wild side of dunes, marsh and water in the Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout National Seashores and two national wildlife refuges, Pea Island and Cedar Island. These national seashores and refuges mark the Byway’s natural beaches, tidal flats, maritime forests, and abundant marine, avian and terrestrial wildlife. Outer Banks living demands vital knowledge of wildlife, waters and weather. That knowledge is expressed in rich traditions, building and settlement patterns, occupations, tales, recipes, community events, and place names. Fishing and hunting as livelihoods are keys to this culture that clings to the coastal edge. Working watermen ply the region’s waters from backyard docks, marinas and public harbors. Pound net stakes are everywhere in the sounds. Waterfowl hunters scan the sky from blinds in marshes and on far-from-land shallow waters and reefs of the sounds. On the Byway’s Hatteras and Ocracoke islands, a “beach vacation” landscape with outstanding recreation includes eight villages surrounded by national seashore. Historic settlement patterns are visible in ancient live oaks, harbors, old houses, family cemeteries, churches, family stores, fish houses, and 19th-century life-saving stations. The Byway’s Down East showcases Outer Banks maritime culture with little impact from current-day tourism. A heritage center reinforces an experience of place with stories, objects and exhibits. The pronounced flare to the bow of a Harkers Island fishing vessel is a centuries-old boatbuilding tradition unique to regional waters. By virtue of geographic location, Byway villages are tied to significant national history. A collection of the nation’s earliest civil works includes four historic lighthouses and eight early U.S. Life-Saving Service or U.S. Coast Guard stations.


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