The main Corolla attraction is the oceanfront—miles and miles of beaches that are lined with fabulous Corolla vacation rental homes. You’ll find plenty of other things to do here including lots of shops and restaurants, fishing adventures and other water sports.
The Whalehead Club and the Currituck Beach Lighthouse are the two major Corolla attractions for visitors in the area. Everyone loves climbing the lighthouse, and people return year after year to see the unique architecture at the historic club. The newest Corolla attraction at Currituck Heritage Park is the Center for Wildlife Education.
Just north of the lighthouse is old Corolla village. Here you’ll find old homes, quaint shops and friendly folk in an atmosphere that is very different from the rest of the beach.
Just when you think you’re getting somewhere, the paved road ends abruptly at the beach. You can keep going, however, driving on the beach into what the locals call the “four-wheel drive area,” up to Penny’s Hill, Swan Beach and Carova Beach, where there are more Corolla rental homes and a few full-time residents, including wild horses. About 10 miles up the beach, there’s a gate blocking you from entering the state of Virginia. This is the ending point of Currituck’s Outer Banks. You have to turn around and go back the way you came.
- Corolla Light Town Center
- (252) 453-0877
Scott Trabue’s Wild Horse Safari is a unique off-road eco-adventure that will deliver you and your family directly to the wild Spanish Mustangs that have thrived on the northern Outer Banks for nearly 500 years. Your naturalist guide will carry you in custom open-air Safari Cruisers through 30 miles of beaches, dune and back country sand lanes to discover the Outer Banks wildlife. Shore life including pelicans, dolphins and osprey are almost always present. You will hear stories about the Ghost Fleet and Outer Banks maritime history and learn about the mysterious petrified forest. Back Country Outfitters has exclusive access to the Spanish Mustang Preserve, where sightings of these regal wild horses is guaranteed while your tour guide explains their Spanish Colonial heritage and the local preservation efforts. Reservations are required.
- 1066 Ocean Trail, Inn at Corolla Light, N.C. Highway 12
- (252) 453-8602
Bob White is a legend among the horse-sighting enthusiasts, and his trained staff has been offering tours since 1996 with a great reputation for being entertaining and informative. Bob’s tours last two hours and incorporate quite a bit of local history to complement the sightseeing. At the beginning, your guide will take you past Whalehead and the lighthouse and through Corolla Village, showering you with some interesting lore. Then it’s up to the four-wheel-drive area, where you’ll see the horses grazing in their natural habitat. Bob’s tours are given in their open-top vehicles — one of a kind experience! — and in their new “Monster” vans, and they can accommodate large groups. Call for details and reservations. All tours have a money back guarantee if you don’t see the horses.
- 1150 Ocean Trail
- (252) 453-4484
Established in 1962, Corolla Outback Adventures was the first to offer guide service and off-road beach tours on the Currituck Outer Banks. Benderʼs Beach Service began guiding beach tours to Corolla and beyond 50 years ago, well before a paved road existed north of Duck. That same tradition continues today, featuring their unique tour into Corollaʼs “outback,” where wild herds still roam freely. The 20-mile round trip along the beach strand includes exclusive access into the wild horse habitat on land the Bender family donated to protect future herds. Seasoned guides share their experience and knowledge along with history and colorful folklore. Corolla Outback also offers off-road transportation for special events, wedding parties, family reunions, school groups or business meetings.
- 1129 Corolla Village Road, Corolla Town Center
- (252) 453-8002
Housed within a historic home in Corolla Village, the free Corolla Wild Horse Fund museum shares the wonderful history and legacy of the Colonial Spanish Mustangs. Descendants of Spanish Mustangs brought to our island nearly 500 years ago, they are a hardy and majestic breed that is teetering on the brink of extinction. At the museum the whole family can learn more from our knowledgeable staff, photography and historical information.
Here are some special events for the summer:
Paint your own wild Colonial Spanish Mustang! The Corolla Wild Horse Fund sponsors horse painting for kids every Tuesday and Thursday, from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Hours are 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Paint, brushes and smocks are provided, and kids of all ages can join in the fun. Artists can choose from large wooden horses attached to posts that stay up all week for visitors to admire or smaller wooden horse cut-outs to go and paint later. Prices range from $5-$35 for the cutout horses. All proceeds benefit the wild horses.
