The Outer Banks were once Blackbeard’s backyard and widely known as the graveyard of the Atlantic for causing countless shipwrecks. These days, the picturesque region has transformed into a popular east coast tourist destination, even spawning a swashbuckling Netflix drama. This string of barrier islands stretches more than 175 miles along the North Carolina coast, offering stunning dog-friendly beaches and dunes to explore, a storied history to discover, and treasures to sniff out among the ever-shifting sands.
Posted by Billy Francis
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Things to Do
The Outer Banks have morphed over time, but one thing that remains constant is the laid-back, pet-friendly vibes found on these mysterious and enchanting islands. Who’s ready for an island-hopping, beachcombing adventure with their best friend?
Fly High with Fido
As featured in the 2021 edition of our Ruff Guide to the United States, Wright Brothers National Memorial invites aviation buffs and their furry co-pilots to Kill Devil Hills to stand on the spot where Orville and Wilbur changed the world with their first flight. You and your dog can view full-scale replicas of the Wright Brothers’ 1902 glider, 1903 flying machine, and first wind tunnel. Take a walk together up Big Kill Devil Hill, where the duo conducted their glider experiments. Admission is $10 for adults and free for kids and dogs. If you want to do some flying of your own, head to nearby Outer Banks Airlines for a sightseeing flight. Pilot Charlie Snow will take you and your pooch on an aerial tour of the memorial, Roanoke Island, and Bodie Island Lighthouse. Rates start at $275 for up to five people and a pooch.
How You Dune?
Fido won’t be surprised to find incredible beaches on his Outer Banks adventure. Located more than 30 miles from the North Carolina mainland, Nags Head Beach welcomes leashed pups to play in the sand and dip a paw in the water. Then, make your way to nearby Jockey's Ridge State Park and continue your adventure over the dunes and far away. Trails will take you to wetlands, sandy beaches, and grassy dunes. Dogs are allowed in the dunes, but keep an eye out for sand spurs and hot sand during summer days.
Duck, Duck, Pooch
Dogs are welcome on every single Duck beach without a leash, as long as they are under voice control. That gives Fido 7 miles of sand to run and play on. After zoomies through the surf, attach Fido’s leash and wander along the boardwalk to The Waterfront Shops for a shopping spree. Before you duck out, waddle along The Duck Trail, a 6-mile long, multi-use path that traverses the entire length of the town, or get a different perspective from the water with a kayak or stand up paddleboard tour with Outer Banks Kayak Adventures.
Drive Through the Atlantic
Unless you own a submarine, you may never have driven through the Atlantic before. Outer Banks National Scenic Byway will take you on a semi-nautical journey along 138 miles of scenic roads and 25 miles over the water (aboard a ferry). Road trippers will pass by 21 coastal villages, each with its own charming attractions, restaurants and places to stay. The trip can take between 5-6 hours with no stops, but Fido will want to get out and explore.
A Garden Visit Fit for a Queen
When Fido’s paws are firmly planted back on earth, enjoy a change of pace at Elizabethan Gardens. The Roanoke Island attraction, where Queen Elizabeth I’s initial attempts to colonize America were made in the 17th century, has an old English theme throughout, from the gates to the selected flora and regal statues. Leashed dogs are welcome to walk along the peaceful pathways of the grounds.
Lighthouses Will Guide You Home
In an attempt to curtail the shipwrecks on its shores, the government began lining the Outer Banks from Corolla to Ocracoke Island with lighthouses starting in the late 18th century. A large selection of these historic buildings still stand today and welcome you and your pooch to snap a selfie. Start your lighthouse tour in Buxton at Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, found within Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The nation's tallest traditional lighthouse has been through a lot over the years, including extensive damage, rebuilds and extensions. Another beautiful black-and-white beacon is Bodie Island Light Station. While dogs aren’t allowed inside anymore, this was once the stomping ground of a Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Chess. He used to climb the tower every day with his owner, the last civilian-era keeper of the lighthouse. Finally, head to Heritage Park at the Whalehead Club for a walk through open green spaces, over historic bridges and to see the exposed brickwork of Currituck Beach Lighthouse.
Places to Stay
Whether Fido loves the sound of the surf to gently lull him to sleep or the luxury of a fenced-in backyard, this selection of pet-friendly vacation rentals, motels and hotels up and down the Outer Banks are the key to a relaxing vacation.
A Boatbuilder’s Bed & Breakfast
Located in the heart of Roanoke Island, Cameron House Inn offers up the exquisite Sandpiper Room for guests traveling with pets. Built by master boatbuilder George Washington Creef in 1920, this charming bed and breakfast’s only pet-friendly room is in the annex building a short walk from the back porch of the main house, which will give Fido the privacy he desires. He’ll also have the added luxury of being just a few minutes away from pet-friendly Manteo Beach. Well-behaved dogs are welcome for free.
Retro Vibes by the Beach
Tar Heel Motel is one of the few remaining old-school Outer Banks motels from the heyday of the American road trip in the '50s. Renovated to reflect this retro era, the pet-friendly rooms are cheap, cheerful and charming. Grill your pup’s favorite patty, play cornhole together and enjoy direct beach access across the street. Tar Heel Motel welcomes two pets of any size for an additional fee of $25 per night.
