A premier destination nestled in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Ocracoke Island feels like paradise. This enchanting island is a hidden gem that perfectly blends natural beauty, rich history, and laid-back charm. Allow us to guide you through the many reasons why Ocracoke Island should be at the top of your travel list
With miles of sandy shores, crystal-clear turquoise waters, and breathtaking sunsets, it’s a pristine getaway for beach lovers and water enthusiasts. Whether you prefer to relax on the beach, swim, surf, or try your hand at fishing, Ocracoke Island has it all.
About Ocracoke Island
Tucked away on the southern end of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Ocracoke Island is only accessible by ferry or private boat. With a population of fewer than 1,000 people, this small island offers a serene and intimate setting that is perfect for those seeking a tranquil escape from the stresses of everyday life. Surrounded by the sparkling waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Pamlico Sound, Ocracoke Island quickly captures the hearts of all who visit.
Part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Ocracoke Island is just a hop over the Hatteras Inlet and Pamlico Sound from Hatteras Island. It is a 16-mile-long barrier island that is a popular spot for a day trip from the Outer Banks or for longer stays on one of the island’s great rental properties. So how exactly do you arrive on Ocracoke Island?
Getting to Ocracoke Island
Reaching Ocracoke Island is an adventure in itself. Since the island is not connected to the mainland by a bridge, the primary mode of transportation to arrive on the island is by ferry or private boat.
You can board a ferry at Hatteras Village or from Cedar Island or Swan Quarters, and embark on a picturesque journey across the Pamlico Sound, immersing yourself in the beauty of the surrounding waters and islands. This scenic ferry ride sets the tone for the peaceful and enchanting experience that awaits on Ocracoke Island.
Getting to Ocracoke Island By Ferry
Ferries to Ocracoke Island are available from Hatteras Island (FREE vehicle ferry or paid express Ferry), as well as paid options from Cedar Island and Swan Quarter.
Below you can find the location of each ferry terminal with routes to Ocracoke Island, as well as the ferry schedules:
- Hatteras South Ferry Terminal (to and from Cedar Island/Swan Quarter): Ocracoke, NC 27960
- Ocracoke North Ferry Terminal (to and from Hatteras): North Carolina 27960
- Cedar Island Ferry Terminal: Cedar Island, NC 28520
- Swan Quarter Ferry Terminal: 748 Oyster Creek St, Swanquarter, NC 27885
- Ferry Schedules
Tips For The Ferry:
- Arrive early (we recommend at least an hour or more). The ferry is first come, first served and we have heard wait times can be long (we have heard up to 3 hours) during the summer months (starting in May). If you are able to get an early start to the day, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is a great stop before heading to the terminal if leaving from Hatteras Island
- Be prepared to not get on the ferry of your choosing. We arrived 30 minutes early and didn’t get on our intended return ferry. If this happens, park your car in line, head down to the water, and do some shelling to pass the time!
- Get out and enjoy the ride. The waters are beautiful as the ship navigates the shoals of Pamlico Sound. Keep your eyes peeled for marine life like Manta rays and dolphins!
Exploring Ocracoke Island
Once on Ocracoke Island, a world of discovery unfolds. The island offers a myriad of activities and attractions to explore. From wandering through the historic Ocracoke Village, where you’ll find charming cottages, unique shops, and delightful art galleries to diving into the island’s intriguing history by visiting the Ocracoke Lighthouse and strolling along the idyllic streets, you could easily fill a weekend with activities in this tiny island.
With one main road leading across the island and into town and narrow side streets, there is a clear distinction between the protected areas that are undeveloped and the thriving village. During popular summer months, consider renting a bike, e-bike, or golf cart to venture around the island. Parking is limited and will fill up quickly with the influx of tourism during the warmer season. We found plenty of parking when exploring in our dually during shoulder season, but can see how tight it could be during busier times of year!
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Ocracoke Island in our opinion is during the shoulder seasons of spring and fall. During these times, the weather is pleasantly mild, the crowds are thinner, and the island’s natural beauty is at its peak. Spring brings blooming wildflowers and migrating birds, while fall offers stunning foliage and the opportunity to witness the annual pirate-themed Blackbeard’s Pirate Jamboree (held in late October each year).