On Fridays, weather permitting, a gentled Colonial Spanish Mustang is ready to greet your family at the Wild Horse Museum from 10:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Corolla Wild Horse Fund staff and trained volunteers provide fascinating information about the history of wild horses and how YOU can help save this heritage breed. Petting is encouraged!
Take the Trip of a Lifetime to see the wild horses, riding with the experts in charge of the actual management and care of the wild herd. All funds raised go right back into the care and protection of the wild horses. Prices are $20 for children and $45 for adults. Please call for reservations or book your trip at www.corollawildhorses.com
On Wednesdays, at their second location at Scarborough Faire Shopping Village in Duck, ride a gentled Colonial Spanish Mustang around the ring while raising awareness and funds to help this critically endangered breed. Rides are offered from 2 to 5 p.m. in conjunction with other Faire Days festivities including live music and kids crafts.
While a lot of the fun programming happens during the summer, the Corolla Wild Horse Fund is open all year, so please stop by to visit and become a member!
- 500 Hunt Club Drive
- (252) 453-9612
The Currituck Outer Banks Visitors Center offers restrooms plus all the visitor information and assistance you’ll need for a trip to Corolla and its surrounding areas. You’ll find it on the west side of N.C. Highway 12 on the south end of the Currituck Club; if heading north, start looking for it on the left after you pass the Hampton Inn.
Currituck County also operates the Currituck County Welcome Center on the NC/VA state line next to the Border Station convenience store. It offers restrooms, free WiFi and coffee and tons of information and assistance for visitors. Passengers, go ahead and pick up the local publications here because you still have an hour’s ride from here to Corolla.
- 1100 Club Road, Historic Corolla
- (252) 453-9040
Whalehead is a historic house museum on the northern Outer Banks. The grand residence, dressed in bold yellow and striking copper, stands on a vast green lawn bordering the Currituck Sound. At first sight of the more than 21,000-square-foot Art Nouveau home, so out of place in the Outer Banks landscape, it’s immediately apparent that it has an intriguing past and a fascinating story to tell.
Once you’ve had time to gaze over the lush green live oaks and take in the beauty of the home’s exterior, step inside and take a jaunt back in time to an era reminiscent of prohibition and fights for women’s rights. Shortly after being wed, the original owners, Edward Collings Knight Jr. and Marie-Louise LeBel Knight, purchased a four-mile tract of land running from ocean to sound. While taking residence in the Lighthouse Hunt Club, they embarked on a building project that would take three years to complete. Just as visitors to our area today take pleasure in the opportunity to get away from it all, so did the Knights. While they kept a grand permanent residence near Newport, Rhode Island, the “cottage” at Corolla Island was their winter retreat. After a chilly day spent in the blinds hunting waterfowl, they could relax in the library by a roaring fire while partaking in a game, reading, listening to music or simply enjoying the gorgeous views from the room’s window-lined walls. Peeking into the library and spying the custom-made 1903 Steinway piano, you can just imagine Mrs. Knight sitting down to play a few melodies for her guests. Later, they would be treated to a marvelous duck dinner prepared for them by their beloved cook, Miss Rose, who was one of about a dozen servants who traveled to and from Corolla Island each year with the Knights.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Whalehead sat empty and abandoned for nearly 25 years until Currituck County bought the building with the intent of restoring it. Since 1999, the county has painstakingly restored the house to its original 1925 grandeur. The multi-million-dollar restoration began with the replacement of the copper roof. The exterior of the house and boathouse are again the original paint colors as are the interior walls. The interior has been completely restored, from the coffered ceilings down to the cork floors. Many of the original fixtures and details remain: The water lily motif carvings again stand out near the dining room ceiling, the duck head door handles are back in place, the Tiffany glass light fixtures shine again, the mahogany trim and woodwork has been refinished.
A team of researchers ensured restoration accuracy, and recent efforts have focused on filling the home with original and period pieces. Mrs. Knight’s Steinway piano, Mr. Knight’s iron safe and portrait, portraits, Perkinhammer china, Louis Majorelle furniture are just a few of the pieces that now grace Whalehead.
