One of my favorite hidden gems of the Outer Banks is the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge on Hatteras Island.
This tiny stretch of island is blessed with a certain stillness and peace that’s quite unlike anything else on the coast, and if you’ve ever seen Nights in Rodanthe, which was filmed there, you know exactly what I mean.
It’s the kind of place where you can breathe and leave the world behind.
Pea Island Wildlife Refuge encompasses a visitors center, beach access, three ponds and walking trails, so whether you’re into wildlife viewing and photography, fishing, beaching, shelling, kayaking or just enjoying nature, you’ll find a little bit of it all here.
Since 1938, Pea Island NC has remained a natural and untouched resting spot for water fowl and other North Carolina wildlife, so start your visit at the visitors center where the knowledgeable staff will give you tips on which birds to look for at the current time. Take a look at some of them through the pre-aimed Carl Zeiss scopes. There are nearly 400 bird species that visit the refuge.
Outside the visitors center, you’ll find two walking trails: The North Pond Wildlife Trail and the Salt Flats Trail. The North Pond trail starts immediately behind the building and includes a boardwalk over a turtle pond (kids will love this), three observation decks and a tower. Both the North and Salt Flat trails are wonderful for wildlife observation and photography: birds, river otters, white-tailed deer and even the nuisance species of coyote and nutria.
Tip: Bring bug spray! The mosquitoes are hungry here.
I found it interesting to hear how much consideration is given to the refuge’s wildlife visitors. They control the water levels for the type of birds that are visiting in the moment, ensuring ideal conditions for resting or nesting, and every few years, the pond goes through some maintenance to ensure there are new food sources available when they’re refilled.
After you leave the visitors center and wildlife trails, make sure you (carefully) walk across Highway 12 to the beach with its nearly 13 miles of unspoiled and secluded beaches and dunes. They don’t do beach replenishment so everything is constantly changing and shifting.
Be sure to go shelling while you’re there! The sandy shores are carpeted with beachcombing treasures. It’s unusual for a refuge to allow visitors to take anything, but as long as the shells are uninhabited by sea creatures, they’re free for the taking.
If you happen to be visiting the Outer Banks from late spring to summer, you can volunteer to be part of the Sea Turtle Patrol or Sea Turtle Watch program.
Once a nest is spotted, it’s roped off for protection and volunteers sit by the nests from 7pm-midnight nightly to watch for hatching. There are usually 100-150 babies per nest. Totally a bucket list item!
Just offshore during low tide, you can catch sight of the shipwrecked “Oriental”. The boiler is visible above the water line, and it’s an excellent fishing spot out there as you can imagine.
Other Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge activities include kayaking, canoeing, and both surf and sound fishing. Nighttime surf fishing does require a permit. There are also tours and scheduled programs for both adults and children, many of them free and repeating weekly.
It’s an absolutely wonderful place to stop while in the Outer Banks, so I hope you do!
For more information visit the Pea Island website and OuterBanks.org for info on the entire region.
Comments & Reviews
Amy Scott says
Reminds me of the beaches of Georgia which isn’t too far off really! Big respect for the turtle conservancy.I love that movie and want to know, is the house REAL?!
Robin Rue (@massholemommy) says
We have some small swamp turtles up here in MA, but I love what they are doing for the sea turtles down there 🙂
It is! It was moved because it was falling into the sea, so it’s not on Pea Island anymore, but it’s still in Rodanthe. 🙂
Robin Rue (@massholemommy) says
Oh my goodness, I would LOVE to explore the refuge someday! I also would love to check out that sea turtle watch!
valmg @ Mom Knows It All says
I’ve never heard of Pea Island. it sounds and looks like it would be a lovely place to spend a day.
Stacie @ Divine Lifestyle says
I love the Outer Banks. It such a wonderland of nature and culture out there. The beaches are wildlife are fantastic, and the towns are a joy.
Ah wow this looks like a great place to just go and unwind. Get away from everything and clear your head. So peaceful!
Jenn @ EngineerMommy says
What a beautiful place! I used to visit a place similar to this when I was a teenager. It was a great place to sit and watch the water and relax. The views of the water are so peaceful and serene.
