45 Fun Facts About the Outer Banks of North Carolina


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Read this article for fun facts about the Outer Banks of North Carolina

The Outer Banks are found in North Carolina, on the East Coast of the United States. The area comprises multiple Atlantic seaside towns that are extremely popular tourist destinations. The primary 16 towns on the Outer Banks attract tourists due to their pristine beaches, coastal landscapes, and a multitude of attractions.

The region is also rich in history and culture. Therefore, it’s no surprise that there are a plethora of Outer Banks fun facts to know!

Interesting facts about the area include those relating to the mystery of the Lost Colony, Blackbeard's legacy, and the Outer Banks' many firsts. Add in the fact that it's the setting for a popular Netflix show and home to one of the US' most delicious donut chains, and you’re sure to learn something new about OBX.

If you love the Outer Banks or just want to learn more about this favored vacation spot, read on for 45 fun facts about the Outer Banks of North Carolina!

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45 Fun Outer Banks Facts

  1. The Outer Banks was the settling place of the first English Colony in the US
  2. That same colony mysteriously vanished
  3. The first child born to the New World was born on the Outer Banks
  4. The Outer Banks created the world’s longest-running outdoor symphonic drama
  5. Jockey's Ridge State Park is home to the largest sand dune on the East Coast
  6. The tallest lighthouse in the US is in Cape Hatteras
  7. Bodie Island Lighthouse was built three times
  8. Cape Hatteras National Seashore preserves the coast for future generations
  9. Ocracoke Island Cemetery is actually on British ground
  10. The novel and film Nights in Rodanthe was set in the Outer Banks
  11. The Outer Banks are home to many wild horses
  12. The US Lifesaving Service was founded on the Outer Banks
  13. The Outer Banks feature the best windsurfing spots in the world
  14. The Wright Brothers’ first flight was flown in the Outer Banks
  15. The Outer Banks is a sandbar, not an island
  16. The oldest and shortest lighthouse in North Carolina is in Ocracoke
  17. Celebrities love the Outer Banks
  18. It’s an incredible fishing location
  19. Hatteras is home to many six-toed cats
  20. Nags Head got its name from pirate folklore
  21. Kill Devil Hills has an interesting naming story too
  22. Cape Hatteras is very dangerous for sailors
  23. The pirate Blackbeard frequented the Outer Banks
  24. Pea Island employed the first black lifesaving station keeper
  25. Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is home to over 300 bird species
  26. Hatteras received one of the first distress calls from the Titanic
  27. Many Civil War battles happened in the Outer Banks
  28. There were two slave safe havens on the Outer Banks
  29. The Outer Banks has a population of just over 57,000
  30. Native Americans played a big part in the Outer Banks’ history
  31. Many Outer Banks towns had Native American names
  32. The Outer Banks is a popular wedding destination
  33. Experiments for the first radio communication transmission occurred here
  34. There is a Netflix drama about the Outer Banks
  35. The Outer Banks show wasn't filmed on the Outer Banks
  36. Whalehead was a secret testing location for rocket fuel
  37. The Outer Banks have the most stunning maritime forests in the US
  38. The Whalehead Club housed US soldiers
  39. Cape Hatteras Lighthouse has been moved
  40. The Outer Banks are under threat from climate change
  41. OBX is somewhat of an advertising term
  42. The Oldest Grapevine in the US is found in OBX
  43. The Outer Banks briefly had an extra island
  44. Some former Outer Banks residents make money from shipwrecks
  45. Duck in the Outer Banks is the founding town of a popular donut chain

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A square cottage style lighthouse at the end of a pier
The Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse is also known for the "Lost Colony"

The Outer Banks was the settling place of the first English Colony in the US

Roanoke Island is where the first English colony settled in North America. Roanoke Colony was founded in 1585 by Sir Walter Raleigh and was inhabited by approximately 100.

As children were born, this grew to between 112 and 121. Mysteriously, the entire colony disappeared just a few years later, between 1587 and 1590.

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That same colony mysteriously vanished

In 1587, settler John White left the Roanoke Colony on an expedition. Upon his return in 1590, he found the settlement deserted. Unable to determine what happened, the colony gained the nickname “The Lost Colony.”

The settlers’ disappearance remains the United States’ oldest unsolved mystery. Some believe they moved on, while others think they died from poor conditions or Native American attacks.