In 2008, the kitchen was furnished back to the 1920s, including the original Frigidaire refrigerator. Visitors can stand in the room and see the old tools used to prepare meals for the large household and guests entertained by the Knights. It offers a real appreciation for the stark differences between performing routine kitchen tasks then and now. There is a Hoosier cabinet in the corner, and the original kitchen table is once again in the center of the room under a pot rack.
Whalehead is open and offers tours year round Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Legacy tours are self-guided and available any time during regular hours. If you’ve already taken an audio tour, try one of the many specialty tours offered weekdays with advanced reservations. Moonlight Ghost Tour, Tippling at Twilight, Nuts & Bolts, Boat-ology and Behind the Velvet Ropes are just a few of the specialty tours they offer.
Got kids? Whalehead offers children’s activities too — Mystery of the Old House, a guided search and find or Let’s Talk Tiffany where they make their own stained glass and learn about Louis Comfort Tiffany. The Magic of Light teaches them to make a kaleidoscope and about reflection and other properties of light. Winnie the Pooh and Whalehead are the same age, so come celebrate and listen to a tale of that silly old bear!
Be sure to visit the Museum Gallery at Whalehead. It’s stocked with 1920s-inspired gifts and Whalehead souvenirs such as jewelry and ornaments made from the original copper roof plus books, postcards, memorabilia and educational toys and games for kids.
Whalehead sits on 39 acres of pristine soundfront property providing bike paths, a public boat ramp and areas for picnicking, fishing and crabbing and is located in Historic Corolla along with the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education and next to the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. The grounds of Whalehead are perfect for a relaxing afternoon outdoors away from the beach and are available to rent for ceremonies and receptions as well as for corporate events and family reunions.
- 610 Currituck Clubhouse Road
- (252) 489-2020
There was a time when you could look out your rental cottage window and see wild horses traveling in herds and maybe eating your grass. But, for the good of the horses, that is no longer so. The wild horses were relocated to the four-wheel-drive area north of Corolla, so you must have an off-road vehicle if you want to see them. Wild Horse Adventure Tours can be your guide! They have two ways to get you into horse country. First is an enclosed 4x4 mini coach with A/C driven by one of their seasoned guides, and the second is in a custom open-top vehicle also driven by one of their guides. The guides at Wild Horse Adventure Tours know exactly where to look for the horses, they know how to drive in the sand and they know a lot about the history of the area, making for a much more enlightening trip on your part. They’ll also point out snakes, shore birds, plants and interesting natural aspects of this ocean-side environment as well as interesting tales about the folks who live here. They run many scheduled trips per day and operate year round, so call to get all the details and make a reservation. Horse sightings are guaranteed or they will refund your money.
CAMA Sound Boardwalk
- 1101 Corolla Village Road, Currituck Heritage Park
This boardwalk cuts through a small portion of swamp forest and brackish marsh. The variety of flora and fauna you’ll see here is astounding. Sweet gum, red maples, black willows, live oaks and loblolly pines are intertwined with wild muscadine grapes, Virginia creeper and winged sumac. Shrubs like American holly, wax myrtles, yaupon and bayberry fill in the lowlands, while plants like swamp mallows, morning glory, ferns, honeysuckle and pennywort add texture and color to the landscape.
Toward the sound, tall reeds and cattails swish in the breeze. The boardwalk ends at a nice resting spot on Currituck Sound, an absolutely perfect place to watch the sunset. Animals you might see along the way include nutria, deer, raccoons, muskrats, red or gray fox, river otters, possums, turtles, snakes and a great variety of birds, including songbirds, wading birds, osprey, terns, killdeer, gulls and others, depending on the time of year.
- Overview Information
Corolla is a hugely popular vacation destination. First and foremost a summer resort area, Corolla accommodates seaside vacations with upscale rental homes and condominiums, watersports outfitters, a variety of restaurants and shops and several of the most popular attractions on the Outer Banks. Nevertheless, the beach is the main focus of Corolla. The clean, wide beaches are spacious and uncrowded, especially in the off-season.
