Knotts Island: One of the Outer Banks’ Best-Kept Secrets

A charming blend of historic preservation and natural beauty awaits visitors on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  

 By Sam Boykin

Established in 1668, Currituck is one of the state’s five original ports. In the early 1800s, the county became known for its peaceful fishing villages, which continued to grow and thrive after the Albemarle Chesapeake Waterway (known today as a portion of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway) opened in 1859. 

By the late 1800s, wealthy industrialists began flocking to Currituck County for its diverse wildlife and numerous hunt clubs. Today, Currituck has something for everyone — outdoor adventures, family-friendly activities and historic attractions.

Among Currituck County’s top destinations is Knotts Island, situated just south of the Virginia border. To visit, guests can take a free ferry that operates between Knotts Island and Currituck on the mainland.

Currituck Sound

Hunting Heritage

Continuing its proud history of hunting, Currituck County offers enthusiasts the opportunity to hunt such wild game as ducks and deer. Waterfowl hunting is especially popular in the area, with a variety of species and habitats ranging from open water and marsh estuaries to grassy flats. 

For expert guidance, there’s the Swan Island Hunting Club, which offers guided hunting trips to its members. It was founded by a group of New York hunters in the 1870s. Early members purchased land and converted a farmhouse into a clubhouse. Over the years the house burned down and was rebuilt several times. The house standing today was completed in 1914.

Other accommodations include Sandy Point Resort Campground, which has full RV hook-up sites, tent sites and a waterfront log cabin. Another option is Barnes Hunting Lodge, where hunters have been staying since the 1920s. The lodge can accommodate up to 10 people and offers home-cooked meals and hunting guide services.   

Corolla Wild Horses

Majestic Mustangs

A visit to Currituck Outer Banks wouldn’t be complete without seeing the area’s wild horses. Descended from the Spanish mustangs that early explorers brought to the Outer Banks, generations of Corolla Wild Horses have roamed across the Currituck Outer Banks for some 400 years. The horses are so culturally significant to the area that the state designated the Spanish mustang as the official state horse of North Carolina in 2010. One of the best ways to see them is with one of the area’s tour companies, which bring visitors to the four-wheel-drive areas of the beach where the horses can typically be found. You can’t feed or pet the horses — it’s illegal to come within 50 feet of them. However, the tours are a fun way to get close enough to take pictures of these majestic animals. There’s also the Wild Horse Museum in the Historic Corolla Village, which has displays, exhibits and, during the summer, offers children’s activities. 

Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge

Outdoor Attractions 

There are many ways to explore Knotts Island’s natural beauty. Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge, a 9,503-acre national wildlife refuge, is home to varied species of fish and birds, flowers and native plants. Named after the famed broadcast journalist, the Charles Kuralt Trail winds through varied habitats, including tidal freshwater marsh and pine flatwoods. 

Nature lovers will also enjoy the Currituck Banks Reserve, located  just north of Corolla. Visitors can stroll through 965 protected acres of natural maritime habitat, with trails that wind past beaches, sand dunes, maritime forests and marshes. Get a whole new perspective on the area by climbing the 220 steps to the top of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, a beacon since 1875. This majestic, red brick lighthouse provides expansive views of the Currituck Sound, Atlantic Ocean and the northern Outer Banks.

Currituck County jeep tour

Water Fun

The beaches here offer plenty of sand, surf and sun. Many beachgoers might just require a comfy lounger, good book and a tasty beverage to enjoy the day. More active visitors will enjoy places like Coastal Explorations. They offer kayak and SUP tours and rentals, where you explore islands and marshy mazes. Seeking adventure? Corolla Kiteboarding offers a variety of lessons for this fun and exhilarating sport that harnesses the power of the wind to surf across the ocean. And with the area’s barrel waves and frothy breaks, Currituck is also a good spot for surfers of all ages and skill levels. 

Before You Go…

At press time, the state of North Carolina — including the Outer Banks — is under Phase 3 of COVID-19 restrictions, which mandate social distancing and that people wear masks in public. Other restrictions limit the number of people who can gather both inside and outside. Many attractions, including restaurants, bars, museums, arenas and amusement parks, are required to operate under limited capacity. And visitors are encouraged to contact their accommodations provider to confirm their reservation and arrival plans. 

Contact your local AAA Travel Agent for the most up-to-date information on COVID-related restrictions.

(Jeep Tour Photo by Emily Chaplin)

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