Ocracoke Guide Sections:
A resident blogger writes that one the best things about Ocracoke is "the feeling of being on island time...slow and relaxed...casual and as carefree as you desire," which pretty much sums up the pace of this out-of-the-way and unique place. Some call it "heaven, "paradise" and "magical," - the "Pearl of the Outer Banks."
Standing apart physically and esthetically from all the other barrier islands of North Carolina's Outer Banks, Ocracoke Island is a combination of a quaint historic unincorporated village and undeveloped Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
How to get to Ocracoke
The island is accessed only by air or water, with two ferries carrying passengers from the mainland to the village, on the south sound side, and one ferry from Hatteras Island to Ocracoke's northern shore. Its physical isolation from the mainland and the rest of the Outer Banks has helped it retain the mystique and magic that surrounds its founding by ship pilots, sailors and scoundrels like Blackbeard the Pirate who lost his head in 1718 off Ocracoke's coast. Some say it was he who gave the island it's name, while waiting for dawn on that fateful day. Hoping to escape his pursuers, they say, he prayed "O Crow Cock, O Crow Cock" in vain.
Hatteras/Ocaracoke Ferry - If you're headed to Ocracoke Island from the North , you'll need to catch the ferry in Hatteras Village for a ride to the North end of Ocracoke Island. This route runs surprisingly early, late, and frequently. Lines can still be long in Summer, so plan to get to the terminal early in season. Schedules and fees are available online.
Ocracoke/Cedar Island Ferry - If you're coming in from the South, you'll find a ferry terminal at the Northeast edge of Cedar Island on NC 12. Schedules and fees are available online.
Ocracoke/Swan Quarter Ferry - If you're coming in from the West, Take 264 to the Swan Quarter ferry terminal. This ferry ride traverses the entire Pamlico sound. Schedules and fees are available online.
Ocracoke Island Airport - If you've got access to a small plane, this public-use airport is available during daylight hours.
Where to Stay in Ocracoke
Hotel space in the Ocracoke village is often limited, so you'll want to be sure to book plenty of time ahead of your trip. The island also offers camping facilities at two village campgrounds and one near the ocean run by the National Park Service.
Ocracoke Village - At the South end of Ocracoke Island encircling Silver Lake, just about everywhere you'd want to visit is accessible by bike or a short walk in Ocracoke Village. It's a great destination for those who want get away from highways and traffic, put away the car, ignore the TV and cell phone and just enjoy a lazy, laid-back vacation. But what you won't find are chains and franchises. Though the village has many restaurants, offering a variety of styles and fares, and oodles of cool, eclectic shops, all these businesses are owned and operated by residents.
Wildlife and Wild Ponies - Ocracoke is also well-known for its wildlife attractions, which include the island's herd of ponies, believed to be descendants of Spanish Mustangs, and the many migrating birds that make the island a birdwatcher's paradise. The National Park Service in Ocracoke offers nature trails, guided walks and interpretive programs for exploring the island and includes Turtle Talks, Evening Campfires and Seashore Arts for the kids. Shell collectors and history buffs alike will want to take advantage of Ocracoke's day trips by ferry, crossing Ocracoke Inlet to now uninhabited, but intact Portsmouth Island, once the largest settlement on the Outer Banks.
Ocracoke Island Lighthouse - The Ocracoke Island Lighthouse may not be the most imposing of the Outer Banks lighthouses, but as North Carolina's oldest lighthouse in operation, (and the second oldest in the United States), it is certainly one of the most beloved. At just 65' ft. tall, it is by far the smallest lighthouse on the Outer Banks, but it still towers over the 4 square miles of Ocracoke Village, and its beacon can be spotted up to 14 miles into the Pamlico Sound and the Atlantic Ocean.
Boating, Fishing, and more - There's also plenty to do for those who crave activity, with dozens of boat charters, fishing and water sports available on the lake and sound. And it's just a short drive from the village to the 16 miles of pristine seashore for sunning, surfing, swimming and surf fishing.
The Beach - If you dream of secluded beaches, look no further than Ocracoke Island. 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 Ocracoke.
- 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 Ocracoke.
- 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.
Those who love history will find a lot of it compacted into the village's 9.5 square miles. With structures dating back to the early 1700s, the village was added in 1990 to the National Register of Historic Places, with its 1823 lighthouse, several commercial buildings and over 100 historic homes included in the listing. Its surrounding waters having witnessed thousands of shipwrecks, the island's locals can tell you about building and home parts that came from some of those floundering vessels. Also of historic significance is the village's British Cemetery, the final resting place of sailors on a British boat sunk offshore by a German sub during WWII.
Setting aside all it has to offer, says the town's official website, Ocracoke's "step-back-in-time charm" may be its most sought after attraction.
Photos of Ocracoke