Currituck National Wildlife Refuge: A Visitor’s Guide

Wildlife lovers and adventurous travelers who are visiting the Outer Banks of North Carolina will love a trip to the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). Located in Corolla in the northernmost stretches of the Outer Banks, you and your family will love getting back to nature here.

A short drive from your vacation rental home in Kitty Hawk, Nags Head, or Kill Devil Hills, a visit here is well worth the visit. This protected area of untouched natural beauty allows the opportunity to see incredible, unique wildlife and make lifelong memories with your friends and family.

Another option for great nature closer to your rental is on Roanoke Island or the nearby Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.

Here’s what you need to know about the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge to plan your perfect visit.

A Brief Introduction

The Currituck National Wildlife Refuge is a nature preserve located in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Established in 1984, the park preserves and protects the fragile ecosystem of the barrier island. Home to diverse habitat types and numerous protected and endangered animals, the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge is immensely important for environmental efforts in North Carolina.

What draws the most attention here though are the majestic wild horses of the Outer Banks.

Visitors to the park can enjoy over 8,000 acres of beaches, dunes, wetlands, and maritime forests. Unmanaged game trails take you to the park’s interior, where it is possible to spot various types of animals and beautiful nature scenes.

This truly untouched refuge is perfect for adventurous travelers seeking pristine wildlife and unbeatable wildlife viewing opportunities.

Getting to Currituck National Wildlife Refuge requires either a 4WD vehicle or a boat. There are no buildings, roads, or facilities in the refuge, so you can expect true wilderness and total peace.

What to Do

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A trip to the Outer Banks wouldn’t be complete without visiting the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge. This area of unspoiled wilderness and protected flora and fauna is exceptionally beautiful and perfect for the whole family.

While certainly best for someone who enjoys the outdoors, these are the best things to do in Currituck National Wildlife Refuge.

Go Hiking

Photo Credit: JGA

There are no paved or managed hiking trails in the refuge, but visitors are welcome to explore all the areas open to the public. There are some administrative service roads, but they are unmaintained and may have tall grass or debris along the trail.

The interior of the refuge contains interdunal wetlands, forests, dunes, and grasslands. Birds, reptiles, and amphibians are common sights along the interior; just be sure to walk carefully to not disturb any fragile habitats.

Hiking opportunities along the sandy beaches are plentiful, providing beautiful ocean views. Keep an eye on the surf, as you might be able to see lively dolphins playing in the waves!


Photo Credit: savitskaya iryna

Currituck National Wildlife Refuge is a bird watcher’s paradise. The refuge is home to over 200 bird species, both resident and migratory, and even some rare birds.

Along the beach, it is common to see:

  • Terns
  • Oystercatchers
  • Piping Plover
  • Black-Bellied Plovers
  • Gulls

In the wetlands, keep an eye out for a number of waterfowl including:

  • Ducks
  • Tundra Swans
  • Snow Geese
  • Blue and Green-Winged Teal

Warblers and other songbirds can be found in the dunes and maritime forests of the refuge.

Enjoy a Bike Ride

Photo Credit: Kryvenok Anastasiia

One of the best ways to see large amounts of the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge is by bicycle. A pedestrian walkway along the beaches of Currituck allows avid bikers to follow NC Highway 12 through the communities along the coast.

If you didn’t bring your own bikes, rest assured that there are plenty of shops offering bike rentals in the Outer Banks.

Bring Your Camera for Wildlife Photography

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Wildlife photographers rejoice! Currituck National Wildlife Refuge is one of the best places in the state for a wide variety of wildlife photography.

It is possible to see wild horses, dozens of rare birds, snakes, frogs, and even loggerhead turtles. While seeing a sea turtle would be extremely rare, they have been known to choose quiet, undisturbed parts of Currituck beach to lay their eggs before quickly retreating to the water.

Photographers will enjoy a walk along the beach seeking out the horses or a trek through the interior of the island for the chance to see some of the animals that call the marshes and wooded areas home.

Go Boating

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You are welcome to explore Currituck by kayak, canoe, or SUP. The water may be shallow in places, but this is a lovely way to see the refuge and its inhabitants. Quiet boaters may have a better chance of seeing certain birds, reptiles, and amphibians that spend more time in deeper water.

Spot Wild Horses

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The peaceful beaches within the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge are particularly special because you have the exciting chance to see wild horses playing in the surf!

The famous Corolla wild horses were originally brought to the Americas by Spanish explorers in the 1500s and 1600s before being lost or released into the wild.

Now, they are protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as an endangered breed living around the Currituck Sound and beaches of Northern Corolla. Spotting one of these wild beauties is an exciting activity for every traveler, so be sure to bring your cameras to capture the memory!

Nearby Attractions

Currituck Banks Reserve

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The 965-acre Currituck Banks Reserve consists of many habitats, including dunes, grasslands, forests, brackish and freshwater marshes, and tidal flats.

A visit here provides the opportunity to experience the beauty of these varied ecosystems. The reserve has a wonderful boardwalk to allow you to explore the entire area.

Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge

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Located near Currituck Wildlife Refuge, Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge is also part of the Coastal North Carolina National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

Mackay Island provides further opportunities to explore protected coastal habitats, see hundreds of bird species, and hike through untouched nature. There are numerous hiking trails through the refuge, including the popular Great Marsh Trail and the Long Dike Trail, which also allows biking.

Currituck Beach Lighthouse

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The Currituck Beach Lighthouse is a great stop for those interested in maritime history. First lit in 1875, it is one of the only lighthouses in the country that still has an original Fresnel lens.

Visitors are welcome to climb the 220 steps to the top of the lighthouse and enjoy the long-range view of the North Carolina coast. Admission is $12 for everyone four and over, and children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult.

Knotts Island

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Knotts Island is a small, marshy island in Currituck County that can be reached in a 45-minute ferry from the dock by Historic Currituck Courthouse.

This destination is a true gem, best known for its summertime peach festival that draws crowds from all over the state. Mackay Island National WIldlife Refuge is also located on Knotts Island.

Corolla Wild Horse Museum

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After spotting the beautiful wild horses in the Currituck Wildlife Refuge, you may have an interest in learning more about them and their history. Operated by the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, the nonprofit organization that protects the wild horses of the island, the Corolla Wild Horse Museum is a great way to finish a day exploring the Currituck area.

With interactive exhibits, a map of the horses’ range, video displays, and a souvenir shop, this museum will be a hit for visitors of all ages.

Get Back to the Basics at Currituck National Wildlife Refuge

Take a day trip to the incredible Currituck National Wildlife Refuge during your Outer Banks getaway. Those who love unspoiled nature, quiet beaches, exciting wetlands, and the chance to explore remote protected areas will love the refuge.

Sightings of wild horses, wading birds, and shy reptiles are common, and visitors of all kinds will love their experience here.

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