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Get off the beaten track on drive to Outer Banks

Quaint towns and wildlife refuges make for interesting pit stops when traveling east along U.S. Highway 64 to the Outer Banks.

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Head east out of Raleigh on U.S. Highway 64 toward the Outer Banks, and two hours down the road, you'll find yourself in Plymouth.

The town is one of several stops worth making before getting to the beach.

"I found a nice, quaint town," said tourist Cartherine Lovequist, who got off the beaten track in Plymouth.

On the west side of town lies a replica of the original Roanoke Lighthouse. You can wander around the grounds for free or pony up the adult admission of $1.50 to see the inside of the lighthouse and learn about life on the river.

A few blocks east, check out a replica Civil War ironclad. The site also make a great place for a picnic lunch.

"It's great. I would recommend it to everyone," Lovequist said.

A short 30-minute ride farther east along U.S. 64 is the town of Columbia, on the Scuppernong River.
There, the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge Resource Center hides behind a rest stop right off U.S. 64. Take a walk into the wetlands on a three-quarter mile nature trail.

"It's a good way to get a taste of what we have available in the entire park," park manager Howard Phillips said.

Be sure to bring your bug spray.

And then, not too much farther along the highway lies the 200 miles of beach known as the Outer Banks.

Highway improvements have made the shoreline only a three-hour trip from Raleigh. As another bonus, gas prices on the coast are usually a cent or two lower than in the Triangle.

"If you haven't been to the Outer Banks in the last five years, it's a lot closer than you remember," said Aaron Tuell, with the Outer Banks Tourist Bureau.

There are more than 80 public access points to the beach in Dare County and parking is free. It won't cost you a cent to surf, stroll, swim or surf.

Save a little energy to muster up for a sunset climb on the large dune at Jockey's Ridge State Park in Nags Head.

"It's free, and it's a blast," said tourist Carrie Sanders, who spent hours on the sand with her children. "We just love the beach."


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