Most all visitors to Corolla will spend at least a sunny afternoon or two at the Historic Corolla Park. This 39 acre site is home to three of the Northern Outer Banks' biggest attractions, the Whalehead in Historic Corolla, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education, as well as plenty of gorgeous soundfront grounds that are wide open for visitors to explore.
Whether you are climbing 214 steps to the top of the lighthouse for a panoramic view, or just taking the kayak or small skiff out for a soundfront spin, there are endless ways to enjoy this completely picturesque park. A relic from Corolla's original elite hunting visitors, this park has been masterfully maintained to the delight of thousands of modern vacationers. If you're planning a visit to the northern Outer Banks, then this locale is a must for anyone in your group who loves history, scenery, or just a gorgeous day out on the water.
History of the Historic Corolla Park
While the sprawling 39 acre site gives visitors ample room to spread out and explore, this parcel of land is actually small in comparison to the original tract which was owned by some of the area's first visitors, and patrons, Edward C. and Marie Louise Knight.
The Knights discovered the Currituck Banks region in the 1920s, when wealthy visitors from the Northeast would make treks to the deserted area to enjoy some fantastic waterfowl and duck hunting, (hence the name of Corolla's neighboring town, "Duck.")
At the time, elite and stunningly built hunt clubs in rustic regions were all the rage, and so the Knights set out to build their own multi-million dollar hunt club in the small town of Corolla. They purchased a four square mile tract, which spanned from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pamlico Sound, and spent the better part of the mid to late 1920s creating their dream estate, The Whalehead in Historic Corolla. Even among the best hunt clubs, the 21,000 square foot home was especially incredible, with Art Nouveau architecture, (a very popular style at the time), and nature-inspired themes.
Close to the Pamlico Sound, and featuring endless rooms for their elite gests to congregate and enjoy, the Whalehead in Historic Corolla became a beacon for the Knights' wealthy colleagues, and the town of Corolla's popularity gradually grew among the wealthy.
Unfortunately, the Knights didn't enjoy their Outer Banks retreat for very long, and both passed away in 1936. In the years that followed, the Whalehead in Historic Corolla and the land around it sat empty, until an interested party bought the entire 4 mile property for the whopping sum of $25,000.
The original tract dwindled over the decades, with developers or private owners picking up certain portions, leaving the 39 acre parcel which remains today, and is open to the public. But one could easily argue that the parcel that remains, managed by the Whalehead Preservation Trust, is by far worth its weight in gold. Home to some of the prettiest landscapes in all of Corolla, with three major attractions located on site but a significant distance away from each other, the Historic Corolla Park remains an inside look into the area's rich history as a wealthy tourism destination.
Geography of the Historic Corolla Park
As noted, the Historic Corolla Park comprises 39 acres of gorgeous soundfront and soundside property, but this simple geography only tells half of the story.
Look at a map or an aerial view of the property itself, and you will see parcels of lush green, well-manicured grounds bordered by small clusters of maritime forest, and abutting saltwater ponds, canals, and the wide open Currituck Sound.
The famous Whalehead in Historic Corolla is located close to the center of the property, seemingly standing guard over the scene, while small ponds and canals surround the historic structure. In the middle of the property, visitors will find the largest of these "ponds," which includes a boat house, small docking stations for visitors launching or arriving via a kayak or skiff, and a small canal that leads out to the sound. The area surrounding this saltwater pond and the Whalehead in Historic Corolla itself is well tended, with acres of lawns that are ideal for a picnic basket, a Frisbee, or a lawn chair and a good book.
On the northern end of Historic Corolla Park, visitors will spot the Currituck Beach Lighthouse peeking out over a line of cedars and live oaks. This northern parcel is wooded, with several trails that line through the marshy areas and eventually lead out to scenic sound boardwalks or vistas. The Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education is located at the southern borders of the maritime forest and marshlands, and is hard to miss with its conjoined complex of buildings that specialize in exploring the Outer Banks' fragile ecosystem.
It may take a solid hour to do a self-guided tour around the grounds, without exploring the renowned Whalehead in Historic Corolla or Currituck Beach lighthouse, but the trip is certainly well worth it, and will most likely serve as a launching point for future Historic Corolla Park adventures.