Since it’s a relatively new developed area (most of the houses and shopping centers were built in the 1990s), Corolla is known for its upscale offerings and polished appearance. At the other end of the spectrum, north of Corolla’s paved roads is the Swan Beach and Carova area, a wild and rugged place accessible only by four-wheel-drive vehicle. Rental homes in the four-wheel-drive area range from small and rustic to astonishingly palatial, but it’s the remoteness of the area that is the biggest draw.
Corolla is home to the Currituck Beach Lighthouse (climb to the top for an awesome view), the Whalehead historic house and the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education, which offers free outdoors-oriented programs year round. The most famous Corolla attraction is the Corolla wild horses, which roam free in the four-wheel-drive area; several outfitters offer tours to the area to see the wild horses.
Corolla Jeep Adventures and Wild Horse Tours
- 1070 Ocean Trail, Whalehead Bay Shoppes
- (252) 453-6899
Corolla Jeep Adventures offers guided tours of the off-road area, including their own private 400-acre Hunt Club. Guided tours are two hours long and conducted in comfy 15-passenger vans or Suburbans. You can also rent a soft-top Jeep and drive yourself following your guide. These tours last two-and-a-half hours, and the guide will take you on a course where wild horses are usually spotted. You’ll see beautiful, remote beaches and wildlife. Corolla Jeeps Adventures is open year round, and they say they can pretty much find horses for you every day! New this year they are offering 4x4 kayak combination tours, and their tours access acres of private trails where you’ll see historic sites and learn of local ecology including the second-largest living dune on the property. What great views!
The company also offers a variety of fishing charters, held in either the sound or the ocean, for a half-, three-quarter or full day. Depending upon which trip you choose, you can catch mackerel, marlin, tuna and dolphin. The boats carry up to six passengers, and if you don’t have a group of six ready to go, they can accommodate you with a make-up charter. All fishing tackle is included, so all you need to bring is lunch.
Corolla Surfing Museum
- 807 Ocean Trail, Monteray Plaza
- (252) 453-WAVE (9283)
The Corolla Surfing Museum is a collection of classic surfboards that were acquired by Steve Wise. The boards, hanging from the ceilings of the shops, represent many of the small, experimental designs of the 1960s and are by Dewey Weber, CON, Surfboards Australia, Bing, Gordon and Smith, Bunger, Hobie and others, with a good representation of collectible boards from both the East and West coasts. You’ll also see memorabilia and photography. Many surfers are impressed with the CON Ugly and are awed by the 1930s wooden hollow board and the reproduction of the solid-wood 80-pound surfboard. If you want to learn more about the roots of surfing, don’t miss seeing these collections.
Corolla Wild Horses
- North of Corolla
- (252) 453-8002
The Corolla wild horses are recognized as a significant cultural and historical resource by the state of North Carolina and in 2010 were designated as the North Carolina State Horse. The herd is protected and monitored by the not-for-profit Corolla Wild Horse Fund Inc. of Corolla. The Fund has been working with Congressman Walter Jones and other legislators on the passage of federal legislation entitled The Corolla Wild Horses Protection Act.
To learn more about the horses or to schedule a Trip of a Lifetime to see the horses, call, visit the Wild Horse Museum or their website, www.corollawildhorses.org. Remember, the horses are wild. It is against the law to get within 50 feet of them (five car lengths), feed or bother them in any way. Please obey the Wild Horse Ordinance and help the Corolla Wild Horse Fund protect the wild horses by admiring them from a respectful distance.
Currituck Banks National Estuarine Research Reserve Access Trail
- Soundside, End of N.C. Highway 12, north of Corolla
This beautiful boardwalk leads two-thirds of a mile from the road to the sound, traversing through maritime evergreen forest, swamp forest and brackish marsh. Along the way, you’ll see live oaks and loblolly pines, yaupon, holly, bayberry and wax myrtle, plus, closer to the water, sedges, cattails, black needle rush and giant cord grass. You may see signs of animals, like scat or tracks, or possibly the animals themselves. Birders love this boardwalk because it gives them the ability to go deep into several habitats without getting so mucky.
