Buxton Guide Sections:
Most every visitor who comes to Hatteras Island will make a stop in Buxton, either for the exceptional fishing off of Cape Point, the amazing kiteboarding and windsurfing at the Canadian Hole, or for the incredible views from the top of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Buxton arguably has the lion's share of attractions on Hatteras Island, and over a million visitors a year make a trek to see the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in Buxton alone.
But don't let that statistic fool you - behind the big distractions, Buxton is a quiet small town, and a mixture of rental communities, charming and decades-old motels, and welcoming oceanfront and soundfront vacation rental homes. If your family wants to be close to the big name attractions on the island, as well as some of the best fishing, kiteboarding, windsurfing, and hiking the Outer Banks has to offer, then join the countless vacationers who have fallen in love with Buxton.
For accommodations, Buxton visitors have their pick of charming oceanfront motels that are located just steps off the beach, several inland motels that are renowned for their hospitality, and even a couple campgrounds, both bordering the woods and the beach. The campground run by the National Park Service is located within walking distance of both the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and the access ramp to Cape Point, hidden behind a line of sand dunes. (If tent camping, be sure and bring plenty of bug spray in the summer, as the combination of woods and wet marshes can be very attractive to local mosquitos.)
Buxton is also home to two acclaimed Bed and Breakfasts, including a nationally recognized and award-winning soundfront B&B, The Inn on Pamlico Sound, which also features a world-class, fine dining restaurant on the premises.
Visitors can, of course, also elect to stay in a vacation rental home, either along the oceanside in small communities by the lighthouse, or on the soundfront in woodsy, private locations that offer both seclusion and incredible views. These homes are generally rented weekly, and can include hotel-quality amenities such as private pools, hot tubs, game rooms, and naturally, incredible waterfront views.
Vacation rental homes are the most popular way to stay in the Outer Banks. Rental homes are available in Buxton from:
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse - The historic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is clearly one of Buxton's biggest (and tallest) attractions, and visitors can explore the lighthouse grounds and stand in the shadow of the massive structure free of charge. For a small additional charge, visitors can actually climb to the very top for a bird's eye view that spans from Avon all the way to Hatteras, and even Ocracoke on a particularly clear day. The lighthouse is open for climbers seasonally, generally from 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m., and climbing tours occur every 20 minutes and can be purchased on site.
Also on the lighthouse grounds are a visitors' center and museum, as well as a gift shop houses in the original keeper's quarters. In the vicinity is Buxton's famous "Turtle Pond" where small water-logged turtles will paddle up to curious visitors, and just across the street from the lighthouse, visitors will find a shaded picnic area and nature trail. This .75 mile self-guided trail is a primer in the local maritime forest habitat, and winter visitors can expect to encounter plenty of small, local deer along their walk.
Cape Point - Travel down the small paved road past the lighthouse, and you'll come across a series of fish cleaning tables, and the 4WD beach access ramp for Cape Point. This is the most popular beach ramp on Hatteras Island, as Cape Point has been famous with local and visiting anglers for generations as the best beach fishing spot on the East Coast. A small stretch of sand that's located on the "tip" of Hatteras Island, and lies inshore of where the two major North Atlantic currents meet, anglers at Cape Point can expect to reel in large drum, pompano, sharks, mullets, bluefish, and more, depending on the season.
As a result of the unparalleled fishing, the Cape Point beach is exceptionally popular, especially in the shoulder-season fall months when the local fishing is at its best. As such, it's not unusual to have anglers elbow-to-elbow, excited to reel in the big catches. While visitors with stamina can walk from the beach ramp to Cape Point, a 4WD vehicle is recommended to access to beach, particularly if you're tugging along all your fishing gear. A beach driving permit is required before hitting the sand, and can be obtained from the neighboring National Park Service office, also located on Lighthouse Road.
Canadian Hole and Kite Point - At sunset, there's arguably no better place than Canadian Hole or Kite Point to catch an incredible waterfront show, and surfers can be spotted at the area as well, as the ocean beach which is literally located right across the street, has been known to have some good breaks when the conditions are right.
