Ocracoke Guide Sections:
- Getting to Ocracoke
- Where to Stay
- Beach Guidelines
- Upcoming Events
- Ocracoke History
- Frequently Asked Questions
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.
There are no scheduled upcoming events at this time.
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.
Where is Ocracoke, NC?
Ocracoke is one of the southernmost islands of the Outer Banks, and is located roughly 18 miles off the coast of mainland North Carolina. It is bordered to the northeast by Hatteras Island and Hatteras Inlet, and is bordered to the southwest by Ocracoke Inlet and isolated Portsmouth Island.
How do you pronounce Ocracoke?
Ocracoke is pronounced with two long “O” sounds – as in “Oh-Crah-Coke”
Where did the name “Ocracoke” come from?
The name Ocracoke has been around for centuries, however its exact origins are unclear. Some historians believe that the name stemmed from the area’s original Native American residents, the Woccocon, and the moniker “Ocracoke” simply morphed from there. A popular local legend claims that the name came from Blackbeard the Pirate himself. In this story, Blackbeard could be heard crying “Oh, Crow, Cock!” before the sun rose, in anticipation of an upcoming battle against British naval forces.
How old is Ocracoke?
Ocracoke was first discovered by English settlers in 1585, when Sir Walter Raleigh encountered the area while exploring the North Carolina coastline. The island would later be permanently settled in the 1700s.
What is the Ocracoke Brogue?
The Ocracoke Brogue is a distinct dialect that is found among lifelong Ocracoke Island locals. The unique brogue has been studied by linguists from all around the world, and is thought to be a pure variation of 1700s English, due to Ocracoke Island’s isolation from the rest of the world.
Did Blackbeard visit Ocracoke?
Blackbeard the pirate, formally known as Edward Teach, was a regular visitor to Ocracoke, as the island’s inlets and sandbars gave him ample hiding places to raid passing ships. Blackbeard also famously met his end off of Ocracoke Island, during a battle with British naval forces on November 22, 1718.
Is there a difference between Ocracoke and Ocracoke Island?
Ocracoke can be used to refer to the entirety of Ocracoke Island, or just the four-square mile village at the southern tip of the island.
How do you get to Ocracoke, NC?
Ocracoke can only be reached by ferry. Ocracoke visitors can take the free one-hour ferry from Hatteras village to the south, or the fee-based vehicular ferries from the North Carolina mainland which depart from Swan Quarter and Cedar Island.
How do you get to Portsmouth Island, NC from Ocracoke?
Portsmouth Island can only be reached by a ferry or private vessel. Day trips and ATV tours depart from Ocracoke village, and there are also several vehicular ferry businesses that access Portsmouth Island from the North Carolina mainland.
What is there to do in Ocracoke, NC?
Ocracoke Island has roughly 14 miles of pristine beaches, which are great for fishing, shelling, swimming, surfing, and exploring. In addition, the small Ocracoke village on the edge of Silver Lake Harbor has a wealth of charming shops, art galleries and restaurants. The town also has several attractions including the Springer's Point nature preserve, the Ocracoke Preservation Society museum, and the Ocracoke Lighthouse.
Where are the Ocracoke wild ponies?
The Ocracoke wild ponies, or Banker Ponies, have their own protected region in the northern soundside area of Ocracoke Island. Visitors can see the Ocracoke wild horses by stopping at the Ocracoke Pony Pen, which is located roughly halfway between the Hatteras / Ocracoke ferry docks and Ocracoke village.
What are the special events in Ocracoke?
Ocracoke has a number of special events throughout the year, which include an annual 4th of July celebration with a parade and fireworks over Silver Lake Harbor, the annual Fig Festival in August, and the annual Blackbeard’s Pirate Jamboree in October.
Where are the beach accesses in Ocracoke, NC?
Ocracoke has a number of public beach accesses throughout the island, which include the lifeguarded beach near the Ocracoke campground, and the parking area near the Hatteras / Ocracoke ferry docks, which features restrooms and vending machines. In addition, the island has six ORV ramps for 4WD vehicles.
Does it cost any money to park at the Ocracoke public beach accesses?
All Ocracoke beaches are free and open to the public, with the exception of seasonal closures for sea turtle and / or bird nesting.
Are there lifeguards in Ocracoke?
Ocracoke has a seasonal lifeguarded beach next to the Ocracoke Campground, which is located just north of Ocracoke village. The beach is typically lifeguarded from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
What are the attractions in Ocracoke, NC?
