Outer Banks Main

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The Outer Banks have always been defined by wind. The Wright brothers came to Kitty Hawk to make their first flight into history, and these days hang-gliders (who take off at Jockey's Ridge, the coast's highest sand dune) and windsurfers (at Canadian Hole near Avon) love those same steady breezes. (Golfers, particularly at the Nags Head and Sea Scape links courses, might have different sentiments.)

Once known as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" for its stormy, shipwreck-laded shoals, this 75-mile-long string of narrow barrier islands off North Carolina is home to some of the country's most famous lighthouses.

But there is more to these islands than just wind. History abounds: The first colonists from England settled here - and mysteriously disappeared, a historical footnote celebrated at Fort Raleigh on Roanoke Island (easily toured by bike path). And Blackbeard the pirate, who often sought refuge at Ocracoke, was killed here in 1718. But the soul of these islands is the Cape Hatteras National Seashore (the nation's first), stretching from Nags Head south to Ocracoke Island. The miles of unspoiled beaches are the perfect prescription for unhurried beach walks, shelling, fishing, surfing (some of the best on the East Coast), or just watching the birds fly by.