Water sports lovers will want to travel outside the village, in between Avon and Buxton, for some of the best kiteboarding and windsurfing conditions in the world, at Canadian Hole and Kite Point. These two Pamlico Soundside beaches are located adjacent to each other, with one (Canadian Hole) unofficially designated for windsurfers, and the other (Kite Point) for kiteboarders. Accessible by public or roadside parking, as well as 4WD ramps that run a half mile down the beach, this area is literally covered with brightly colored kites in the spring and fall seasons when the wind conditions on the Outer Banks are breeziest, and therefore the sports are at their best. In the summer, the beaches are less crowded but still popular with the family crowd, who bring their young ones to splash in the shallow sound waters, or who use the ideal parking and easy sandy beaches as launching points for kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, or even small skiffs.
Surfing - Buxton is also renowned in the surfing world, as the ESA (Easter Surfing Association) holds an annual competition in the area every year. The competition usually takes place at the "Old Lighthouse Beach," or adjacent to the collection of jetties that border the lighthouse's original location. These manmade jetties that stick out into the Atlantic essentially amp up the ocean waves, so that good breaks in this area become even better. A popular surfing destination for locals and visitors alike, the "Old Lighthouse" beach has plenty of parking, an easy run to the ocean, and lots of photo opts for spectators who would rather relax on shore an enjoy the show.
Hiking - In need of a little off-the-water entertainment? Buxton is also home to some of the best hiking trails around, including small marked trails bordering the lighthouse, and miles of unruly, self-guided trails that wind through Buxton Woods. Not for the inexperienced, these trails can take a hiker through thick woods, desolate sand dunes, and even saltwater ponds and marshes. Advanced hikers will love the challenge, as well as the first-hand look at a coastal ecosystem at work.
The Beach - Buxton offers fine beaches, and the star is the famous Cape Point. The beaches of Hatteras Island are managed by the National Park Service as part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Here are some things to know about Rodanthe beach policies:
- Pets are allowed on a leash no longer than 6ft, year-round. Pets are prohibited on designated swimming beaches. Service animals are allowed at all times.
- Fireworks are not permitted in Buxton.
- Beach fire permits are required. Print, sign and keep your paper permit with you (permits available here). From May 1 to November 15, beach bonfires are only allowed at Coquina Beach, the villages of Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco and Hatteras, and the Ocracoke day use area. From November 16 - April 30, Beach fires are allowed throughout the park. Fires are allowed from 6am - 10pm. An adult must be present. Fires must be on greater than 3 feet in diameter. Fires must be built and maintained below the high-tide mark and 50 feet from any vegetation. Fires cannot be left unattended, and must be extinguished upon end of use. The area must be cleaned up.
- Beer is allowed on the beach. Wine and liquor are not officially permitted. Please drink responsibly.
- Metal detecting is NOT allowed within National Parks.
- There are no lifeguard stations in Buxton.
- It is illegal to walk on the dunes, and it is also illegal to pick live sea oats growing on the beaches.
- Fill in any holes you dig. Holes in the sand can be a hazard.
- Be mindful of Noise. Most communities consider a violation of the noise ordinance to be any sound that can be heard from inside a nearby residence, and any load noise after approximately 11:00 p.m.
- No glass on the beach. Be mindful of glass bottles. Alcohol is allowed on all beaches, but if at all possible, stick to cans and plastic to save future beach-goers from any bare foot injuries.
- Surf fishing is allowed. A fishing license is required in North Carolina and can be obtained before your vacation via the NC Marine Fisheries and Wildlife website, or a fishing license can be purchased at most any tackle shop on the Outer Banks.
- 4x4 Driving on the Beach - The beaches of Hatteras Island and Ocracoke Island are managed by the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Permits are required, and can be purchased online and sent via mail, or in person at one of the following locations: Coquina Beach office, Cape Hatteras Light Station, and the Ocracoke Visitor Center. Each vehicle must have its own permit. Vehicles must be registered, licensed, insured, and have a current safety inspection if required in home state/country. Vehicles must have low-pressure tire gauge, shovel, jack and jack support board. A spare tire, first-aid kit, fire extinguisher, trash bags, flashlight and tow straps are recommended. ATV's are not permitted. Night driving is generally allowed from November 16 through April 30. See current access ramps and beach closings by visiting this page and clicking on the "daily beach access map". Obey all posted signs.