Ocracoke Island is a year-round destination, and in the summer, when the island is livelier, you can still find pockets of tranquility while also enjoying the island’s charms.
Fun Things To Do on Ocracoke Island: Discover Paradise
We spent one magical (and very busy) day on Ocracoke Island and enjoyed many of the sights and experiences it has to offer. Next, we break down our favorite spots that allowed us to learn about the Island’s history and appreciate it’s unique beauty, as well as list additional excursions and opportunities recommended to us by locals!
Historic Ocracoke Island Lighthouse
Once you have traveled over to Ocracoke Island, there are a few spots you won’t want to miss! The Ocracoke Lighthouse is located on Ocracoke Island and is the second oldest lighthouse still in operation in the United States. It stands at just 75 feet tall and is the smallest lighthouse in the Outer Banks, but it is so charming. The lighthouse has a distinctive white tower and has been guiding ships safely through the waters of the Ocracoke Inlet and Pamlico Sound since 1823.
This is just one of 6 amazing Outer Banks Lighthouses (we visited all of them during our East Coast Road Trip!) There are parking lots/parking areas both before and just after the grounds of the Ocracoke Lighthouse, but these can fill up quickly during the popular summer season.
Springer’s Point Preserve Nature Trails
Springer’s Point Preserve is a historic nature preserve also located on Ocracoke Island, North Carolina. Sitting on the edge of the island nestled behind a quaint neighborhood, it includes a main nature trail that winds through a maze of maritime forest and salt marshes, as well as other off-shoots through the elaborate tunnels of trees and vegetation. This is a dog-friendly trail with lots of shade where you will feel fully immersed in the sights, sounds, and smells of nature!
Hammock Hills Nature Trail
Following a freshly built boardwalk into the shade of the maritime forest, the Hammock Hills Nature Trail gets you out of civilization and into nature. Get lost among the gently swaying trees and find yourself in a peaceful setting where you can appreciate a different side of Ocracoke Island. We found this to be the perfect place for some quiet moments to walk off our food and sweets and process the day before heading back to the ferry.
- A roughly 1-mile trail that can be done as an out-and-back trail or a loop
- 15-20 mins to complete
- Plenty of shade
Ocracoke Island Pony Pens
See the wild ponies that once roamed free on Ocracoke island, like the wild horses still do today on Shackleford Banks in the Cape Lookout National Seashore and up farther north in the Outer Banks in Corolla. These descendants of Spanish domesticated horses (“Banker Ponies”) date back to the early 1700s and were an essential part of early life on the island. Once the main highway through the island was completed in 1959, the horses were moved into a pen to help protect them from traffic.
There is a raised platform for viewing the ponies in their pen, as well as a fence you can peer over on the ground level. This is a quick stop, but worthwhile to see the horses grazing and learn about their storied history on the island!
The Ocracoke Pony Pens have their own parking area, right across from an additional parking area with beach access. You will come across both about 6 miles down the road from the North ferry landing, before reaching the town of Ocracoke.
The British Cemetery on Ocracoke Island is a unique and historically significant site that pays tribute to the British sailors who lost their lives during World War II. Located in the heart of the island, the cemetery serves as a solemn reminder of the island’s role in the war and the sacrifices made by those involved.
The cemetery is the final resting place for four British sailors who perished in the Battle of the Atlantic. In May 1942, their ship, HMT Bedfordshire, was torpedoed by a German submarine U-boat off the coast of North Carolina. The bodies of these brave men washed ashore on Ocracoke Island and were laid to rest in a small tranquil cemetery.
Visiting the British Cemetery is a moving and contemplative experience. It serves as a poignant reminder of the impact of war on a small island community and the interconnectedness of nations during times of conflict. As you visit the cemetery, you can reflect on the bravery and sacrifice of those who fought for freedom and pay tribute to their memory.
Have a Beach Day
Ocracoke Beach is a lifeguarded beach during the busy summer months (Memorial Day – Labor Day). Due to its perfect location and wind conditions, you can expect to see a powerful display of energy as large waves crash to shore onto Ocracoke Island. We were mesmerized by the white spray of the waves and pulled in by the rhythmic display of water and earth. This is just something special about the ocean – and it is a great stress reliever!
