Nags Head Travel Guide
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Nags Head

Kitty Hawk and contiguous Kill Devil Hills, with a combined population of about 10,000 residents, have fewer rental accommodations but more chain retail. The towns' respective roles in the drama of the first powered flight occasionally create some confusion. When arriving at the Outer Banks, the Wright brothers first stayed in the then-remote fishing village of Kitty Hawk, but their flight took place some 4 miles south on Kill Devil Hills, a gargantuan sand dune where the Wright Brothers National Memorial now stands.

It's widely accepted that Nags Head got its name because pirates once tied lanterns around the necks of their horses to lure merchant ships onto the shoals, where they would be wrecked and pilfered for profit. Dubious citizenry aside, Nags Head was established in the 1830s and has become a classic North Carolina tourist haven.

The town—one of the largest on the Outer Banks even though it has fewer than 3,000 residents—lies between the Atlantic Ocean and Pamlico Sound, along and between U.S. Route 158 ("the bypass") and North Carolina Highway 12 ("the beach road," or Virginia Dare Trail). Both roads are congested in the high season, and the entire area is commercialized, but dip off Route 158 and on almost any street you'll find an endearing mix of weathered beach cottages sharing the roadway with shiny new mansions. Many lodgings, whether they're shingled older houses or sprawling estates with plenty of bells and whistles, are available through the area's plentiful vacation rentals. Numerous restaurants, motels, hotels, shops, and entertainment opportunities keep the town hopping day and night.

Nags Head has 11 miles of beach with 41 public access points from North Carolina Highway 12, some with paved parking, many with wheelchair access, and some with restrooms and showers. It's easy to overlook the flagpoles stationed along many area beaches, but if there's a red flag flying from one of them, it means the water is too rough even for wading. These are not suggestions—ignoring them is dangerous and carries hefty fines.

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