Attractions within the Historic Corolla Park
The Whalehead in Historic Corolla is arguably the most prominent attraction within the manicured grounds, and while the grounds themselves are free and open to everyone, the Whalehead in Historic Corolla itself is open for seasonal tours to visitors for a small fee. The custard-lemon yellow exterior with almost-black trim has become an icon for local artists and visitors, and many visitors have been inspired by its grandeur and rich attention to detail, from the small ornate fixtures along the exterior of the building to the authentic portraits of the Knights in the sitting room.
Of course, with such a stormy past, the Whalehead in Historic Corolla also has its own treasure trove of legends and ghost stories, typical for an Outer Banks attraction of its stature, and visitors will enjoy hearing all the juicy details as they meander through room to room on a guided tour. Generally open from spring until fall, a tour of the Whalehead in Historic Corolla is must for anyone who loves history, architecture, or just a little bit of good old fashioned Outer Banks gossip.
The Whalehead in Historic Corolla and surrounding grounds are also available to rent for special occasions, including grand parties, receptions, and even world-class business conferences. For more information, visit the Whalehead in Historic Corolla's website, or simply inquire in person on your next visit.
If anything can capture a visitor's attention away from the 21,000 square foot Whalehead in Historic Corolla, it's the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. The lighthouse is one of the most distinctive lighthouses on the Outer Banks, as it strays away from the standard black and white color schemes found in the other North Carolina barrier island regions, and sticks to its unpainted brick red exterior - a deliberate move during its original construction to make sure it was unique.
This attraction was brought back to life by a $1.5 million restoration over 30 years ago, orchestrated by the Outer Banks Conservationists (OBC), and as a result, vacationers can enjoy the thrill of climbing to the very top and enjoying the breezes and the views, or just admire the lovingly maintained structure from ground level in all its glory.
The lighthouse is open seasonally for climbers for a small fee, (generally from March until April), and visitors should expect to be a little winded after reaching the top, 162' feet above sea level. That said, the view is nothing short of spectacular, and even guests who forego the hard climb will find plenty to discover within the park's grounds, including a small museum and gift shop and the authentic lighthouse keepers' quarters, located throughout the grounds.
The Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education is located in the middle of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and Whalehead in Historic Corolla attractions. This center welcomes guests to the natural Currituck landscape with countless attractions and exhibits, just waiting to be explored. Take a tour through the 5,000 square foot exhibit hall, filled with displays and artifacts that focus on the extensive cultural and natural history of Currituck. Visitors will also be amazed by the 8,000 gallon aquarium tank that is home to a number of local fish and species, and represents an accurate slice of the Currituck Sound environment. With more than 250 examples of waterfowl decoys, and a life-sized representation of a duck-blind in a local saltwater marsh, visitors will find ample ways to delve a little deeper into the natural Currituck Banks environment.
The Center for Wildlife Education is open every day except Sunday, from 9:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., and is closed on major holidays. Admission is free, and the center even features an NC Wild Bird Store for local gifts, art, and apparel to take home after your visit. Keep a lookout for special seasonal programs, offered to both young and adult visitors, which are sure to enhance your entertaining education of the delicate soundfront habitat.
The Historic Corolla Park also features four year-round nature trails that are open to visitors and provide a fantastic exploration of the quietly serene soundside environment. Take a leisurely stroll through condensed thickets of live oaks, pine trees and cedar trees, or explore the dense saltwater marshes that are flanked by patches of sea grass and a number of migrating and full-time shorebirds. The majority of these trails will lead you right to the Currituck Sound, and some spectacular sound or sunset views, providing a perfect capper to a little soundside exploration.
Watersports lovers of all kinds will also love a trip to Historic Corolla Park, as the small ponds and canals leading out to the sound provide some spectacular launching points. Visitors are welcome to bring their kayaks or small shallow draft boats to the park's edge and shove off for an in-depth sound exploration, or simply lounge away an afternoon by the ponds' edges with their toes in the water. Bring along your soundside fishing poles and crab pots, as these waters are also ideal fishing grounds for anglers who want to try something different from the oceanside surf. Joggers and strollers have also been known to frequent the area for its scenic walking trails, and romantics should pack up a picnic basket before sunset to enjoy a nice, private celebration of a lovely Outer Banks vacation.
Regardless of what attractions you choose to visit first, chances are you'll be back again and again to the Historic Corolla Park during your Corolla, Carova or Duck vacation. With limitless ways to have fun and major area attractions to explore, this destination deserves at least a full day of vacation time to explore properly. Remember that worst case scenario, you can always book a second trip to the Outer Banks to fit it all in.