Restaurants and Entertainment - As for restaurants and entertainment, Buxton vacationers will find they have plenty of places to dine. The town features small, quirky cafes, established seafood restaurants, pizza and burger joints, and fine dining options. In short, vacationers will find they can try a new place every day of the week, with plenty of local restaurants leftover for a second trip. From the basic local seafood to a four-course meal, the eating scene in Buxton is fantastic, so be sure you budget a meal out or two during your vacation.
ESA Mid-Atlantic Surfing Championships - Early May at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Watch or enter this competitive 4-day surfing event.
Like the majority of Hatteras Island's now established towns, Buxton has humble roots as the original home to a small but flourishing tribe of local Native Americans, the Croatans. In fact, it was here that many historians suggest that the original Lost Colonists fled to, in an effort to dodge starvation and the increasingly hostile Native Americans on Roanoke Island. These original natives figured out quickly what modern locals and frequent vacationers still know - Buxton has excellent fishing. Living on a primarily seafood diet, the Croatans thrived in the original town of Buxton for well over a thousand years.
As European settlers trickled in, the large swaths of maritime forest became attractive sources of lumber, and a makeshift railway was built along the island to transport large loads of timber, primarily from Buxton Woods. In addition to lumber income, many locals realized that the fishing possibilities in Buxton could also provide a livelihood, and local seaFishifood became a small export, as well as locally run "fishing trips" for the occasional, adventuresome vacationer.
In history books, however, Buxton is probably most famous for being at the center of the treacherous Diamond Shoals. Because of the town's position, located at the veritable "turning point" of Hatteras Island, a number of sandy shoals jet off the point, shifting daily if not hourly with new wave patterns and currents. In addition, at this locale, the Labrador Current and the Gulf Stream Current, the East Coast's largest off-shore currents, run side by side, and occasionally collide with sometimes powerful and stormy results.
These conditions led to the shipwreck and destruction of literally hundreds of passing ships since the 1500s. With sand bars that could change in an instant, and a shallow coastline that was barely visible from sea, hundreds of ships fell victim to the Diamond Shoals. In both World Wars, more ships would also be destroyed by lurking U-Boats, that would hide off-shore and attack American and British forces as they passed by the narrow passageway along the North Carolina coast. Visitors to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse who are history fans will want to travel about a half mile down the lighthouse road to visit the British Cemetery, which honors a handful of English soldiers that were lost during one of these World War II attacks.
In response to the naturally-caused shipwrecks, the US Government stepped in to build a lighthouse for passing ships, as early as 1797. Unfortunately, their first two attempts did little good, as the ships, some 15-30 miles offshore, could barely see the light from the beach.
These unsuccessful attempts led, finally, to the construction of the current Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in 1870, the tallest brick lighthouse in the country. A first order Fresnel light was also installed, ensuring a safer passage for mariners for decades to come. Unfortunately, by the late 1990s, beachfront erosion had threatened the very existence of the lighthouse which, while no longer in use, was by this point considered a National Treasure. In 1999 the lighthouse was successfully moved 2,870 feet inland to its present location. Buxton visitors exploring the grounds around the lighthouse will find a circle of granite stones indicating its original locale, just feet away from the ocean wash at a very high tide.
Buxton vacationers also find they have all the conveniences of home, and all the perks of a vacation destination, including fantastic art galleries, book store, boutiques, coffee shops, and locally run souvenir shops, in addition to a local grocery store, post office, and the island's only ABC store, (where hard liquor is sold in North Carolina.) In essence, whether you need the staples or a little something decadent, chances are that you can find it in Buxton.
Hatteras Island vacationers almost always make an inevitable trip into Buxton for exceptional food, shopping, and the island's most well-loved attractions. Whether you stay an afternoon or a week, you'll find that Buxton holds plenty of charm to keep your family happily entertained, from some of the Outer Banks' best restaurants to the Outer Bank's best views atop the tallest brick lighthouse in the country. On your next Hatteras Island vacation, be sure and reserve a little time to explore the town of Buxton, as once you get past the towering attractions, you'll find a world of coastal charms just waiting to be discovered.