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The first child born to the New World was born on the Outer Banks

The first English child of the New World was born in 1587 in the Roanoke Colony. She was named Virginia Dare and was the granddaughter of John White.

Nobody knows what happened to Virginia; if still alive after 1590, people believe the Croatan Native American tribe took her in. Present-day Dare County is named after her.

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The Outer Banks created the world’s longest-running outdoor symphonic drama

An outdoor play called The Lost Colony premiered in 1937. It is traditionally performed at the Waterside Theater on Roanoke Island.

In 2017, it was in its 80th season, making it the longest-running outdoor symphonic drama in the world. The play covers the history of the Roanoke Colony.

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Sky above sand dunes and a small pond with trees around
Jockey's Ridge State Park has the tallest natural sand dunes on the Atlantic coast

Jockey's Ridge State Park is home to the largest sand dune on the East Coast

Jockey's Ridge State Park in Nags Head on the Outer Banks features the tallest sand dune system on the East Coast of the US. The sand dunes have peaks of over 90 feet. This park is also the most visited in North Carolina.

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A black and white striped lighthouse overlooking the sea with sea grass around
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse standing tall above the ocean

The tallest lighthouse in the US is in Cape Hatteras

This Outer Banks fun fact is about Cape Hatteras. The town is home to the United States’ tallest brick lighthouse, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. It was built in 1872 and stands at 210 feet tall. The lighthouse is also the second tallest in the world. It features a unique black and white swirl pattern.

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Side view of a lighthouse with white houses nearby on a green grass field
The Bodie Island Lighthouse was first constructed in 1847

Bodie Island Lighthouse was built three times

A lesser-known lighthouse, the Bodie Island Lighthouse, has a fascinating history. The lighthouse that stands today is the third version.

The first lighthouse was constructed in 1847, although it was demolished and rebuilt in 1859. It was then destroyed in the Civil War and built again in 1871. That lighthouse still stands today.

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Foamy waves crashing on a sandy shore under a bright blue sky with some clouds
Cape Hatteras National Seashore is a scenic coastal area with historic attractions

Cape Hatteras National Seashore preserves the coast for future generations

The Cape Hatteras National Seashore is stunning and attracts millions of visitors a year. But most don’t know that the government has a program to preserve the shoreline for future generations. Running for 28,000 acres along the Outer Banks, Cape Hatteras National Seashore acts as a protected conservation area.

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Historic concrete tombs on green grass under a tree branch
A British cemetery holding the remains of four British WWII soldiers

Ocracoke Island Cemetery is actually on British ground

When in Ocracoke, you can visit Britain! In a way. The British Cemetery of Ocracoke holds the remains of four British WWII soldiers.

The particularly interesting part is that the cemetery is technically on British soil as the land is perpetually leased to the British Commonwealth.

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A single-family beach house with clear blue sky above and grass in front
The Inn at Rodanthe in the popular movie "Nights in Rodanthe"

The novel and film Nights in Rodanthe was set in the Outer Banks

Rodanthe on the Outer Banks was the inspiration for the Nicholas Sparks novel and subsequent movie Nights in Rodanthe. The story features two strangers who meet at a Rodanthe inn during difficult times in their lives and begin a romance. The movie stars Richard Gere and Diane Lane.

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One of the fun facts about the Outer Banks is that it has wild horses on the beach
Horses roaming wild and free on the beaches in Outer Banks, NC

The Outer Banks are home to many wild horses

Wild horses inhabit a few areas in Outer Banks towns. The most well-known are the Colonial Spanish Mustangs that inhabit the beaches of Corolla.

It’s thought that the horses arrived in the 1500s after surviving shipwrecks, and their descendants still roam today.

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The US Lifesaving Service was founded on the Outer Banks

The ocean plays a big part in Outer Banks' history, and this fun fact is no exception. In 1874, the first US Lifesaving Services were founded along the Outer Banks.

Seven were constructed in total and placed here due to the Outer Banks having some of the most dangerous waters on the Eastern seaboard.

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Beach houses in Outer Banks along the coastline facing the sea under a clear sky
Windsurfing is a popular thing to do in Outer Banks

The Outer Banks feature the best windsurfing spots in the world

The Outer Banks is a windsurfing paradise. The combination of shallow waters, rolling waves, and wind velocities of 11 to 15 miles per hour create perfect windsurfing conditions.