Live the Suite Life
Yet another accommodation that’s just a street from the beach, TownePlace Suites by Marriott Outer Banks Kill Devil Hills offers comfort and convenience in modern surroundings. During the day, take a walk on the nearby Sweetgum Swamp To Blueberry Ridge Trail and enjoy the blooming wildflowers, before grabbing a slice from American Pie Pizza & Ice Cream next door. Two pets of any size are welcome for an additional fee of $100 per stay.
Hang Ten at a Surfer’s Bungalow
One of the most highly reviewed vacation rentals in the area, Surfer’s Bungalow is full of good vibrations, from the ping pong table by the bed to the canal access beyond the backdoor. During your stay, you’re free to share the host’s main house amenities including a treehouse, zip line, fire pit, toys and swimming pool that becomes a skate bowl in colder months. Dogs are welcome for no additional fee with prior approval.
Get Cozy With a Cat Named Vivian
Don’t let the name scare Fido away, A Cat Named Vivian is actually a welcoming pet-friendly vacation rental in a quiet neighborhood in Ocracoke, one of the southernmost islands of the Outer Banks. The deck and screened porch overlook a fenced-in backyard, ideal for slow coffee mornings, safe dog sniffing, and happy hour hangouts. The hardwood floor makes cleanup easy for canine guests and spillages when happy hour becomes happy night. One pet is welcome for no additional fee. If you plan on bringing a second pooch, the fee is $75.
Sleep in a 1920s Sears Kit Home
The Croatan Cottage welcomes you and your salty sea dog to arrive in style by car or by mooring your boat or kayak at the backyard waterfront dock. Disembark and let Fido loose in the fenced-in backyard, where you can relax on the gorgeous deck under the shade of the umbrella on summer days. The historic 1920s Sears Kit Home is filled with period arts and crafts and is ideally located close to downtown. Croatan Cottage welcomes dogs for an additional fee of $30 per stay.
Cuddle Up by the Creek
Dock diving dogs will rejoice at this serene home by the creek. Fido can take a running jump into the water, which is roughly 5 feet in depth. Outbound hounds who love to co-pilot on water adventures can make use of the slip and join you in the complimentary canoe (paddles and life jackets are also provided). Dogs who prefer to keep their paws dry can lounge in the huge Carolina Room with lovely open-water views. The pet fee is $15 per pet, per day.
Sample the catch of the day, hearty hot dogs and more at these “pupular” restaurants that call the Outer Banks home.
Drinks and Dog Treats on Deck
Sweet T's Coffee, Beer & Wine is a local hangout that welcomes dogs inside and outside on one of two pet-friendly decks. Sip on a specialty coffee and let your pooch “pawsuade” you to put a quarter in the dog treat dispenser outside. With over 200 different varieties of beer, the menu is the largest selection of beer and wine in Duck.
Head South of the Border With Your Hound
Spice it up on the pet-friendly covered porch at Ortega’z Southwest Grill. Formerly a gas station, the building is now home to one of the tastiest restaurants in the area. The menu includes favorites like fajitas, nachos and more, which can all be enjoyed after a day on Manteo Beach.
Seafood With a View
Chow down on steamed seafood while overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at Steamers. This seafood eatery provides diners with dogs seating at heated tables outside on the covered ocean view deck. Pups are welcomed with a fresh bowl of water and plenty of pets.
Hot Dogs With Your Cool Dog
Oh My Dog invites humans to join their dogs for a funky bite to eat in Corolla. Serving up a variety of hot dogs, breakfast options and more, you won’t want to miss a trip to this laid-back spot. Don’t forget to swing by the dog selfie booth to take a commemorative snap of your visit and check out the doggy swag on offer.
Caribbean Bites by the Beach
Take your pup for a walk out into the dunes at Nags Head and you may stumble across a hidden piece of the Caribbean. Tortugas Lie brings tasty Caribbean fare and a casual beachfront vibe. After chowing down on the pet-friendly patio, work off the calories on the two sand volleyball courts in the back. Leashed dogs are welcome to join their owners outside, as long as they don’t interfere with play.
Dine at a Historic Diner
The Kill Devil Grill is a casual American restaurant on the National Register of Historic Places. The building that now contains the grill was once a bustling diner built in 1939 and located on Route 1 in Richmond, VA. It was shipped to its current spot in Kill Devil Hills in 2002. You and your pooch can enjoy burgers, shrimp and fresh catch of the day on the outdoor tables.
Farm to Southern Table
Dajio Restaurant takes farm-to-table to the next level by offering vegetables and herbs up from the restaurant’s own backyard. The menu includes Southern favorites like shrimp and grits and fried green tomato sandwiches, plus items from the sea like crab cakes and more. Dogs are allowed on both decks and in the bar area. Swing by Kitty Hawk Kites after lunch to grab a new kite to use on the windy beaches of Ocracoke and the surrounding area.