Sarah Bailey says
Oh wow what an absolutely beautiful sounding place and the pictures are just WOW! I would love to explore it myself. x
Ratisha Goyal says
Absolutely gorgeous the place is. Loved the beaches. Added to my bucket list.
Nicolas Puegher says
Love the images! Thanks for sharing mate, awesome.
Rhian Westbury says
What a lovely looking place, it’s nice that they put nature and wildlife first x
What an amazing place to visit, my husband would love it for the photography alone x
Catherine S says
I would definitely want to check it out if I am ever in the area. I would love to volunteer to be part of the Sea Turtle Patrol or Sea Turtle Watch program.
Subhadrika Sen says
I loved the way you have effotlessly made us join you on your adventures. The shells on the beach look amazing. We have such shores in my country as well but not as beautiful as this.
Beautiful photos! I especially love the ones with the two birds sitting on the beach.
Rosie Romance says
This looks like such a lovely peaceful place. I’d love to be part of the Sea Turtle Patrol 🙂 what an amazing experience!
Beautiful pics! I loved the Outer Banks when I visited last spring. Can’t wait to return.
Psychic Nest says
I would totally love to visit that place to enjoy the wildlife along with collecting shells! They will be perfect for my DIY home projects. Great photos and thank you for warning about the mosquitoes!
William Sweeney says
What a fun refuge to visit! I would love to watch for turtle like that, plus it seems like there is a ton of thing for the kids to see and explore.
What a fun and beautiful place to visit! I think I’ll have to add it to my places to visit list!
That looks like a place that I would love to check out! I love the water! I love watching the water and can watch it for hours. Anything with animals it awesome in my book!
What gorgeous photos you shared, glad you were able to go to this place and experience it. I love that there are national wildlife refuge out there to help animals survive and education people about the animals too!
Pea Island looks like a wonderful place to explore. I love everything about it from the dune grass to the shells. Gorgeous.
Wow! We spent tons of time on the outer banks and I have never heard of this place before. It looks like a great place!
This looks like a beautiful place to visit. The kids would love the shells! Hubby would love to fish by that shipwreck. Tons of fishies I’m sure
What a wonderful place! It’s fab that they look after the animals so much. Also all that untouched beach is heaven!
Ana De- Jesus says
This sounds like the perfect place to observe sea life and wildlife and get away from a reality. Connecting with nature is a great way to re-group.
It’s been years (probably 16 years!) since I visited the Outer Banks. We need to do a family vacation there one summer. My son would love to see the shipwreck!
Beautiful photos! This looks and sounds like a perfect place for someone who loves wildlife and nature.
Never heard of Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge so it must be well hidden but from your pics it seems like a lovely place and must see when in the area. You got some Shipwrecks too!!
Jocelyn @ Hip Mama's Place says
The Outer Banks is still on our family’s list of places to visit. Thanks for sharing. Those are beautiful photos!
Paula Schuck says
Pea Island looks so beautiful. I’d love to spend a few days there just soaking up the gorgeousness!
My eldest would love this. His favourite days out are the ones where we visit nature reserves and bird/nature watch for hours.. add a shipwreck to that and I don’t think he would want to go home!! Great photos too ..I personally like the sound of the turtle bit 🙂
Heather P says
We love Pea Island and the Outer Banks. We saw many different birds, crabs, nesting turtles, and dolphins too. A great family destination!
This is so cool, I would love to take the kids to visit a place like this as it just seems so wonderful. I love any place that helps protect animals but also can educate others!
Lady Lilith says
I like kayaking. Such a great upper body workout with tons of wonderful views.
Wow, it looks so peaceful. I’ll have to take the boychild. He loves anything dealing with nature.
Pea Island seems to be like a really nice place to enjoy and leave the world behind like you said. The turtle program sounds interesting to follow and I can imagine how beautiful and unique it should be to witness the hatch. The fact you can do some activities like canoe or kayak is a good perk. I might stop there someday with my boyfriend 🙂
Cindy Ingalls says
I loved the scenery from Nights in Rodarthe. The outer banks are such a beautiful place to get away from it all.