Along the boardwalk are a couple of places to rest and an information kiosk. In addition, there are six interpretive signs along the route that explain barrier island ecology. At the end, the boardwalk has bench seats that look out over a creek and the sound with the final informational panel. It’s serene, quiet and absolutely beautiful on the soundside.
Part of the North Carolina Estuarine Research Reserve, this 960-acre area is protected in its natural state for use as a natural laboratory. Much of the land in this area is protected. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the 4,000-acre Currituck Banks National Wildlife Refuge north of here for waterfowl, wading birds and shorebirds.
Currituck Beach Lighthouse
- 1101 Corolla Village Road, Historic Corolla
- (252) 453-4939
The red-brick Currituck Beach Lighthouse towers above the northern Outer Banks landscape in the Historic Corolla village. Visitors can climb the winding staircase, 214 steps in all, to the top of the lighthouse for a panoramic view of Currituck Sound, the Atlantic Ocean and the Currituck Outer Banks. Inside the lighthouse, at the base and on the first two landings, there are museum-quality lighthouse exhibits. On the way up or down, stop to learn about the history of coastal lighthouses, the Fresnel lens, shipwrecks and the lighthouse keepers.
The 162-foot lighthouse was first lit on December 1, 1875. Onsite keepers, who lived in homes at the base of the lighthouse, operated the lighthouse until it was automated in 1937. With automation, the lighthouse no longer required a regular keeper. The lighthouse and its outbuildings fell into disrepair for decades until a nonprofit group called Outer Banks Conservationists (OBC) stepped in to save the lighthouse in the 1980s. OBC renovated the keepers’ buildings to re-create their past glories and restored the lighthouse to make it safe to climb. In July 2003, The U.S. Department of the Interior awarded OBC ownership of the lighthouse.
It costs only $7 to climb the lighthouse (cash or check, please), and children ages 7 and younger climb for free with an adult. The lighthouse is open daily from before Easter through Thanksgiving. Climbing hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and until 8 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays in the summer. During extreme weather, the lighthouse is closed to climbing.
The nearby Double Keepers’ House is not open to the public, but it makes for great photographs. You can go inside the small Keeper’s House, which was transformed into the Museum Shop and stocks everything lighthouse-related you could ever imagine. T-shirts, hats, books, postcards, blankets, taffy, ornaments, jewelry, magnets, figurines and more fill this former keeper’s residence.
Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education
- 1160 Village Lane, Historic Corolla
- (252) 453-0221
The Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education in Historic Corolla offers great educational programs all year long that focus on the theme of exploring coastal North Carolina’s natural history and heritage. The daily free programs teach participants about such topics as birding, sound ecology, ocean ecology, animal tracking, sea turtles, fishing and much more. Advanced registration is required for all programs. They are happy to work with schools and groups; just contact the program coordinator to schedule your visit. Permanent exhibits focus on conservation, waterfowl and hunting heritage, natural history, local heritage, ecology and fishing. Highlights of the exhibits are an aquarium and real-life marsh exhibit. The 22,000-square-foot building houses an auditorium with a video program, an exhibit hall, classrooms and a gift shop. The location of the center is on the sound between Whalehead and Currituck Beach Lighthouse. All are open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. but are closed on Sundays year round.
- 1129 Corolla Village Road, Corolla Village behind the Lighthouse Garden Shop
In the early days, the villagers raised their own food or caught it in the sea or shot it out of the sky. Everyone had a vegetable garden and fruit trees to provide fresh produce, and most everything was canned and preserved to save for the stark winter months. Because Corolla village was on the more-protected sound side of the island, the gardens and plants were shielded from the lethal salt-laden winds of the ocean side. And the area’s mild climate made for a long growing season. The Village Garden is a reminder of these old sustenance gardens and the types of plants they bore. Most all the seeds grown here, mainly those in the vegetable garden, were available to Corollans during the period from 1900 to 1920. Gardener Amy Crowe tries to grow mostly older and heirloom varieties, some of which are nearly extinct. Some of the plants you’ll find here include cardoon, feverfew, fennel, bachelor buttons, a purple chase tree, comfrey and older varieties of roses, like the 1840s China roses growing along the fence. The garden is a nice opportunity to rest in some calming green space. You can sit on the edges of the raised beds for a spell and enjoy nature at its finest.