If you’re looking for an exciting kayaking adventure, look no further than North Carolina’s Outer Banks! Famous for it’s moody beaches and dune, lighthouses and summer season, kayaking the Outer Banks (aka the OBX) is beautiful. North Carolina has such a variety, from whitewater and canyon kayaking around Asheville, to the coast here in the OBX. You’ll find some of the best kayaking spots in the country, with plenty of opportunities for excitement and exploration.

As barrier islands just off of North Carolina’s mainland the open sea beaches, numerous state parks, and great fishing make this area a popular tourist destination, though without the crowds of more popular Atlantic coast towns.

Paddlers will enjoy exploring wildlife refuges, and wetlands, and taking in the 100+ miles of shoreline. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced kayaker, these waters will not disappoint. So grab your paddle and get ready to explore some of the most beautiful scenery in North Carolina!

Easy Kayaking Spots in North Carolina’s Outer Banks

Barrier islands such as the Outer Banks provide protection to the mainland from the ocean. With calm waters in the sounds that scatter the region beginner kayakers won’t have issues finding a launch by calm waters to explore Pamlico or Albemarle Sound. 

Pine Island Audubon Sanctuary

Pine Island Audubon Sanctuary is a pristine marshland tucked between the small towns of Duck and Corolla. Covering an 8 square mile area, this land was preserved by the National Audubon Society to support its preservation given the abundant wildlife. Fortunately for paddlers, there are opportunities to get on the water. Bring your binoculars and bird guide to get more out of a kayak trip here. Coastal Tours offers tours and has a launch site a short five-minute walk through a nature trail. 

Where to launch:

Nags Head

Nags Head offers the perfect waters for novice kayakers. The area is surrounded by marshlands and while exploring the sound you can visit some islands. Birds are abundant and if you’re wanting to go birdwatching (you know that’s our favorite aspect of kayaking!) or fishing we recommend hiring a guide. Paramount Destinations offers full moon, bioluminescence tours where you can see the waters glow.

Where to launch:

Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Reserve 

The pristine maritime Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Reserve is a unique forest setting that consists of over 1800 acres that protect numerous wildlife including resident and migratory birds, mammals, and reptiles. A paddle here takes you through a sheltered creek welcoming to novice paddlers, providing a buffer from the wind. Conservation efforts have supported the revival of the nesting of bald eagles and osprey.

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Difficult and Technical Kayaking in North Carolina’s Outer Banks

Longer, extended paddles can be had for those with experience. Open waters on the Atlantic can provide challenges. Always check weather conditions before heading out. Below are a few of our recommendations for experienced kayakers. 

Peter Mashoes Creek

Located in a more remote part of the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, is Peter Mashoes Creek. Established in 1984, the wetland’s majority habitat was labeled “pocosin”, a term used by the Algonquin Indians which signifies “swamp on a hill”. Kayakers can paddle to Sawyer Lake and get a glimpse of remnants of the logging industry.

Where to launch:

Roanoke Island

Paddlers interested in history will enjoy a kayak to Roanoke Island. Named after the indigenous people that lived there prior to the English settlement, there’s a lot to learn about the earlier settlers. The island is home to the first English colony in the New World. Beyond history, it’s a haven for wildlife with numerous resident and migratory birds in the area. 

Where to launch:

Hatteras Island, Dare County, North Carolina

Hatteras Island is a barrier island located off the mainland of North Carolina. If you’re looking for a kayaking spot with plenty of wildlife to see, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is a great place to start, with miles of untouched coastal marshland and unparalleled birdlife. You can also check out areas like the Currituck Sound and Roanoke Island for a sunset paddle – an experience you won’t soon forget. National Park Planner gives a complete list of launch points in the area and some pertinent information for planning a trip to Hatteras Island. 

Where to launch:

Currituck Sound and Corolla Salt Marshes

Located on the northern beaches is the Currituck Sound. Kayaking on the protected inlets, bays, and waterways of the Currituck Sound and Corolla Salt Marshes is an exquisite experience! One of the Outer Banks’ most beautiful landscapes has been and still is Currituck Sound. The Currituck Banks Coastal Estuarine Reserve allows visitors to get up close and personal with a variety of wildlife, from migrating birds to fresh and saltwater fish.