Neely (@Neelykins) says
It looks like a beautiful place to visit! Ive never been to the outer banks!
I love the Outer Banks. It’s so important to bring bug spray though, especially for mosquito magnets like me.
Marcie W. says
What a beautiful refuge and I love that they do so much to care for wildlife. My kids would have a field day with all of those shells!
Wow this is gorgeous! This sounds pretty awesome too, I’d love to see a sea turtle nesting area. I would love to see them hatch too so very cool!
Wow, amazing. Would love to go there one day – shame I don’t like travelling! But that’s what I love about blogs like yours, I get to travel without moving.
What a beautiful beach! I have never heard of pea island but it is so important that these places are around to help the wildlife thrive.
Wow! What a great place to take the family and enjoy nature at its finest! I love all the shells that I seen on the beach! This area is a definite must!
Toni | Boulder Locavore says
What gorgeous pictures. That definitely is a hidden gem. Thanks so much for giving me a vacation idea.
Elizabeth O. says
It’s such a beautiful place to go to, especially for an afternoon stroll or even a day at the beach. I love that it’s completely untouched. There’s a lot of shells as well! Beautiful.
Pea Island looks so peaceful! I am a huge sheller…I think I need to add this to my travel list!
This is beautiful! OBX is gorgeous and so perfect for year round vacations! Love this, I will need to check this out next time I’m down there!
I’ve always wanted to visit Pea Island. My kids are really into marine life and nature. This would be the perfect trip for them to learn more.
Amanda Love says
It looks so beautiful here! Almost reminds me of the Caribbean a little with the beaches. I would love to visit and thanks for that tip with the bug spray. I just hate mosquitoes.
EG III says
There are so many “diamonds in the rough” scattered around the states so it’s always a pleasure to come across an introduction like this to somewhere new!
Karlaroundtheworld | Karla says
I’ve always wanted to come to a place like this! It’s a combination of things I like with nature and outside activities. That exposed boiler sure looks mysteriously interesting!
Fashion and Style Police says
Loving the beautiful pictures. I need to sit on a beach x
Seattle Travel Blogger says
This looks like a gorgeous escape! We went to the outer banks before, but missed this gem!
We will have to check this out on a future trip.
Charli Bruce says
The pictures are so beautiful, it’s making me just want to go and sit on the beach
Harriet from Toby & Roo says
Beautiful photography, it looks idyllic there! H x
Cassandra Mayers says
Oh how beautiful. Lovely sunshine to! How exciting to be able to see the top of a ship wreck. Im really interested in ship wrecks, always excite me for some weird reason, although they are a morbid thing really arn’t they haha
Melanie Edjourian says
I love your photos’ it looks really lovely and peaceful there.
I have never been there but it is beautiful and I would love to see a nest one day 🙂
Would love to visit and enjoy everything it has to offer.
I think not only one movie has been filmed here. The scenery reminds me of the movie “Flashbacks of a fool”, which I found to be so good. It looks like this national park is not a major tourist attraction. I would like to visit and just relax by the beach, observing the wild life.
Aziel Morte says
Wow looks like a peaceful place to visit! I would love to go there and enjoying the view
I’ve never been in that place, I think I need to go there to visit soon.
Ryan Escat says
This place looks beautiful and quite peaceful. Wanna go there soon.
Kalliopi Sakellariou says
Wow this is amazing! Looks like heaven! Sometimes I need to get lost in places like that , destress and come back to reality more relaxed and happy.
Ann Bacciaglia says
I would love to go spend the day at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge on Hatteras Island. I love to be outside in nature. It would be fun to go with the kids.
Marielle Altenor says
Omg, all those beautiful shells. I would love to visit Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge to collect some of those pretty shells!
Dia All The Things I Do says
That beach makes me miss San Diego. I am in serious need of a giveaway this looks perfect.
Nayna Kanabar says
What a beautiful and tranquil place to visit.
Those photos are so beautiful! I would love to go there sometime. Looks like a great place to visit.
I agree with you, these photos are absolutely lovely. It is definitely a place that all of us should visit in our lifetime.
