Hang Gliding at Jockeys Ridge State Park, courtesy Outer Banks CVB
Unspoiled coastal communities throughout this country offer spectacular experiences, from sunset kayak cruises to more simple pleasures.
“The first time I ever saw the Milky Way was on the Outer Banks, thanks to the lack of light pollution,” said Aaron Tuell, manager of public relations for the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau. “I was in awe.”
In these places, nature is typically the star of the show, and bank groups are treated to some of the world’s best bird-watching, close-up visits with sea lions and protected areas where alligators and wild ponies roam free.
Whether one chooses to ride a sand buggy amidst colossal dunes or ride on horseback over a sandy beach, the sights, smells and sounds of the water and the surrounding terrain are enough to swell any heart.
Like Tuell, you’ll be in awe.
The Outer Banks is home to the largest remaining track of beach wilderness on the Eastern Seaboard, and all is easily reached by motorcoach, according to Tuell.
“Eighty percent of our Outer Banks is undeveloped and is dedicated to preservation, recreation and wildlife.”
Three national parks in the area offer stunning beauty and an abundance of history and wildlife.
“The Fort Raleigh National Historic Site is the 1584 site of the first English colony, 20 years before Jamestown,” Tuell said. “The artifacts are intriguing, considering these first colonists disappeared from the face of the earth 400 years ago.
“The Wright Brothers National Memorial pays tribute to the very place where Wilbur and Orville Wright built their airplane that was the first to take flight over the Kill Devil Hills sand dunes in 1903,” added Tuell.
The Cape Hatteras National Seashore is home to Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Tuell suggested a guided bird walk on this 6,000-acre refuge.
Tuell also suggested trying a new experience while in the Outer Banks, like hang gliding on the face of the sand dunes in Jockey’s Ridge State Park, horseback riding in the maritime forest of Buxton Woods or learning to surf on the most consistent waves on the East Coast.
The coastal resort town of Ocean City offers a three-mile-long boardwalk where visitors shop, eat and enjoy an amusement area that is home to a 100-year-old carousel. But nature abounds in this quintessential East Coast beach town.
“Northside Park is our largest park facility where groups enjoy fishing, bird-watching, walking and having picnics,” said Jessica Waters, communications manager for Ocean City. “The views from their piers offer the best sunsets.”
Nearby is Worcester County, where 350 species of birds, both resident and migratory, have been recorded. This northernmost breeding area for several southern birds offers exceptional opportunities: Visitors might see a brown pelican or a Swainson’s warbler, both of which have been found breeding in the area. From the rock jetties of the Ocean City inlet, winter sightings might include the purple sandpiper and the great cormorant.
And for wildlife lovers, no trip to the area is complete without some time at Assateague Island.
“The island is home to the famous wild ponies, as well as hundreds of birds,” said Waters.
The Barrier Island Visitor Center at the Assateague Island National Seashore features a nature film and aquarium.
[Section: Outdoor adventure in Oregon]
By Natalie Inouye, courtesy Travel Lane County
Eugene and the Oregon Coast
From hiking to spectacular waterfalls to biking through wine country, outdoor adventure is the headline on most tourism brochures luring visitors to Eugene and the surrounding Oregon Coast.
“Don’t be timid about the kayak tours,” said Molly Blancett, public relations and social media manager for the Eugene, Cascades and Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The waters on the Siuslaw River — it feeds into the Pacific Ocean — are calm. The wildlife is spectacular.”
Blancett stated that dune buggy rides at the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area are for all ages.
“Sometimes you are 500 feet high. You feel like you’re in a different country,” she said.
Expect to be wowed inside the Sea Lion Caves, nature’s home for wild sea lions and seabirds.
“You first travel 12 stories down through solid rock and are welcomed by the roar of the sea lions,” said Blancett.
There are opportunities to bike through this area’s famous wine country and enjoy horseback rides over sandy and wooded coastal trails during sunset. And don’t miss a visit to Heceta Head Lighthouse, recently opened to the public.
“This circa 1894 lighthouse beams 21 miles out to sea,” said Blancett. “A tour with a wildlife expert is perhaps the best way to experience one of the most photographed lighthouses in the country.”
Bank groups will discover why Forrest Gump loved the sea at Dauphin Island, the area where this classic movie was filmed.
“We are the birdiest island on the Gulf Coast, and we have the freshest of fresh seafood and wildlife galore,” said Tricia Kerr, president of the Dauphin Island Chamber of Commerce. “We are also known as the sunset capital of the Gulf Coast — no wonder Forrest never wanted to leave.”
Home to seven miles of beaches, the Audubon Bird Sanctuary, the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail and the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and Estuarium, Dauphin Island has several venues that specialize in nature.
“In the spring and the fall, this is the last land mass birds hit on their fall and spring migrations,” said Kerr.
The Dauphin Island Sea Lab features a Living Marsh Boardwalk, interactive exhibits and the Estuarium, where groups experience the world underwater.
Kerr suggested groups enjoy an ecotour aboard the Duke, a water vessel that showcases the island’s lighthouse and more.
“While bank groups are usually familiar with our gorgeous Bellingrath Gardens, their river cruises on the Fowl River promise to offer the sounds and sights of osprey, pelicans, blue herons and egrets.”