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Outer Banks

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North Carolina's Outer Banks separating the Atlantic Ocean (east) from Albemarle Sound (north) and Pamlico Sound (south). Orbital photo courtesy NASA.
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North Carolina's Outer Banks separating the Atlantic Ocean (east) from Albemarle Sound (north) and Pamlico Sound (south). Orbital photo courtesy NASA.

The narrow strand of barrier islands known as North Carolina's Outer Banks strings for more than 90 miles along the coast from Virginia's border south through Ocracoke and Portsmouth Islands. Bordered by bodies of brackish water on the west (known as "sounds") and by the Atlantic Ocean on the east, these fragile islands are accessible by plane, boat, or by driving over one of several bridges that provide links to the mainland. At the narrowest points, the islands are less than a half-mile wide, and in some areas, they extend out more than 20 miles east of the North Carolina mainland.

The northern part of the Outer Banks (Nags Head and northward) is technically part of the North American mainland; it is part of a continuous sand ridge extending well into the city of Virginia Beach, Virginia and joining the mainland there. However, for all practical purposes, it is a barrier island; there is no road access from Virginia through the ridge. Therefore being a barrier island the island is constantly shifting south. The island doesn't have a coral reef to anchor to.

Despite the apparent inaccessibility, the Outer Banks has been populated for thousands of years. Although today's year-round population barely tops 46,000 people, the area draws nearly 250,000 people each week during the height of the summer season. Many consider the banks a vacation paradise, owing to its wide sandy beaches, unspoiled natural terrain, abundant clean water, and relatively mild temperatures. Aside from the allure of the untamed beach, recreational activities include all watersports, great East Coast surfing, world-class sport fishing, and world-class golf. Since the towns of Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills are home to the world's first powered flight, the area is a magnet for aviators and hang gliders.

The position of the Outer Banks punching out into the Atlantic makes the area the most hurricane-prone area north of Florida, for both landfalling storms and brushing storms offshore.

See also: Nags Head

Outer Banks Communities

Towns and communities along the Outer Banks include (listed from north to south):

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