Wow those shells are asking to be discovered by my kids! Looks like a perfect island to visit this summer
Stephanie of The TipToe Fairy says
Wow look at all those shells! My kids would love to go there. It looks just beautiful. I can’t believe they do so much for the water levels and food sources for the birds.
Life as Mum says
Oh wow. What a stunningly beautiful place. I would love to visit there. It looks so peaceful
Nicole Escat says
Those pic are very beautiful, I love the turtle nesting sites.
Kira C says
Fantastic photos! I’d love to do something like this and I know my boyfriend, who is obsessed with wildlife, would love it too!
Bites for Foodies says
It looks so peaceful and tranquil! I could spend the entire day there just relaxing and meditating!
Bonnie @wemake7 says
You took some amazing photos. I love going to places like that. So pretty and I love seeing the bird and shells on the beach.
We have a wildlife refuge near us but it is definitely not as beautiful as this one. I love all of the nature and natural habitat.
kenia mazariegos says
Omg look at all those sea shells! lol
Vidya Sudarsan says
This island looks so peaceful! I wish I could volunteer and help rescue sea animals. Sea turtles are one of the most wonderful creatures. I recently read that they hold their breath under water and have to come to land to breathe!
Ron Leyba says
Wow. love all the photos you featured in here. I would love to personally visit a national wildlife refuge too soon!
How gorgeous!! looks so peaceful!! How amazing are the activities you can do their too! and oh my goodness I want to volunteer to be a part of sea turtle patrol!
Laura H says
I’ve never heard of Pea Island before but I’d love to go on a wildlife trail! I’ve never seen an otter in the wild, I bet they’re super cute 🙂
Emily Underworld says
This looks lovely, your photos are amazing! I love wildlife trails.
Rose Sahetapy says
I’d love to visit a national wildlife refuge one day. Your photos are stunning, showing the details of life in wildlife refuge. It must besuch an amazing adventure visiting wildlife refuge.
Style With Tina says
That’s very cool that the movie was filmed there! I like Nicholas Sparks books! The pictures look amazing and looks very serene there. Thank you for sharing 🙂
I have never been to the Outer Banks, no wonder I had not heard of Pea Island before. Sounds like a nice weekend getaway. Lovely pictures of the beach.
xx, Kusum | http://www.sveeteskapes.com
Mimi Green says
I’ve only been to OBX once and it was many years ago. I want to get back soon because it is so peaceful. I’ve not heard of Pea Island but I would love to check it out. My kids would go crazy over this.
Interesting place! 🙂 Looks so serene despite its name. Perfect for summer getaway! 🙂
I’m really loving all your posts about the Outer Banks! This wildlife refuge sounds amazing! I’ve always wanted to see a shipwreck and all the beaches around here are awful for finding shells.
What a wonderful place to visit! Your photos are breathtaking! I love nature and sea creatures and it would be also nice to go shelling there! Pinned your post for the future!
My family is long overdue for a vacation. This would be the perfect destination for us!
This place looks so relaxing. I wish I was there in summer I wold the mind volunteering.
It’s really nice that it’s possible to take the shells as long as they are empty cause it would be nice to take at least one or two as a souvenir
Thanks for the info.
Lisa Rios says
My goodness this sounds like a wonderful place to visit with my husband & he is going to love taking lots of photography as he loves such nature bound wild life area so much. Could be great if you get a chance to stay for a day.
Tiffany Hathorn says
That is so cool! It would be amazing to be able to come there and witness nature. Especially the sea turtles.
Becca @ Amuse Your Bouche says
This place looks so peaceful! I love places like this, where all the wildlife is free and there’s not too much human involvement 🙂
Leslie Rossi | alifewellconsumed says
i really want to visit NC and SC one day! gorgeous landscape and the people
Holly @ Woman Tribune says
What an incredible place to visit! I can definitely see how you can just relax and breathe in a place like this. It’s really beautiful.
Ms. A says
Loved the book and the movie. Looks beautiful!
Alissa Apel says
It does look pretty! I like that there aren’t a ton of people around.