Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Spanning over 70 miles along the Atlantic coast of North Carolina, Cape Hatteras National Seashore is a haven of unparalleled beauty and biodiversity. This national treasure encompasses three majestic islands—Bodie, Hatteras, and Ocracoke—each offering its unique allure and adventures. Here, the forces of nature converge to create a landscape of maritime forests, expansive sandy beaches, and rolling dunes, providing a serene backdrop for both relaxation and exploration.

Discover the Islands of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore

  • Bodie Island: The northern gateway to the seashore, Bodie Island is renowned for its iconic lighthouse and rich history. The surrounding marshlands and soundside waters offer prime birdwatching opportunities, making it a perfect start to your coastal adventure.
  • Hatteras Island: The heart of the national seashore, Hatteras Island is home to diverse ecosystems, from salt marshes to oceanic beaches. The famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse stands as a sentinel over the island, guiding mariners and attracting visitors from around the globe.
  • Ocracoke Island: Accessible only by ferry, Ocracoke Island is a secluded paradise where wild ponies roam, and history runs deep. The quaint village of Ocracoke, with its charming shops and local eateries, offers a glimpse into the island’s rich cultural heritage.

A Sanctuary for Wildlife

Cape Hatteras National Seashore is a crucial refuge for a myriad of wildlife, including migratory birds and endangered sea turtles. The park’s protected areas offer safe havens for these species to nest and thrive. Throughout the year, visitors might encounter roped-off areas designated for bird and turtle nesting—a testament to the ongoing conservation efforts that balance human enjoyment with ecological preservation.

As you explore the diverse landscapes of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, keep an eye out for the abundant wildlife that calls this place home. Visitors may be lucky enough to spot:

  • Sea Turtles: Loggerhead, green, and occasionally leatherback turtles nesting on the beaches.
  • Birds: A variety of migratory birds, including the piping plover, American oystercatcher, and various species of terns and pelicans.
  • Marine Life: Dolphins frolicking in the surf, and occasionally seals resting on the beaches during winter months.
  • Wild Ponies: On Ocracoke Island, wild ponies can be seen grazing in their designated pasture.
  • Other Wildlife: White-tailed deer, red foxes, and raccoons are among the terrestrial animals that inhabit the seashore’s diverse ecosystems.

Top Places to Visit in Cape Hatteras

To enrich your experience, make sure to include these top destinations in your Cape Hatteras itinerary:

  • Cape Hatteras Lighthouse: Climb the nation’s tallest lighthouse for panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean and Pamlico Sound.
  • Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge: Located on the north end of Hatteras Island, this refuge is a birdwatcher’s paradise.
  • Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum: Discover the rich maritime history of the Outer Banks, including the many shipwrecks that dot the coast.
  • Frisco Native American Museum: Explore the heritage and culture of the area’s indigenous peoples, set amidst beautiful natural trails.
  • Ocracoke Village: Wander the quaint streets of this historic village, visit the Ocracoke Lighthouse, and explore the local shops and eateries.

Engage in Unforgettable Activities

Whether you’re seeking adventure or tranquility, Cape Hatteras National Seashore caters to all tastes:

  • Beachcombing and Swimming: Stroll along pristine beaches, swim in the refreshing Atlantic waters, or simply bask in the sun on this unspoiled coastline.
  • Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) Adventures: Select areas of the seashore are open to ORVs, offering a unique way to explore the vast beaches. (Note: Permits are required for ORV use.)
  • Fishing and Water Sports: From surf fishing to kiteboarding, the dynamic waters of Cape Hatteras are an angler’s and water sports enthusiast’s paradise.
  • Historic Lighthouses: Climb the historic lighthouses for breathtaking views and a deeper appreciation of the area’s maritime heritage.

Explore the Towns of Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Nestled within the natural beauty of the seashore, several charming towns offer accommodations, dining, and a glimpse into the coastal lifestyle. These towns, from north to south, include:

  • Rodanthe, Waves, and Salvo: Often referred to collectively, these small, closely knit communities are known for their laid-back atmosphere and excellent water sports conditions.
  • Avon: Avon is the hub for many visitors with its variety of shops, restaurants, and amenities, making it a convenient base for exploring the seashore.
  • Buxton: Home to the famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Buxton also offers great fishing spots and local dining.
  • Frisco: A bit quieter, Frisco boasts beautiful natural beaches and the Frisco Native American Museum.
  • Hatteras Village: At the southern tip of Hatteras Island, this village is the departure point for ferries to Ocracoke Island and offers deep-sea fishing charters and maritime history.

Camping in Cape Hatteras National Seashore

For those wishing to immerse themselves fully in the natural beauty of Cape Hatteras, camping is an excellent option. The National Seashore offers several campgrounds, each providing a unique way to experience the area:

  • Oregon Inlet Campground: Located near Bodie Island, this campground is perfect for fishing enthusiasts and beach lovers.
  • Cape Point Campground: Situated close to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, offering easy access to some of the best surf fishing spots.
  • Frisco Campground: Offers secluded sites nestled among the dunes, ideal for those seeking a quieter retreat.
  • Ocracoke Campground: The only campground accessible by ferry, providing a remote island camping experience.

All campgrounds are equipped with basic amenities such as potable water, restrooms, and outdoor showers. Reservations are recommended, especially during peak season, to ensure you have a spot in these sought-after locations.

Plan Your Visit to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Experience the magic of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, where every visit contributes to the preservation and appreciation of this natural wonder. Whether you’re exploring the islands, observing the diverse wildlife, or enjoying the many recreational opportunities, your adventure at Cape Hatteras will leave you with lasting memories and a deeper connection to the natural world.

Before setting off to this coastal sanctuary, here are a few tips to make your visit enjoyable and sustainable:

  • Check for Access and Permit Requirements: Some activities require permits or have specific access guidelines. Visit the official park website for the latest information.
  • Respect Wildlife and Protected Areas: Adhere to all signage and guidelines regarding wildlife protection to ensure these natural habitats remain undisturbed.
  • Stay for Sunset: Embrace the tranquility of the seashore in the late afternoon. As the crowds thin and the horizon glows with hues of orange and pink, you’ll find yourself in a moment of serene paradise, reminding you of the sheer beauty and peace that nature offers.

Getting to Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Cape Hatteras National Seashore is accessible by car and ferry, with the main route running along NC Highway 12, which connects the islands and towns of the Outer Banks.

  • From the North: Travel south on US Highway 158 to the Wright Memorial Bridge, where you’ll enter the Outer Banks. Continue on NC Highway 12 south through the towns of Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Nags Head, into Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
  • From the West: Visitors coming from the west can take US Highway 64 east towards Manteo, crossing the Virginia Dare Memorial Bridge, then continue to Nags Head, where you’ll merge onto NC Highway 12 south.
  • From Ocracoke Island: If you’re starting from Ocracoke Island, you’ll take the free Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry, which lands you at the southern end of Hatteras Island in Hatteras Village. From there, NC Highway 12 north connects you to the rest of the Outer Banks.

Ferry Services: For those wishing to visit Ocracoke Island, the North Carolina Department of Transportation operates several ferry routes:

  • The Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry is the most direct route for visitors traveling within the National Seashore.
  • Additional ferries from Cedar Island and Swan Quarter to Ocracoke Island are available for those coming from other parts of North Carolina.