Oceanside Adventures at North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras

March 28, 2017Travel Ideas
Hunter Gutwein, Share the Experience

Stretching nearly 70 miles along the coast of North Carolina, Cape Hatteras National Seashore has a rich heritage and almost unlimited opportunities for outdoor recreation. From Bodie Island to Ocracoke Island, the seashore offers an experience like no other. 

Established in 1937 as the nation’s first national seashore, Cape Hatteras National Seashore harbors abundant wildlife and has been home to Native Americans, fishermen, farmers, lighthouse keepers, and more over the last several hundred years. It's where the notorious pirate Blackbeard met his untimely end, and where you can look up at one of the darkest night skies on the East Coast.

Things to do

Looking down the shoreline with people playing in the water at a distance on a sunny day at Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Whether you're visiting for a week or a single afternoon, Cape Hatteras National Seashore offers no shortage of fun and exciting things to do. Visit during spring or fall to take advantage of mild weather and smaller off-season crowds. 

  • Beach activities - Cape Hatteras National Seashore's long stretches of unbroken beach are among its biggest attractions. Access ramps, boardwalks, and parking lots throughout the park provide easy access when you want to stretch your legs and explore the sand. The beach is ideal for kite flying, and you can even have a campfire on the beach with a free Beach Fire Permit
  • Water activities - Swimming is permitted throughout most of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, but always enter the water with caution. The waves of the Atlantic Ocean are perfect for surfing, kiteboarding, and windsurfing, while the more sheltered waters of Pamlico Sound are ideal for canoeing, kayaking, and even snorkeling. Lifeguards are posted at select locations.
  • Fishing - If you’re surf fishing at Cape Hatteras, you can expect a varied haul, from flounder and striped bass to croaker and drum. A current Coastal Recreational Fishing License is required. Be sure to try your hand at crabbing as well; this fun and easy activity is a great way to spend an afternoon.
  • Hiking - In addition to miles of walkable beaches, the seashore is also home to several inland hiking trails, where visitors can explore the dunes, shrub thickets, and maritime forests of Hatteras Island.
  • Camping - To protect wildlife and maintain a pristine environment, camping is permitted only in designated campgrounds at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Four campgrounds are available, with hundreds of campsites open to tents and RVs. Cape Lookout National Seashore, just a short jaunt down the coast, offers beach camping for those who have their heart set on falling asleep to the sounds of the sea.
  • Lighthouse climbing - The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and the Bodie Island Lighthouse are open seasonally from the third Friday in April through Columbus Day. The Ocracoke Island Lighthouse is not open for climbing, but it’s still impressive from the ground level!
  • Wildlife viewing and photography - Be sure to bring your camera, because stunning wildlife sightings are a daily occurrence at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Sea turtles hatch every spring along the beach, and more than 400 bird species have been spotted in the park. Park visitors should remember not to interfere with the turtles as well as the rest of the wildlife. Help us respect the fragility of each creature in our parks and to keep a distance while you enjoy watching them in their natural habitat.

Getting there

Sunset on a grassy sandy beach at Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Diane Bivins, Share the Experience

Cape Hatteras National Seashore is located along North Carolina Highway 12 in the Outer Banks area. From the north, follow U.S. Route 158 to Nags Head, then turn off onto NC-12 to reach Cape Hatteras National Seashore. If you're arriving from the south, NCDOT ferry service in the communities of Swan Quarter and Cedar Island will take you to village of Ocracoke, which is located within the park on Ocracoke Island. 

The seashore is always open, though certain activities and features are closed seasonally. There is no fee to enter. Stop at one of the park's three visitor centers when you arrive to pick up a park map, talk with a ranger, or learn more about the history and experiences to be had at North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras National Seashore. 

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