If you are looking for a remote low-key getaway, Ocracoke Island might be your perfect spot. This barrier island off the North Carolina coast is not only unique in its local history and small town charm, but it also has some of the best beaches in the United States. The natural beauty of its undeveloped coast line is one of the most beautiful and best things about this barrier island. However with that being said, there are also many other great things to do on Ocracoke Island. So, if you find yourself exploring the Outer Banks, make sure to include at least a day trip to this special place.
Where is Ocracoke Island?
Ocracoke Island is located on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and also part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. This national seashore stretches from Bodie Island and South Nags Head all the way down to the southern tip of Ocracoke Island. You will find this small island nestled in between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pamlico Sound with miles of pristine beaches.
How to get to Ocracoke Island
You can only get to Ocracoke Island by private plane, private boat or the public car or passenger ferry. Car ferry’s are available from Cedar Island, Swam Quarter or Hatteras Island.
From Hatteras Island you can take either the passenger ferry which operates seasonally or the FREE car ferry year round. The Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry for vehicles is a first come first served system so you do not need a reservation.
From the Hatteras ferry terminal, the passenger ferry will drop you off in the Ocracoke Village and there you can easily get around.
Or if you take the car ferry, you just drive into town from the ferry dock located on the opposite side of Ocracoke Village. It’s about a 20 minute drive.
The ferry ride is about an hour and both options are fun and easy to use. We took our Airstream over on the ferry. It was a unique and memorable experience. We would definitely do it again.
Best places to stay on Ocracoke Island
Your options to stay on Ocracoke Island include camping, lodging and private rentals. It’s a small island without large hotel chains or high end luxury options to stay on the island. However, you’ll discover that’s part of the charm about Ocracoke!
Lodging on Ocracoke Island
For some of the most popular and highly rated stays consider: Blackbeard’s Lodge, Captains Landing Waterfront Inn and Ocracoke Harbor Inn.
Camping on Ocracoke Island
There are only 3 options for camping on the island. If you plan to camp on Ocracoke, this is everything you need to know about camping on the island: Campgrounds On Ocracoke Island NC And What To Expect
We stayed at the National Park Service’s Ocracoke Campground and really enjoyed it!
Best time to visit Ocracoke Island
You can visit the island anytime of the year. The summer months are the most popular and considered peak season and also the busiest. And fall being the next best time of year to visit, when the weather is still warm and sunny. Followed by spring (March to May) and then winter.
The island is accessible by car ferry and open year-round. Therefore a visit anytime of year is possible. The ferry will however close at times for bad weather, so keep that in mind.
So now that we have all the details about this little island, on where it is, how to get there, where to stay and the best time to visit. Now lets lets figure out all the fun things to do on Ocracoke Island!
Fun things to do on Ocracoke Island
1. Soak in the sun at the beautiful beaches
In my opinion, the number one thing to do on Ocracoke Island is enjoy the beaches. And the beaches are amazing. You could spend all your time at the beach and be completely happy!
Ocracoke beaches are part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and are operated by the National Park Service. The beaches consist of sand and water, that’s it. So if you are looking for a remote beach experience, this is it. There is no development and at times you can’t even find another person on the beach.
Some areas you can drive on the beach, but make sure to have a 4-wheel drive otherwise you might get stuck. With 16 miles of sandy beach there are many off road-vehicle entry points and parking lots for beach access along Hwy 12.
But don’t just take my word for it. In 2022, Dr. Beach named Ocracoke lifeguarded beach as the best lifeguard beach in the country. (Note that this portion of the beach is lifeguarded from Memorial Day to Labor Day). So make sure to enjoy some beach time on this gorgeous secluded beach!
As you walk down the beach be on the look out for sea turtles. Ocracoke is one of the most successful nesting areas for loggerhead sea turtles on the Outer Banks. You will notice some roped off and protected areas along the seashore. So if you notice any sea turtle nesting activity please call the Cape Hatteras National Seashore to report the sighting at 252-216-6892.
2. Walk, ride or bike to get around the island
There are a few ways to get around the island and Ocracoke Village. Some are more adventurous than others however all options will work.
If you take the car ferry over, you can drive everywhere you need to go. Parking however is at a premium. There are usually only a few spaces to park and with a large vehicle it can be difficult. And also difficult during the busy season. So I would suggest parking the car and then walk, bike or rent a golf cart.
If you come over on the passenger ferry you can catch the free tram service near the ferry dock. This open air tram operates from Memorial Day to Labor Day from 1030am to 8pm daily. It has 10 stops around the village and runs every 20 minutes, its a great way to see the island on a day trip.
The island is only about mile in each direction. So walking everywhere is doable.
Another great way to get around is riding a bicycle. You can bring your own or rent one while in town. Most places have bicycle parking and the roads are flat and traffic is slow, so its a great place to ride a bike.
And if your looking for a leisurely way to get around, renting a golf cart is the best option. You will see them all over town. There are many places where you can rent them. Just drive the speed limit and be aware that you share the road with pedestrians, pets, cyclists and automobiles.
For more details about getting around the island and maps to download click HERE.
