Take A Drive Along This Popular East Coast Beach On This Beautiful Road Trip Route

Correction 11/3/23: A previous version of this article referred to the Outer Banks and Dare County as "towns." Dare County is a county, and the Outer Banks are a collection of barrier islands that include several municipalities.

With 200 miles of picturesque scenery along the barrier shorelines, North Carolina's Outer Banks are one of the East Coast's most stunning gems. Explore the islets of the state's largest coastal county by car on the iconic Outer Banks Scenic Byway, also known as NC Highway 12. Voyage from the northern end of Corolla Beach along the narrow strip of coastline bridging the Pamlico Sound lagoon. You can finish your journey in Cedar Island, a popular place for birdwatching.

The Outer Banks are well known for inspiring many popular films and shows, including the trending Netflix Original Outer Banks. However, visiting this small-town city will unveil some unusual aspects, including the wild ponies that make their home among the coastal plains. The banks are a playground for outdoor recreation, such as fishing, camping, and water sports. Along the drive, stop at some of the Outer Banks' most iconic hot spots, including the inspiration for the popular show named after this city.

Corolla to Kitty Hawk

Perched under Virginia's state border, Corolla is the springboard for the Outer Banks Scenic Byway. With the Atlantic to your left, cruise down Highway 12, where this stretch of road often promises a glimpse of wild horses. Many of Corolla's northern beaches are known as wilderness playgrounds for Wild Spanish Mustangs, North Carolina's state horse. The Mustangs first arrived with North Carolina's earliest settlers and are often seen galloping along the sand. Continue to Historic Corolla Village, teeming with local boutiques, museums, and English-style cafés. Stop at Corolla Greenway, where you can smell the sea breeze wafting from the salt marsh. The boardwalk runs adjacent to Highway 12, and the mile-long stretch provides a scenic view for locals and travelers passing through.

Less than 30 minutes from Corolla, take in the coastal beauty of Duck, part of North Carolina's Dare County. Pull over to experience one of Duck's most popular attractions: Duck Town Park Boardwalk. The rain-washed boards connect marsh and forest to a strip of waterfront shops and restaurants. Follow the highway south until you reach the small beach town of Kitty Hawk. This coastal city may or may not have inspired the fictional detention center in Netflix's Outer Banks. While passing through, stop at Duck Donuts, a local family-owned business spreading joy through sweets and treats. They have a wide selection of seasonal and signature flavors with fun names like Bacon in the Sun and Beach Ball.

Nags Head to Cedar Island

Venturing out of Kitty Hawk, pass through Kill Devils Hills before entering Nags Head, home to some of the most picturesque scenery in the Outer Banks. Located within Dare County, it appears the producers of Outer Banks named the fictional "Kildare County" using a mash-up of these two names (Dare County and Kill Devils Hills). Stop over at Jockey's Ridge State Park and take in the tallest dunes found on the East Coast.

Right across from Nags Head Fishing Pier, you'll spot the Surfin' Spoon, a family-owned local gem. The Nantucket-style building is accented with cozy twinkling lights — a perfect road trip stop to try its creamy yogurt and chat with the friendly locals. Bodie Island Lighthouse is another historic monument that's worth stopping by. Closely resembling the famous "Redfield" lighthouse from Netflix's Outer Banks, Bodie Island Lighthouse is one of five lighthouses in Outer Banks that provide a beacon of light to passing ships.

As the end of the highway draws near, stop over at Pony Pen in Ocracoke. The Ocracoke Banker Ponies are a rare breed with an unusual number of vertebrae and ribs. While they once ran wild, the ponies are now cared for under the protection of the National Park Service on 188 acres of land. Before leaving, take a well-deserved nature break in Hammock Hills Nature Trail, a short loop weaving through pine forests.