In addition to its beauty and power, due to its proximity to the Gulf Stream, you will also find warmer waters along Ocracoke Beach than in other places on the Outer Banks! The perfect spot for a refreshing dip after a beach walk or nature trail!
Ocracoke Beach Amenities:
- Changing Rooms
Off-Roading & Surf Fishing
If you have an off-road vehicle, there is plenty of beach to explore! We saw caravans of off-road vehicles, vans, and truck campers rigged up with their rods, ready for a weekend of camping and surf fishing on Ocracoke Island’s unspoiled beach.
ORV permits from the National Park Service are required for driving access on the beach.
- Cost of a 10-day permit: $50
Print-at-home permits can be reserved online at Recreation.gov (Cape Hatteras National Seashore ORV Permits)
You can view updated information about ORV access (openings, closures, etc.) here!
Overlooking the crystal clear and bright blue waters of Silver Lake Harbor, The Anchorage Marina is a great place to enjoy watching the boats come and go, get a new perspective of the Ocracoke Lighthouse, or hop on a boat tour or fishing charter.
We enjoyed sitting by the calm waters and watching for fish while enjoying some ice cream from a local shop in the midday sun. This is the perfect spot for day dreaming about a life on the water as well! (We may have talked about trading in RV life for sail boat life for a while here).
Shopping & Sweets in the Historic Village
In the Ocracoke Historical Village, you’ll find a variety of unique shops and boutiques where you can browse for souvenirs, locally made crafts, and coastal-themed merchandise. These shops often feature handmade jewelry, artwork, clothing, home decor, and other items that reflect the island’s heritage and natural beauty.
When it comes to satisfying your sweet tooth, you certainly won’t be disappointed in Ocracoke. The village also offers several options for delightful treats and desserts. You can indulge in freshly baked goods, homemade ice cream, fudge, chocolates, and other confections available at local bakeries, ice cream parlors, and candy stores.
Exploring the Ocracoke Historical Village on foot was the perfect way to immerse in the town’s charm. The village is known for its picturesque streets lined with historic buildings and traditional island architecture. As you stroll through the area, admire the quaint cottages, browse the unique shops, and take in the tranquil coastal atmosphere. Let go of your itinerary or agenda for a while and let your curiosity and intuition lead you! The freedom to explore can be so fulfilling.
Here are just a few of the location shops and sweet shops to consider stopping by:
- Ocracoke Fudge & Ice Cream Shop
- The Slushy Stand Ice Cream
- Down Creek Gallery
- Down Point Decoy’s Gift Shop
- Captain’s Cargo Gift Shop
Camping at Ocracoke Island Campground
The National Park Service’s Ocracoke Campground is one of 4 campgrounds on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. As full-time RVers, we call “home” anywhere we go! We have stayed at various campgrounds and places in nature all over North America and enjoy bringing pristine landscapes right outside our door. We have found staying in nature is the perfect way to connect with a place and experience all that it has to offer and have experienced a wide range of benefits (mental and physical) by doing so!
We highly recommend camping or RVing as a way to explore all that the Outer Banks and Ocracoke Island have to offer!
Cape Hatteras National Seashore Campgrounds:
- Oregon Inlet Campground
- Frisco Campground
- Ocracoke Campground (the NPS campground operated on Ocracoke Island. You can bring your RV over on the ferry for free, just as you can your vehicle)
- Cape Point Campground
Ocracoke Island may be small, but it is home to great local restaurants to help you experience local cuisine and refuel after a day of adventures! We had a great lunch and drinks at 1718 Brewing & Plum Pointe Kitchen while sitting out on the porch enjoying the ocean breeze and would highly recommend it for a laid back bite to eat while dining outside.
Here is a list of additional restaurant options that came highly recommended to us by fellow travelers and locals (with menus linked):
- 1718 Brewing (with food from Plum Point Kitchen)
- Eduardo’s Taco Stand (this is a permanent food truck that always had a line whenever we drove by)
- Daijo (upscale food and fresh seafood)
- Howard’s Pub (casual pub fare in a laid back atmosphere)
- Pony Island Restaurant (classic breakfast staples)
- SmacNally’s (waterfront dining featuring seafood)
- Ocracoke Oyster Company
Map of Highly Recommended Dining Spots
One of the best ways to explore all of Ocracoke Island is by ditching your car and venturing off the beaten path by golf cart or bicycle, or getting out on the water and experiencing the island’s waters. This is especially important during summer months when traffic and tourism increases and parking for vehicles becomes limited.