3. Spot wild horses on the island
If you take the car ferry then the first stop on your way to Ocracoke Village is the Ocracoke Pony Pens. The wild horses of Ocracoke today are descendants of the original mustang herd that was left stranded due to a shipwreck hundreds of years ago. For their protection the wild ponies are no longer free to roam the island. They do however have plenty of space to move (188 acres to be exact) and are taken care of by the National Park Service.
You can view them near the stables and at feeding times. To get a better view, there is an observation platform. And there is also a short path you can take to another viewing location.
On the road you will see a sign and a small parking lot with enough space to park an RV parallel to the road. So you won’t miss this spot as you drive into town.
4. Dive into the Island’s history
Located in a restored 1900’s era home, and now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A visit to the Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum is worth a stop. The small museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 3pm. Open seasonally from Easter to Thanksgiving. It is free to visit, however donations are welcome. You can learn about the history of the island including the famous pirate Blackbeard with artifacts, images and rotating exhibits. There is a cute gift shop on property too.
5. Pay Respects at the British Cemetery
The British Cemetery is a small cemetery where four British navy soldiers are buried. During WWII the British loaned us ships to help defend the North Carolina coast from German submarines. One of the ships were struck and sunk by a torpedo. At that time all 37 crew members died. Days later, four bodies washed ashore and were buried at this site.
Every year the National Park Service, US Coast Guard and British Royal Navy have a ceremony to honor their lives. You can visit this site and learn about the HMT Bedfordshire and its crew.
6. Find the oldest street in Ocracoke
Howard Street is the oldest street in Ocracoke Village. You can walk, drive, ride your bike or take a golf cart. The road in not paved and is pretty narrow. Howard Street is a somewhat hidden tree lined street with old family cemeteries and homes that belongs to the original descendants of the island.
The street is full of history and charm, so try to see it on your visit. We drove it, however it would be better to walk or bike, that way you can take your time and see everything.
7. Walk where Blackbeard the pirate lost his life
At Springer’s Point Nature Preserve you can explore the maritime forest, tidal red cedar forest, salt marshes, wet grasslands, and sound-front beach. The 0.8 mile short walk will wind you through the maritime forest and out to views of the Ocracoke Inlet and Portsmouth Island.
This historical point is known to be where the battle of Blackbeard and the British Navy occurred. And the last place Edward Teach aka Blackbeard was known to be alive.
There is no parking at Springs Point Nature Preserve, but there is vehicle parking one block over at the Lighthouse Assembly of God on Lighthouse Road for a small donation of your choice. Because of space, it is therefore encouraged to visit by foot or bike.
8. Visit the second oldest lighthouse in the nation
The Ocracoke Lighthouse will celebrate its 200th birthday in 2023, making it the second oldest lighthouse in the nation. The lighthouse stands 75 feet tall and guides ships through the Ocracoke Inlet with its light you can see from 14 miles offshore. The lighthouse and its grounds are open to the public however it’s one where you can not climb to the top. Sometimes the base is open and you can catch a view through the stairs to the top. There is nearby parking, so visiting the lighthouse is easy.
9. Do a little local shopping in Ocracoke Village
Its always fun to shop local when you can! On Ocracoke Island there are some great local art galleries an other fun shops to visit. Here are some of our favorites:
- Kitty Hawks Kites
- Ride the Wind Surf Shop
- Moonraker Tea Shop
10. Explore Hammock Hills Nature Trail
Located across the street from National Park Service’s Ocracoke Campground, this 3/4 mil loop is and easy trail and pets are welcome on a leash.
There is plenty of parking and a paved bike path from town to get there. The trail is mostly shaded and will take you to see views of the Pamlico Sound and salt marshes. It rained really hard a few days before our visit so the trail was flooded and we were unable to complete the loop from either direction. I would however recommend it for a leisurely activity to get some movement and explore.
13. Learn where the Ocracoke Fort once stood
The Fort Ocracoke Monument commemorates Fort Ocracoke, the remnants of which are submerged in the Ocracoke Inlet and the Confederate soldiers who fought there. This Civil War Memorial is located behind the National Parks Service visitor center near the ferry terminal.
11. Step back in time on Portsmouth Island
Once the largest settlement along the Outer Banks, Portsmouth Island is a step back in time. This island is taken care of by the National Park Service and has not had residents since the 1970’s.
Many buildings have been restored and are listed on National Registry of Historic Places. On the island you can see a church, schoolhouse, post office and peek into windows of old homes. You can also spend some time at the beach relaxing and shelling.
The visitor center has an exhibit about the island’s history and restrooms. Food and water are not available on the island so make sure to bring your own, including bug spray and sunscreen.
The only way to get to Portsmouth Island is by boat. So if time permits try to visit this unique place.
12. Listen to live music at Ocracoke Oyster CO
For some evening entertainment head over to Ocracoke Oyster Company. They have live music some nights of the week. Give them a call or check out their Facebook page to see who’s playing!
13. Explore more of the National Seashore
Ocracoke Island is just a small part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. It has miles of beautiful beaches, historic lighthouses to climb, miles of walking trails, wildlife viewing, historical places and so much more. For the full list of things to do: COMING SOON!
Ocracoke is a great place to visit. It is a unique experience to take the ferry over for a day trip or more! There are many fun things to do on Ocracoke Island. And I highly recommend you visit this great island.
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