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Paddle the Outer Banks, North Carolina

See trip details for paddling and camping the Outer Banks on North Carolina, one of 100 best American adventure trips from National Geographic.

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A boy and his dad scout waves for skimboarding on the beach at Cape Hatteras in the Outer Banks.

North Carolina’s Outer Banks represent what the eastern seaboard used to look like before all the development and jetties. Left to the whims of the wind and tide, the barrier islands and their dunes change shape from year to year. That makes for an ideal place for beach sports ranging from surfing to striper fishing.

But the absolute best way to explore the 68 miles (109 kilometers) of Cape Hatteras National Seashore and 56 miles (90 kilometers) of Cape Lookout National Seashore is to load up a kayak and paddle between Hatteras’s four campgrounds and dispersed camping on the beaches. While the ocean side can be quite rough (the ocean offshore is referred to as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic”), the clear, sheltered waters of Pamlico Sound make for ideal paddle touring.

Experienced kayakers can travel from campsite to campsite; those who don’t want to log long miles in a sea kayak can simply choose a campground and then make day trips. But no matter how you plan your trip, few experiences beat paddling along the beaches of Shackleford Banks with the barrier island’s herd of wild horses running along the beach.

Need to Know: Coastal Kayak Touring Company Inc. ( has half-day trips from $39. Consult Cape Hatteras National Seashore ( or Cape Lookout National Seashore ( for more information.

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