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National / State Park Kayaking Spots in North Carolina’s Outer Banks

As a group of barrier islands, this mini archipelago is home to many protected wildlife refuges. Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is the most popular among those listed below but regardless of where you find yourself on the Outer Bank island, you won’t be disappointed with the wildlife that spans the area. Bring your binoculars!

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge

The Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is a swampland previously occupied by the Algonquin Indians. With thick bald cypress stretching over the waters paddlers will feel the eeriness of the creek’s black waters. Kayaking through the area gives plenty of opportunities to see the alligators that dot the creek. If you’re hearing a wolf howling this is likely a pack of red wolves, the only wild population of its kind in the world. Keep your eyes peeled for river otters, black bears, owls, egrets, and ibis. 

Where to launch:

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

The Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is a birders paradise spanning nearly 6,000 acres of land and over 25,000 acres of waterways. Paddling is the best way to explore the space. Birders will want to bring their binoculars and may find it beneficial to have a guide with them to identify the 365 species that call the refuge home. With clear waters, it’s easy to spot stingrays, oysters, hermit crabs, and other aquatic life. 

Where to launch:

Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge

The Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge is a  50,000-acre refuge that is home to a variety of wildlife including peregrine falcons, ospreys, and bald eagles. The refuge also has a large lake which is perfect for kayaking.

Paddlers can launch their kayaks from the public boat ramp on the north end of the lake. From there, they can paddle around the lake and take in the scenery. The best time to go kayaking at Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge is during the summer months when the weather is warm and sunny. For a complete guide to the area visit the Pamlico website.

Where to launch:

Currituck National Wildlife Refuge

At Pettigrew State Park, guests may explore the surrounding greenery and water by land or boat. The park has 16,000 acres of Lake Phelps as well as its adjacent region. The fishing is legendary, and kayakers, canoes, and shallow-draft boats will be able to locate easy launch sites. Boaters with nearby access may also navigate the calm, blackwater Scuppernong River. History buffs will want to look at the displays of the ancient American Indian dugout canoes.

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Recommended Kayaking Tours in North Carolina’s Outer Banks

Alligator River Kayak Adventure – This paddle through the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge gives visitors a glimpse of the old logging and whisky production days of the prohibition. Wildlife is abundant and having a guide to point them out is invaluable. Find out more here.

Corolla Kayak Adventure – A visit to the Outer Banks isn’t complete until you’ve experienced a leisurely sunset paddle. Traverse through sheltered islands in the Currituck Sound as the sun slowly fades away.  Book here!

Nags Head Kayak Tour – If you find yourself in Kill Devil Hills there’s an opportunity to go birding on the waters of Roanoke Sound. Keep your eyes peeled for osprey, bald eagles, herons, pelicans, and other birds that flock to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore area. 

Need to Know for North Carolina’s Outer Banks

The Outer Banks area is rich in culture and heritage. Much like grains of sand, its culture has developed over years, influenced by the changing tides and currents that meet it. Countless visitors leave their individual marks on it. It catches with the wind and spreads throughout these barrier islands. It’s a common resource, available for everyone to play with, whether they want to cover themselves in the grains or tunnel through it. This week I’m highlighting a few events that rely on and celebrate local attributes that shape the Outer Banks into the area we know and love. History buffs will enjoy the fact that the area was home to the first early European settlements, most importantly Roanoke.

When to Visit North Carolina’s Outer Banks

The Outer Banks of North Carolina is a popular tourist destination for people in the United States and is known for its beautiful beaches and the many events that take place throughout the year. Some of the major events that take place in the Outer Banks include the Pirate Festival, the American Music Festival, and the Shrimp Festival. The fishing season typically starts in April and lasts until October. The area is also home to many different species of birds, making it a popular destination for birdwatchers. 

Weather in North Carolina’s Outer Banks

The Outer Banks of North Carolina are a great place to visit year-round, but the best time to kayak is in the fall or spring when the temperatures are mild. The area experiences a lot of rainfall, so it’s important to consider the average monthly rainfall before planning your trip. October and November are typically the wettest months, while April and May are the driest.

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