Special Events in the Historic Corolla Park
Historic Corolla Park holds a number of fantastic seasonal events, ranging from weekly summer wine festivals to 4th of July celebrations, and Corolla and northern Outer Banks vacationers are encouraged to check out their calendar here to see what exciting events are taking place during their stay.
Enjoy a quiet outdoor concert while stretched out on the lawn, or enjoy an Outer Banks-style holiday with the two-day Christmas in Corolla event. The Historic Corolla Park always seems to have something on the agenda to appeal to vacationers of all kinds.
In the summer, the park is known to have seasonal weekly events that guests can enjoy regardless of when they come to the Outer Banks. These events include a summer concert series, wine or beer tastings, or special tours of the Whalehead in Historic Corolla, soundside grounds, or other locations. Guests can inquire in person to see what upcoming informal events are planned, and are encouraged to stop by the park grounds in the evening, especially on weeknights, when the summer activities are typically in full-swing.
For Historic Corolla Park patrons who are planning their own special event, like a wedding or reception, the grounds make ideal backdrops for ceremonies, casual receptions, or even photo sessions. Be sure and contact the Whalehead Preservation Trust in advance to reserve any grounds for a special event, such as a wedding. Picnics that are more than 15 people should also check-in with the park for any needed permits or permissions, as well as any professional photo shoots that require extensive use of the grounds. However, visitors will find that scheduling and planning a special event on the Whalehead in Historic Corolla grounds, or any of the Historic Corolla Park grounds for that matter, is a relatively easy affair that will lead to some truly spectacular events that guests will remember warmly for a lifetime.
Tips and Tricks for visiting the Historic Corolla Park
- While the Historic Corolla Park is open to the public, there are a few rules and guidelines that visitors should bear in mind. Boats are welcome at the park, but can only be docked for up to 24 hours. In addition, the boat ramp is closed from dusk until dawn, year-round, and swimming near the boat launch is not allowed due to the safety risks. Fireworks are not permitted on the premises, and pets are welcome but need to be leashed at all times. Loud music and alcohol are also prohibited, unless they are part of a scheduled special event. For a complete list of local rules and regulations, visitors can visit the Currituck County's website, or simply ask a staff member while on the premises.
- Visitors who plan to explore the intricate network of nature trails by the marshy areas or the maritime woods should bring a little bit of bug spray. These areas are known for their mosquitos, particularly in the summer months, and during the summer and shoulder seasons, a little bug spray can keep a quiet stroll an enjoyable venture.
- Be sure and keep an eye on the local calendar for upcoming special events. The Historic Corolla Park sponsors a number of locally renowned celebrations, including a 4th of July event that is capped off with waterfront fireworks, and the annual Wild Horse Days, a celebration of the wild mustangs that have called this region home for centuries. Chances are, there are some spectacular events going on during your vacation week which will most definitely be worth a look.
- Want the experience of being a 1920s millionaire? Then try visiting the Historic Corolla Park in the off-season. During the cooler and unpopulated months of December, January and February, the park is all but deserted, giving visitors ample private access to explore the grounds. While the major attractions may have closed up shop for the winter, you'll surely feel like a Rockefeller strolling over the small canalfront bridges, or enjoying a picnic on a deserted stretch of well-tended grassy lawn.
- Don't forget the kayak, skiff or the stand-up paddle board. The Historic Corolla Park offers free launching access for water sports lovers of all varieties, as well as an easy route to the open waters of the Currituck Sound, For a self-guided exploration of the soundside, bring along the boards or the boats, and enjoy an easy platform to viewing the best of the soundfront scenery.
Virtually every Corolla or northern Outer Banks vacationer will spend a little time exploring the Historic Corolla Park, and will most likely come back for more. As the permanent home to three of the area's most visited attractions, in addition to acres of soundside beaches and grassy lawns to explore and enjoy, this park has become world famous as one of the most scenic locations on the Outer Banks.
Bring the family and spend an afternoon exploring the grounds, ending with a fantastic waterfront sunset. Whether your Historic Corolla Park adventures take you on a lighthouse climb, a Whalehead in Historic Corolla tour, or an extensive self-guided paddle along the Currituck Sound, chances are you'll be back again and again to try out a new adventure in this expansive and treasured Outer Banks landmark.