Doggin' The Outer Banks

North Carolina’s Outer Banks serve up more than 130 miles of the dog-friendliest beaches travelers are likely to find. But pulling onto the barrier islands from Route 158 don’t dive right into its conventional charms just yet. Instead, head north for a bit and check out the unhurried towns of Duck and Corolla. Your dog can romp on these residential beaches under voice control. A perfect prelude to your dog’s vacation on the Outer Banks.

Moving south, your first major attraction is Kitty Hawk where flight enthusiasts make the pilgrimage from around the world to celebrate the birth of powered manned flight. Stop in as well - your dog is welcome here. At the Wright Brothers National Memorial she can walk along the rubber mats that mark the paths of the first four flights by Orville and Wilbur Wright on December 17, 1903. There is more canine hiking back behind the flight path on Big Kill Devil Hill where the two Dayton, Ohio bicycle mechanics tested their experimental fliers on the high dunes with the promise of soft, sandy landings.

While famous for flight, the skies over Kitty Hawk are quiet now. Not so just south of the Wright Brothers Memorial at Jockey Ridge State Park. Flamboyant kites, model planes and hang gliders frequently fill the skies here. On the ground, Jockey's Ridge is one giant sandbox for a playful dog. The deep sands, steep dunes and brisk breezes can make for invigorating canine hiking at Jockey's Ridge. Your dog can play anywhere on these dunes - some of the highest on the Atlantic Ocean - or for those who like their walking on the structured side there are two interpretive nature trails marked by posts across the dunes.

While you are in Kitty Hawk remembering famous firsts, travel a bit further south to Roanoke Island and the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. Here an expeditionary force in the 1580s established the first English settlement in America. The group was well represented by scientists, merchants and other gentlemen of prominent social standing but conspicuously missing, however, were farmers and craftsmen whose skills might have made the colony work.

When a supply ship returned to the settlement on Roanoke Island there was no trace of the "Lost colony." Your dog can explore the mystery with you, including the recreated earthworks of Fort Raleigh and the birth site of Virginia Dare, the first English-speaking baby born in the New World. The Thomas Hariot Nature Trail, named for a scientist on that first voyage, is a rollicking ramble through a maritime forest that emphasizes the natural riches on the island that the doomed English settlers hoped to exploit for riches rather than adapt for survival. The sandy trail pops out onto peaceful Roanoke Sound for some superb dog-paddling.

All this to do with your dog on the Outer Banks and you haven't even traveled the two blocks east to one of the great ocean beaches of the world yet - Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Dogs are allowed year-round on the non-swimming beaches. With only four such beaches in more than 70 miles there is plenty of ocean sand for your dog to roam.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore, designated America's first such beach in 1953, is actually comprised of three islands connected by a free bridge and a free ferrry. Unlike many other national seashores, Cape Hatteras permits dogs on its nature trails. There is a short 3/4-mile nature trail on each of the three islands. These interpretive trails emphasize the harshness of the saltwater environment and the struggle of the plants and animals that colonize the dunes. These rolling, wooded walks on soft sand are a shady treat for dogs after a day of sun and surf. Dogs are not allowed on the trails in the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge on the northern end of Hatteras Island.

For centuries storms, shifting sands and war have visited the turbulent waters off the coast of the Outer Banks. More than 600 ships have wrecked in the seas offshore that have earned Cape Hatteras recognition as "the Graveyard of the Atlantic."

Each of the three islands sports its own historic lighthouse to help steer ships safely. The queen of the trio is the 208-foot Cape Hatteras Light, the tallest brick lighthouse in America. The Ocracoke Lighthouse, a squat 75-foot tower tucked into a residential neighborhood, has been in service since 1823 and is the oldest operating lighthouse in North Carolina. The least known of the Hatteras lighthouses is the Bodie Island Lighthouse, the northernmost. Located away from shore behind a freshwater marsh and partially ringed by pine trees, the Bodie Light's beam reaches 19 miles out to sea from its 156-foot crown. You can hike with your dog on the grounds of all three historic lights.

Cape Hatteras looks much different today than in the days when pirates like Blackbeard, who favored Ocracoke Island as a hideout, cruised these shores. Hundreds of dunes have been built along the beach to protect the Cape. And with so much for your dog to do here, you will want to return again and again to monitor the future changes.