Ocracoke’s best known attractions are the 1823 Ocracoke Lighthouse, the Springer’s Point nature preserve, and the Ocracoke Preservation Society museum, which is located within the historic David Williams House. The town also has a number of acclaimed restaurants and shops that are circled around the famed Silver Lake Harbor.
Are there shops and restaurants in Ocracoke, NC?
Ocracoke is well known for its collection of shops, which include unique art galleries, gift stores, book and candy stores, and surf shops. The town also has more than a dozen renowned restaurants, which offer fresh seafood, waterfront views, vegetarian options, or all of the above.
Where do you stay in Ocracoke, NC?
Ocracoke has a number of hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts throughout Ocracoke village. In addition, the town has more than 300 vacation rental homes and condos which are generally rented on a weekly basis. There are also several campgrounds in the area, which includes the National Park Service-managed Ocracoke Campground on the northern outskirts of town.
Where is the Ocracoke Lighthouse?
Can you climb the Ocracoke Lighthouse?
The Ocracoke Lighthouse is not open for climbers, however visitors are free to take pictures.
How do you get around Ocracoke village?
Many visitors choose to walk or bike around Ocracoke village, due to its small size and heavy traffic in the summer months. Parking is available next to the US Coast Guard Station and Ocracoke Island Visitor Center, at the southern terminus of NC Highway 12.
Where is the Ocracoke ferry?
The Hatteras / Ocracoke ferry docks are located on the northern tip of Ocracoke Island. The ferry docks for the Ocracoke / Swan Quarter and Ocracoke / Cedar Island ferries are located on the southern edge of Ocracoke Village, where NC Highway 12 ends.
Does it cost money to ride the Ocracoke ferry?
The ferry from Ocracoke to Hatteras is free and available on a first come, first serve basis. The ferries from Ocracoke to Swan Quarter or Cedar Island have a fee each way, which varies by vehicle type.
Can you make reservations for the Ocracoke ferry?
The Hatteras / Ocracoke ferry cannot be reserved and is available on a first come, first serve basis. The Ocracoke / Cedar Island and Ocracoke / Swan Quarter ferries can be reserved in advance, and reservations can be made online or by calling 1-800-BY-FERRY.
What are the busiest times for the Ocracoke ferry?
The Hatteras / Ocracoke ferry is busiest in the summer, and particularly on weekdays when day trippers frequent Ocracoke Island. The Ocracoke / Swan Quarter and Ocracoke / Cedar Island ferries are busiest on summertime weekends, when visitors are arriving for their vacation.
How long is the Ocracoke ferry ride?
The Ocracoke / Swan Quarter and Ocracoke / Cedar Island ferries are roughly 2.25 – 2.5 hours long per crossing. The Ocracoke / Hatteras ferry ride is roughly one hour long per crossing.
Is there an Ocracoke passenger ferry?
An Ocracoke passenger ferry is being planned and is expected to be available in the summer of 2018. The ferry will depart from Hatteras village on Hatteras Island, and will land on the edge of Ocracoke village.
What can you do on a rainy day in Ocracoke, NC?
Are pets allowed on the beach in Ocracoke, NC?
Pets are allowed on all Ocracoke beaches so long as they are on a leash.
Can I drive on the beach in Ocracoke, NC?
Ocracoke has six ramps for 4WD vehicles which extend from Hatteras Inlet to the northern borders of town. A Beach Driving Permit from the National Park Service is required to drive on the Ocracoke beaches.
Are there shells in Ocracoke, NC?
Ocracoke Island is famous for its exceptional shelling and is one of the best shelling destinations on the Outer Banks. Popular finds include whelks, olive shells, moon shells, and the North Carolina State Shell, the Scotch Bonnet.
Are beach bonfires allowed in Ocracoke?
Beach bonfires are allowed on the Ocracoke Island beaches. A free permit must be obtained from the National Park Service, via their website or from the local ranger station at the Ocracoke Campground.
When is the best time to visit Ocracoke?
Ocracoke is most popular during the summer, when seasonal shops and restaurants are open, and the beaches and ocean temperatures are at their warmest.
What are the air temperatures each month in Ocracoke?
January - high: 54°, low: 40°F
February - high: 55°, low: 41°F
March - high: 60°, low: 46°F
April - high: 67°, low: 54°F
May - high: 74°, low: 62°F
June - high: 81°, low: 69°F
July - high: 85°, low: 75°F
August - high: 84°, low: 74°F
September - high: 81°, low: 69°F
October - high: 73°, low: 60°F
November - high: 64°, low: 52°F
December - high: 57°, low: 45°F
Photos of Ocracoke