The Outer Banks, North Carolina
Sunrise at the Kitty Hawk Pier, which is part of the Hilton Garden Inn Kitty Hawk property.
Imagine hang-gliding down the steep sand dunes of Jockey’s Ridge State Park on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, a mere six miles from the spot where the Wright Brothers made their inaugural flight—picturesque Roanoke Sound on the west, and on the east, the Atlantic Ocean. All you need is one hour of ground school instruction. Kitty Hawk Kites will have you out on the dunes, wafting 5 to 15 feet above the sand.
The Outer Banks might be most famous for its beaches, but it’s also a fantastic place to get out and get active with sports like hang gliding, kiteboarding, kayaking and horseback riding.
Cape Hatteras is one of the best places on the East Coast for kiteboarding. This June it’s hosting for the first time the Triple S Invitational, which attracts some of the world’s best kiteboarders. While the region’s wind and waves beckon the pros, it also happens to be a great place for newbies.
With 390 square miles of calm, waist-high waters, Pamlico Sound is like a vast kiddie pool. And thanks to improvements in equipment in the past five years, kiteboarding is more accessible than ever. In a daylong lesson, the staff at Kitty Hawk Kites can teach newcomers what they need to know to be up and kiteboarding by afternoon.
Kayaking is a sport that most anyone can do, and the Outer Banks offers a variety of environments in which to do it. There’s ocean kayaking for the more experienced, as well as calmer water kayaking on Pamlico, Currituck and Roanoke sounds. Birdwatchers will enjoy kayaking the saltwater marshes of Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, a major resting area for many types of migrating birds. More than 365 species have been identified in the refuge since it opened in the 1930s, says Aaron Tuell of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau. For a greater variety of animal species, consider a short drive to the mainland to kayak in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. Yes, you might see alligators there, as well as birds, deer and maybe even a black bear. Outfitters throughout the Outer Banks rent kayaks and offer guided tours.
There’s something so romantic about riding horses on the beach, and when the beach is as wild as that on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, it’s even better. Equine Adventures offers a two-hour horseback riding tour during early mornings and evenings Monday through Saturday. The trip starts with a 45-minute ride through the Outer Banks’ only maritime forest and follows a series of trails to the beach, where riders are set free to enjoy surfside riding at their own ability for half an hour before the return trip through the woods.
There are plenty of other sports for active types to enjoy on the Outer Banks, too, including stand-up paddle boarding, surfing, windsurfing, biking, hiking, boating and scuba diving. (outerbanks.org)