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How to Get to the Outer Banks North Carolina

Tonya Prater, Owner

It’s easy to get to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. You can drive, find the closest airport, or even take a ferry. We’ve got all the details to help you plan your beach vacation!

A seashell in the Outer Banks

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The Outer Banks is quickly becoming one of our favorite destinations outside of Ohio. The sandy beaches, wild horses, and even the amazing lodging options combine to make an Outer Banks Vacation the perfect getaway whether traveling with my husband or the entire family.

If you’re convinced, and wondering how to get to the Outer Banks, this post is for you. 

Where is the Outer Banks?

The Outer Banks is a set of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina. The chain of islands is more than 175 miles long and separated by as much as 30 miles from the mainland by a series of shallow sounds.

OBX is just a half-day drive from Charlotte, Washington DC, Raleigh or Richmond. In addition to plenty of beaches, shipwreck diving sites and protected state parks, there are lots of unique things to do in the Outer Banks.

Closest Airport to the Outer Banks

If you are visiting from a distance, there are a couple of airports close to the Outer Banks. Though once you land, you’ll still have a bit of a drive to reach your final destination.

A plane on a runway.
Image from Canva.

Norfolk International is the closest airport to the Outer Banks. From Norfolk to Nags Head, it’s about a 90-minute to two-hour drive. Located just outside of Norfolk, Virginia, this airport has direct flights to dozens of cities from as far west as Phoenix and Las Vegas. Norfolk International (ORF) is served by 13 airlines, including most major airlines and several regional airlines.

Raleigh Durham is another airport near Outer Banks. Raleigh is about 200 miles west of the Outer Banks, which leaves you with a 3-4 hour drive. However, it does have the largest selection of direct flights and you can’t beat the scenic drive through North Carolina.

My favorite place to compare prices on flights is Skyscanner, where you can find cheap domestic flights. 

Don’t forget to arrange for transportation upon landing.  Hertz has locations on-site at both airports, plus, you can save $100 each time you rent with Hertz Free-To-Go Pass. You may want to ask about a 4 x 4 vehicle so you can drive on one of the beaches that permits beach driving once you arrive in the Outer Banks. 

If you want to fly all the way to the Outer Banks, you can charter an airplane or helicopter into one of several smaller airports and landing strips on the islands. There’s the Pine Island Airport, Outer Banks Heliport, and the Ocracoke Island Airport.

Roanoke Island is also home to the Dare County Regional Airport. Outer Banks Airlines flies into five different airports in the Outer Banks region.

You can even land at the first flight strip at the Wright Brothers Memorial! A cool splurge for aviation fans, for sure!

Driving to the Outer Banks

Bridge over water heading to the Outer Banks.

My family has always made the almost 11-hour drive from Ohio to the Outer Banks by car (or van camper). When we break it up into two days, it’s a relaxing road trip. And, unless you charter a flight, you will end up driving to the Outer Banks, even if you fly most of the way from home.

There are just two roads leading to the Outer Banks. Highway 158, known as the Bypass Road, and Highway 12, which is known as the beach road.

Both roads enter the Outer Banks near Kitty Hawk and Nags Head, so depending on where you stay in the Outer Banks, you still have some driving to do once you leave the mainland. From Kitty Hawk to Ocracoke, it’s another three hours of driving, so choose your Outer Banks accommodation carefully, taking your drive time into consideration. 

Ferry to Outer Banks

Hatteras ferry transporting people and cars to the Outer Banks.

If you are staying on Ocracoke Island, there are other options to enter the Outer Banks besides Kitty Hawk and driving three hours south. Taking a ferry to the Outer Banks can reduce your travel time significantly.

Not to mention, ferries are just a fun way to travel! Park your car and enjoy the ride! If you are staying in Ocracoke, you’ll need to take a ferry no matter which direction you arrive from.

There are three different Outer Banks ferries to consider when planning how to get to the Outer Banks. 

From the mainland, there are two ferries. Each takes about two and a half hours. If you are traveling from the south of the Pamlico Sound, you’ll take the Cedar Island to Ocracoke Ferry. If you are traveling from the north, you’ll take the Swan Quarter to Ocracoke Ferry. You can find ferry schedules and fees here

If you’re already on the Outer Banks and plan to travel to Ocracoke then the Hatteras to Ocracoke Ferry is for you. This ferry connects Ocracoke to the rest of the Outer Banks islands. The free one-hour ferry allows you to ride in your vehicle to cross the Hatteras Inlet to reach the northern end of Ocracoke Island. There’s also an express passenger ferry (for a fee) if you are not bringing a vehicle.

If you own your own boat, you can reach the Outer Banks that way as well. 

Tip: During peak season, be sure to make reservations (fee) and arrive early in the morning as the first-come, first-serve ferries fill up quickly. If you’re prone to motion sickness, you’ll want to take some Dramamine before your arrival. Make sure to snag the non-drowsy formula so you don’t miss out on a day of fun on the island. I prefer these reusable bands for motion sickness.

As you can see, there are many different ways to get to the Outer Banks. To get the full experience of the entire region, we recommend driving to the Outer Banks in the north, then driving the entire length of the Outer Banks before returning to the mainland via ferry at Ocracoke.

Things to Do in the Outer Banks

Things to Do in North Carolina

Helpful Items for your Trip to the Outer Banks 

Have you been to the Outer Banks? How did you get there? Protection Status
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