Luckily, the conditions are ideal for all skill levels, from novice to expert. Therefore, everyone can give windsurfing a try in the Outer Banks.

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The famous Wright Brothers National Memorial sits atop Kill Devil Hills, NC

The Wright Brothers’ first flight was flown in the Outer Banks

An interesting fact about North Carolina is that both the Wright Brothers’ first ever flight and their first powered flight were flown on the Outer Banks.

The latter happened in Kill Devil Hills (where you can find the Wright Brothers National Memorial), while the former occurred in Kitty Hawk. The soft sands made the perfect testing ground as the impact would be low if they crashed.

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Aerial view of clouds, blue sky and ocean surrounding a sand bar with houses
The Outer Banks is technically a sandbar, not an island

The Outer Banks is a sandbar, not an island

While many think that the Outer Banks is an island, it’s actually a sandbar. The Outer Banks chain of sandbars comprises sediment and sand; therefore, it’s not attached to anything like an island is.

It's thought the Outer Banks formed over 18,000 years ago when the Ice Age ended. As the ice melted, sea levels rose and surrounded the sediment banks, causing the Outer Banks "islands" to form.

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White lighthouse with trees around under blue sky with clouds
The Ocracoke Lighthouse is the second oldest lighthouse in the US

The oldest and shortest lighthouse in North Carolina is in Ocracoke

The Outer Banks isn’t just home to the tallest lighthouse in the US; it’s also home to the shortest lighthouse in North Carolina.

The Ocracoke Lighthouse is also the oldest in operation lighthouse in the state and the second oldest in the US. Built in 1827, it stands at just 65 feet tall.

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Villas along a sandy coastline lined with green bushes under a cloudless sky
Outer Banks has been a favorite spot for some celebrities

Celebrities love the Outer Banks

This Outer Banks fun fact will have you keeping an eye out for star-studded vacationers during your visit! Celebrities that visit OBX include Sandra Bullock, Michelle Pfeiffer, Whoopi Goldberg, and Rob Lowe. There are rumors that Tom Cruise has a secluded beach house here too.

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Close up of fishing rods on a wooden deck during a sunny day
Fishing is one of the main activities in the Outer Banks, NC

It’s an incredible fishing location

Another of many fascinating facts about the Outer Banks, North Carolina, is that it is a world-class fishing location. The fish here are known to be large in size and abundant. Most notably, it’s one of the best places in the world to catch Atlantic Blue Marlin, especially those weighing over 1,000 pounds.

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Hatteras is home to many six-toed cats

Those visiting Hatteras Island’s Burrus Red & White Supermarket will have noticed the cats that hang out on the front porch. What’s interesting is that most of these cats have six toes! It’s thought that their six-toed ancestors arrived on ghost ships hundreds of years ago, and the unique feature has been passed down generations.

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Nags Head got its name from pirate folklore

The Outer Banks are rich in pirate history. The town of Nags Head even got its name from pirate tales. The pirates of the Outer Banks would lure ships in and run them aground to rob them. To do this, they would tie lanterns to old horses' necks, and these horses were called nags. That’s where Nags Head comes from!

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Aerial view of a town with lit up buildings at night
Kill Devil Hills was named after a popular rum

Kill Devil Hills has an interesting naming story too

Kill Devil Hills got its name from folklore stories too. Most believe the name comes from a popular rum called Kill Devil. Stories go that barrels of the rum washed into the waters after a shipwreck or that scavengers found the rum and hid it in sand dunes (hills.)

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Aerial view of a lighthouse looking over a sandy coastline and ocean
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse overlooking the Atlantic Ocean

Cape Hatteras is very dangerous for sailors

Cape Hatteras in the Outer Banks has a history of being extremely dangerous. There are over 600 known shipwrecks within its treacherous waters, with 2,000 in total off of the Outer Banks.

This fact gave the waters the name “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” Cape Hatteras in the Outer Banks has a history of being extremely dangerous.

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Aerial view of a long grassy coastline with crashing waves
Blackbeard, the pirate, was a frequent visitor to the Outer Banks

The pirate Blackbeard frequented the Outer Banks

The most famous pirate, Edward Teach, or Blackbeard, sailed the Outer Banks on his ship Queen Anne’s revenge. In October 1718, he hosted a large pirate gathering in Ocracoke. In November 1718, he was killed by the Royal Navy in Ocracoke Inlet. Some say his treasure is still buried in the sands of Ocracoke!

