The coterie of northern-bank beaches include those at Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head, all of which lie along the Beach Road (N.C. 12). Ferocious tides, strong currents, and fickle, constantly changing winds alter the beach scene from day to day on the Outer Banks, and that wide beach you see today may be narrower tomorrow. Water temperatures in summer average in the 70s, sometimes at the low point. On a glorious July day, the cool, clean seawater and fresh salt air riding the constant winds make beachgoing a fine, invigorating experience.
Signs direct you to the various small (and too-often-inadequate) parking lots in the vicinity of the dunes. Toilets, showers, bathhouses, and picnic shelters line some 70 miles of beaches here, many at public beach-access parking lots.
Beach Safety -- The very conditions that make beachgoing so pleasant here can make ocean swimming hazardous at times, with strong riptides and undertows. All beach areas theoretically have roving lifeguards and supervisors, but hours and locations are subject to change without notice. Caution flags are flown if swimming is not advised. A red warning flag means that swimming is prohibited; take heed of these warnings even if the water doesn't look particularly rough. Nonswimmers are advised to wear some sort of flotation device and should not go out past the breakers alone. Finally, if you see lightning or hear thunder, leave the beach for safe shelter immediately.
Nags Head Fishing Pier, milepost 12, Beach Road, Nags Head (tel. 252/441-5141; www.nagsheadpier.com), has its devotees, who rent rod and reel for $6 per day. The pier itself is open to fishermen. The fee is $8 for adults, $4 for children, and $1.50 for sightseers. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the pier is open daily 24 hours; off season it is open daily 6am to midnight.
A popular course is Nags Head Golf Links, 5615 S. Seachase Dr., Nags Head (tel. 252/441-8073; www.nagsheadgolflinks.com), with an 18-hole, 6,126-yard, par-71 course that's open daily 7am to 6pm. Greens fees, including the use of a mandatory cart, range from $40 to $115. Reservations are required. At the clubhouse, you'll find a restaurant and a pro shop.
Nags Head Woods Preserve, 701 W. Ocean Acres Dr., off U.S. 158, milepost 9.5 (tel. 252/441-2525), is a fine example of a mid-Atlantic maritime forest. The seashore includes 640 acres of protected wetlands, dunes, and hardwood forest, and is a National Natural Landmark.
At Jockey's Ridge State Park, milepost 12 on U.S. 158 (tel. 252/441-7132; www.jockeysridgestatepark.com), you'll find the East Coast's highest sand-dune formation. This 400-acre park makes you feel that you're traversing the Sahara, with its self-guided nature trail through sifting sands and blowing winds. Park at the northern rim of the park.
Kitty Hawk Watersports Sailing Site, Bypass Highway, milepost 16, Nags Head (tel. 252/441-6800; www.kittyhawksports.com), offers watersports equipment. Windsurfers, in particular, flock here, renting equipment for $25 per hour, $55 per 3 hours, or $69 for a full day. WaveRunners cost $90 to $95 for a full hour. You can rent kayaks, for $29 to $45 per half-day, for a trip along the waterways. Toilets and picnic facilities are on-site, and the center is open daily from 9am to 6pm.
Windsurfing Hatteras, N.C. 12, Avon (tel. 866/995-6644 or 252/995-5000), rents a wide range of watersports equipment. Two-hour kayak rentals range from $25 to $30; surfboards rent for $25 a day, $40 a week; windsurfing gear is available for 24-hour rental at $40 for the board alone or $65 for a full rig. In addition, a 2-hour introductory windsurfing class is offered for $59.