Best Ways to See Wildlife on the Outer Banks

The Outer Banks is a haven for the local flora and fauna with a large variety of wildlife refuges that are well protected and remarkable in their biodiversity.

The marshes, maritime forests, wetlands, beaches and dunes are preserved as a home for the current species and for future generations. Millions visit the Outer Banks each year just to visit these popular refuges and wildlife sanctuaries for birding and other wildlife viewings.

In addition to the refuges, there are several educational organizations, aquariums, and nature centers that rehabilitate local species and host frequent programs throughout the year that might be more suitable for families.

Just a few of the species that can be found on the Outer Banks include: small bears, river otters, the endangered red wolf, rabbits, raccoons, ghost crabs, foxes, wild horses, sea turtles, a vast bird population and even alligators.

Below a few of best ways to see wildlife on the Outer Banks:

alligator refuge outer banks

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge

The Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is a vast 152,000-acre refuge about 20 minutes from Nags Head and a reasonable distance from other Outer Banks communities. This fascinating refuge is home to the endangered red fox, red-cockaded woodpeckers and many other species such as migratory birds, black bears, and alligators.

The refuge was established for the purpose of protecting these rare species and giving the public opportunities to tour the refuge, learn about the area, and participate in outdoor activities such as fishing, hunting, wildlife viewing, photography and more.

You can choose from multiple guided tours held throughout the year including group programs, tram tours, or self-guided tours. A visitor’s center (100 Conservation Way, Manteo, NC) on the northern end of Roanoke Island is open from 9am to 4pm with short trails around it to explore, and there are other trails that will take you further into the habitats and beaches of the refuge where you can see the wildlife and take some photos.

It can be reached by taking US-64 BYP W/S Virginia Dare Trail west from Roanoke Island across the Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge. Alternatively, if you are on the northern end of Roanoke Island at the Visitor’s Center, you can take the Manns Harbor Bridge/US-64 W west to get to the refuge.

Location: Milltail Rd, East Lake, NC

corolla wild horses outer banks

Corolla Wild Horses

The wild mustangs on the Outer Banks in Currituck and Corolla Counties are nothing short of legendary, and witnessing them in person is one of the most memorable and awe-inspiring wildlife viewing experiences you can have here.

These majestic creatures are the only remaining wild horse herd in the world, so they are well protected, as even the slightest contact with humans can be lethal for them. Visitors are obligated to stay a minimum of 50 feet away from them.

However, the best way to see them is at the Corolla Wild Horse Fund at 1129 Corolla Village Road, Corolla, NC 27927. The Wild Horse Fund is open every day of the year for tours to see the wild horses, and you can reach them at (252)-453-8002 to book a tour.

North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island

Perfect for when the weather doesn’t cooperate, the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island at 374 Airport Road, Manteo is a very popular wildlife attraction on the Outer Banks and features a recent renovation as well as a variety of fascinating species.

Here you can see the local wildlife up close such as river otters, sea turtles, sharks, and alligators. Learn about conservation from educators and scuba divers and pet sting rays in an aquatic touch pool. This is one of many North Carolina Aquarium locations, and it is open from 9am to 5pm daily.

north carolina aquarium outer banks

Many Other Opportunities for Wildlife Viewing

We can’t possibly cover all of the many opportunities for Outer Banks wildlife viewing within easy driving distances of our Outer Banks vacation rentals.

A few of the other top parks and wildlife preserves in the area include the Audubon Pine Island Sanctuary and Center, Buxton Woods Coastal Reserve, Pea Island National Refuge, Kitty Hawk Woods Reserve and many others.

Check back for more information on these and other incredible outdoor attractions that are truly unique to the Outer Banks, and call us at 252.573.2811 if you have any questions at all or send us a message on our contact page.


Cola Vaughan Realty
PO Box 1375 • Nags Head, NC 27959
Phone: 252.573.2811
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