If the thought of having the Outer Banks beaches all to yourself without waking up at dawn appeals to you, you may want to consider visiting in the off-season. Visiting the Outer Banks in the fall is about enjoying the last gaps of pleasant weather and less about peeping colorful leaves. While the North Carolina beach region continues to become more popular year-round, you can still find some serenity and fewer crowds at the Outer Banks in the fall. But there are some compromises you may need to make with seasonal closures and weather.
Defining the Outer Banks’ off-season or shoulder season is a bit difficult. Generally, it’s Labor Day through Easter. As spring warms up, the crowds aren’t far behind. But there’s a lot of value in visiting the Outer Banks in the fall specifically.
Weather for Outer Banks in Fall
Fall in the Outer Banks can be quite lovely where the weather is concerned. The average high temperature for September is 81F, October is 71F, and November is 63F. The average low temperature for September is 67F, October is 57F, and November is 48F. Average ocean temperatures range from 77F in September to 58F in November so if you’re adventurous you can still stick your toes in, if only for a few moments.
Air temperatures don’t tell the whole story though. The Outer Banks is famously windy. An oceanfront rental will offer spectacular views but may be too cold and/or windy to truly enjoy if the house’s deck is not enclosed.
Hurricane Season at the Outer Banks
There’s nothing that can spoil a trip more than a natural disaster or storm. The Atlantic Hurricane season runs from June 1st through November 30th. For the Outer Banks, the peak is in August and September. And while it’s impossible to predict these hurricanes and storms in advance, there are some steps you can take.
The first is to get travel insurance. Many rental home accommodations offer trip insurance that includes mandatory evacuations due to hurricanes. Without this insurance, you have little recourse. If the company you’re renting with doesn’t offer insurance or you’re staying at a hotel, consider separate travel insurance, such as AXA Travel Insurance, for non-refundable, prepaid costs as well as potential medical costs and essentials. Do your research, read all the small print and use a company that you trust. It’s important to note that in most cases you need to have the insurance prior to the threat of a hurricane. You generally can’t add it once a storm is on the horizon, so to speak.
Alternatively, you can wait until the last minute to book your trip. The downside of this is obvious: you may not have as much choice in accommodations and booked activities, plus prices may be higher.
Regardless, be sure to always follow the instructions of local authorities. If the region is being evacuated, go.
Things to Do in the Outer Banks in the Fall Off-Season
By the end of autumn, many attractions and activities will close for the season. Adventure companies offering water sports like kayaking and surfing usually end by mid-October as temperatures decrease. That doesn’t mean you can’t bring your own kayak or surfboard though. And that doesn’t mean you may not be able to find a few options offering tours. Kitty Hawk Kites does run tours throughout the year.
If you’re looking for something more adventurous and a little less wet, you can still usually find hang gliding lessons for booking, too.
The Outer Banks is full of history. Many of the parks and historic sites, like Jockey’s Ridge State Park, Wright Brothers National Memorial, and Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, are open year-round. The North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island and Elizabethan Gardens are also open throughout the year.
If you’re feeling like taking in the lighthouses, fall is almost your last chance for the year — at least if you want to see inside and climb to the top. While the grounds of the lighthouses of the Outer Banks are open all year, climbing to the top is seasonal. Currituck Beach Lighthouse is open through December 1st while Hatteras and Bodie Island Lighthouses are open through Columbus Day.
The beaches are, of course, open throughout the year but there will not be any lifeguards on duty during the Outer Banks off-season. In addition to having the beaches virtually to yourself, the beaches also become more dog-friendly during the off-season! By autumn, dogs are generally allowed on beaches across the OBX region. Some localities limit the hours and there are sometimes leash requirements.
If you enjoy fishing, Outer Banks in the fall is just for you. Fall is red drum season in OBX. The piers around the region, like Jeanette’s, are still open or you can head to the beach for surf fishing. Be sure to get a North Carolina fishing license if you don’t already have one.
Other family-oriented activities like miniature golf and movie theatres are also safe bets to be open. Shopping is also popular at any time of the year. There are plenty of shops and small boutiques still open in autumn. Because it’s the end of the season, you can find a lot of good deals as shops try to move unsold merchandise and make room for the upcoming year. Kayaks, in particular, can be a good buy.
Off-Season Closures of Restaurants
By and large, there aren’t any widespread closures of restaurants during the fall. But for the ones that are closing for the off-season, the fall is usually the last chance to enjoy a meal for the year.
There’s an extremely useful listing of open restaurants on the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau’s website.
There are some fun festivals and events that take place during the fall that you can also enjoy. In mid to late September there’s also the Outer Banks Kite Festival. Duck also holds the Duck Jazz Festival on Columbus Day Weekend. There is the Outer Banks Seafood Festival and the Outer Banks Brewtag while in Ocracoke they hold Blackbeard’s Pirate Jamboree and Festival Laino de Ocracoke, celebrating the island’s Latino community.
The one community holiday to keep in mind is Halloween. A fair number of restaurants and businesses are closed or close early on Halloween to let families enjoy the day and Trick or Treating.
Tips for Visiting the Outer Banks in the Fall
- Watch the weather. Temperatures and conditions can vary from day to day, or even within the same day. It doesn’t hurt to pack a warm sweater or even a jacket if you have the extra room. But don’t be fooled, you may need sunscreen, too.
- Closures of restaurants and attractions can be unpredictable. For example, some businesses may leave early for the day if things are slow. If in doubt or driving a fair distance, call ahead and confirm.
- Don’t forget reservations. You may get a surprise at just how busy the off-season can be. This is especially true during the weekends and more mild weather. Consider reservations for your favorite restaurants, just in case!
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All opinions, as well as all photos, are my own. This post contains affiliate links.