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A brown building with a tower, surrounded by blue sky, sand dunes and bushes
Richard Etheridge became the first African-​American to command a lifesaving station

Pea Island employed the first black lifesaving station keeper

One of the more interesting Outer Banks historical facts relates to Pea Island’s lifesaving station. In 1880, Richard Etheridge became the United States’ first African-American lifesaving station keeper.

The former soldier served the post for 20 years until his death in 1900. To honor his service, he was posthumously awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal in 1996.

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Elegant white swan and black baby swimming calmly in the water
There are around 315 different bird species at the Pea Island Wildlife Refuge

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is home to over 300 bird species

Found in northern Hatteras Island, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is home to approximately 315 different bird species.

These species include American kestrels, brown pelicans, falcons, and osprey. Other wildlife to spot includes loggerhead sea turtles, crabs, and otters.

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Hatteras received one of the first distress calls from the Titanic

The Hatteras Weather Bureau Station was commissioned in 1902 to reduce disasters in the dangerous Outer Banks waters. On April 14, 1912, the station received distress calls from the RMS Titanic, saying it had hit an iceberg.

Unfortunately, like many others, the Hatteras station dismissed the call as a hoax because the Titanic was “unsinkable.”

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Many Civil War battles happened in the Outer Banks

During the Civil War, pivotal battles were fought on the Outer Banks, benefiting the Union. The Battle of Fort Hatteras and Fort Clark in August 1861 resulted in a significant victory for the Union. Another Outer Banks victory in 1862 at the Battle of Roanoke helped secure the ultimate winning of the war.

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There were two slave safe havens on the Outer Banks

After the victory at the Battle of Roanoke, two safe havens for runaway slaves were created. These were the Hotel d'Afrique and the Roanoke Island Freedmen’s Colony.

As the Union army forced the confederates out of North Carolina, slaves from across the state and further afield attempted to reach these havens.

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Oceanfront mansion with trees around and a creek nearby
The Outer Banks has a small population

The Outer Banks has a population of just over 57,000

The entire Outer Banks has a small population of just over 57,000. Despite this, the area receives a minimum of one million visitors a year. Some even put the number of tourists visiting the Outer Banks annually at five million. These statistics mean there are approximately 17 to 87 visitors a year per one resident.

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Native Americans played a big part in the Outer Banks’ history

There is a lot of Native American history in the Outer Banks. It’s believed that Native American tribes lived on the lands of the Outer Banks for thousands of years before the first English settlers came in the 1500s. Today, many towns still show reminders of this history and even get their names from Native Americans.

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Aerial of beautiful beach houses fronting the ocean with blue sky above
Avon was historically named "Kinnakeet" after a Native American leader

Many Outer Banks towns had Native American names

Many of the towns of the Outer Banks were originally named by Native American tribes. Manteo and Wanchese are still named after Native American leaders.

Hatterask was marked on an English map in 1585, from which Hatteras gets its name. Avon was called Kinnakeet, and Rodanthe and Waves were Chicamacomico. Some of the names have changed, but the history remains.

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A tall lighthouse from below with lush green grass and brilliant blue sky around
The Outer Banks of North Carolina has become a popular wedding destination

Due to its Atlantic coastal beauty, the Outer Banks have become a popular place for destination weddings. Approximately 3,000 weddings a year are held in the area; that’s the equivalent of eight a day! Wedding vendors have also grown in the last decade from 40-50 to 300.Curituck beach lighthouse park

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Experiments for the first radio communication transmission occurred here

Known as the father of voice radio, Reginald Fessenden made the first radio communication transmission. The basis of this would go on to be used in commercial radio broadcasting. Many of his experiments were conducted on Outer Banks. In 1902 a 127-word voice message was sent from Cape Hatteras to Roanoke Island.

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Wooden boardwalk across grassy sand dunes going in the direction of the beach
The Netflix drama, the Outer Banks, premiered in early 2020

There is a Netflix drama about the Outer Banks

This Outer Banks fun fact made the area a household name. The Netflix show, called Outer Banks, premiered in April 2020. It centers around a group of teenagers, some of whom live on the Outer Banks while others vacation there.

While looking into the disappearance of one of their fathers, the group uncovers Outer Banks treasure tied to him.

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The Outer Banks show wasn't filmed on the Outer Banks

The show wasn't filmed in North Carolina but was instead filmed in Charleston, South Carolina. The producers intended to film in North Carolina, but the location moved after the state passed their controversial "bathroom bill."

This bill states that you must use the bathroom that corresponds to your birth gender. It was not something the show's Millennial and Gen Z cast and fans supported.

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Whalehead was a secret testing location for rocket fuel

The famous Whalehead Club in Corolla was used to test rocket fuel during the cold war. The club got leased to the Atlantic Research Corporation.

The company was researching Beryllium, a toxic but heavy-duty rocket fuel. The remoteness of the island was perfect for secretly testing this toxic substance.

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Looking over bushy green trees and beautiful coastline
The Currituck Lighthouse is nearby the Currituck Banks Reserve

The Outer Banks have the most stunning maritime forests in the US

The Outer Banks is full of natural beauty, and one of many Outer Banks NC facts about nature is that the area has some of the best examples of maritime forest in the US. Both the forests at Currituck Banks Reserve and Nags Head Woods Preserve are particularly stunning OBX forests.

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The Whalehead Club housed US soldiers

Another Outer Banks fun fact about the Whalehead club! During WWII, protecting the North Carolina shoreline was a top priority.

The Whalehead Club was an ideal site to station soldiers at so they could protect the coast. Up to 300 soldiers were here at one time.

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Black and white striped lighthouse standing tall against blue sky on a green field
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was moved away from the shore in 1999

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse has been moved

It’s been mentioned that Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest brick lighthouse in the US, but did you know it was moved? The lighthouse was moved 2,900 feet over 23 days in 1999. It moved away from the shore to protect it against coastal erosion.

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Dark, menacing clouds over a sea pier
The Outer Banks is under threat of climate change

The Outer Banks are under threat from climate change

Not so much a fun fact, but definitely an important one! Like many natural ecosystems, climate change is damaging the Outer Banks.

Increasingly frequent and intense storms and sea-level rise are causing the sandbar chain to collapse. Luckily, there is still time to reverse these effects and save the Outer Banks for future generations.

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Tourists on a sandy beach lined with homes and blue sky above from far away
The originator of the abbreviation "OBX" is North Carolina restaurateur Jim Douglas

OBX is somewhat of an advertising term

A restaurateur created the Outer Banks abbreviation OBX to sell merchandise. Jim Douglas saw ACK stickers sold to tourists in Nantucket and decided to do the same in the Outer Banks.

In 1994, he started selling OBX stickers, and now the term is seen on tourist merchandise all over the Outer Banks.

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The Oldest Grapevine in the US is found in OBX

The oldest grapevine in the United States is called the “Mother Vine” and is found on Roanoke Island. It is thought to have been planted by colonists or the Croatan tribe in the 1500s. The vine grows Scuppernong grapes, a variety native to the southern US.

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The Outer Banks briefly had an extra island

Another of many interesting facts about the Outer Banks of North Carolina shows what a unique ecosystem the area is! In 2017, a new small sandy island was formed at Cape Point.

It was named Shelly Island due to the abundance of shells on the sand. By early 2018, the island had vanished entirely.

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Some former Outer Banks residents make money from shipwrecks

The 17th and 18th-century residents, known as wreckers, would scavenge the many shipwrecks in the waters of the Outer Banks for treasure.

Others would even lure ships in to make them crash before looting them. Wreckers were not considered pirates as they caused havoc from the shores, not the sea.

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Duck Donuts was founded in Duck on Outer Banks, North Carolina, in 2006. Along with their flagship location in Duck, the chain has almost 100 stores across the US, plus one in Puerto Rico. Delicious donut flavors available include Peach Cobbler, Peanut Butter and Jelly, and S’mores.

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In Conclusion

The Outer Banks is a beautiful area of North Carolina packed full of history, culture, and memorable attractions. There are, of course, several interesting and fun facts about the Outer Banks of North Carolina, including those covered here. Hopefully, you enjoyed learning more about this incredible area of The Atlantic seaboard!

If this article convinced you to plan an OBX vacation, there are many airports close to the Outer Banks, making it easy to get to. If you need some help deciding what to do, then also check out this seven-day Outer Banks itinerary!

This article was edited by Loredana Elena.


Written by Alli Sewell

allisewell WRITER Currently based in Canada, I've also lived and worked in the UK and Brazil and travelled in North and South America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. I love finding the best photo-ops and food and drink locations wherever I go!


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