Here are some local rental options on Ocracoke Island:
- Ocracoke Island Golf Carts: 4 and 6-passenger rentals starting at 2 days with weekly rates available
- Wheelie Fun: Golf cart rentals (hourly and weekly rates)
- The Slushy Stand: Daily and weekly bike rentals
- Blue Heron Realty: Bike & Golf Cart Rentals
- Ride The Wind Surf Shop: Kayak, SUP, surfboard rentals, and more
If you aren’t sure exactly what to do with your time on Ocracoke Island, starting at the Visitor Center and Discovery Center can help you design your trip based on what you hope to get out of your experience and what your time allows for.
If you have more time on the island and will extend your trip longer than a day trip, we highly recommend taking the remote and adventurous excursion over to Portsmouth Island and Portsmouth Village (this is on our bucket list for a return visit)! With so much to see and do, you can make your time on the island exactly what you need and want.
- Ocracoke Island Preservation Society Museum: Free admission museum preserving the cultural heritage of Ocracoke Island
- Portsmouth Island & Portsmouth Village: One of the last uninhabited islands on North Carolina’s Coast that preserve remnants of a fishing and shipping village that once existed on the island and was one of the largest settlements in the Outer Banks. Located across the Ocracoke Inlet and part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore that makes up the southern tip of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this is one of the most remote adventures you can have in the Outer Banks. Getting to Portsmouth Island can be a bit of an adventure, which you can read more about here.
- Ocracoke Island Visitor Center & Discovery Center: A great stop to learn more about what is happening on Ocracoke Island, explore exhibits and artifacts, and partake in a variety of programs offered throughout the year. Located in Ocracoke Village near the end of NC HWY 12 (listed on map below)
Local Tours & Activities
One of the best ways to really experience a place is to connect with the locals… and what better way to do so than by getting a tour from a local! We visited during the off-season and admittedly there were not many options for guided tours or excursions, but here are a few options to consider:
- Boat Tours
- Sail Ocracoke on the Schooner Windfall II starting at $35/person
Map of Ocracoke Island’s Top Things To Do
Fulfilling Travel Tips
There is so much to see and do on North Carolina’s Ocracoke Island, as well as the rest of the Outer Banks. As always, our biggest tip is to let yourself be where your feet are and be present as you immerse yourself in the experiences your travels allow for.
We highly recommend taking at least a day trip to Ocracoke Island while staying elsewhere on the Outer Banks, or taking a day trip off of Ocracoke Island to explore Cape Hatteras or farther north on the Outer Banks.
We made Oregon Inlet Campground our home base and it was the perfect place for getting up to Corolla and Currituck Beach and down to Hatteras Island and Ocracoke Island and exploring all of the great natural spaces and places of historical significance in between.
For more information on other local destinations and help building out your Outer Banks itinerary, read more in our guides covering other hidden gems nestled along the Atlantic Ocean:
- Bald Head Island (another great island getaway where golf carts or bicycles are the only forms of transportation)
- Best Things To Do in Cape Hatteras & The Outer Banks
- Outer Banks Lighthouses
- Cape Lookout National Seashore & The Shackleford Banks Wild Horses
PLAN YOUR VISIT TO OCRACOKE ISLAND
Closest Airports to the Outer Banks:
- Norfolk International Airport, Norfolk VA (about a 2-hour drive from Cape Hatteras)
- Raleigh-Durham International Airport, Raliegh NC (3.5-4 hour drive from Cape Hatteras)
- Coastal Carolina Regional Aiport, New Bern NC (2.503 hour drive from Cape Hatteras)
Cape Hatteras National Seashore Campgrounds:
Camping is a great way to live in harmony with nature and bring the outdoors right outside your door!
- Oregon Inlet Campground
- Frisco Campground
- Ocracoke Campground (Camping on Ocracoke Island – it is free to take your RV over on the ferry to and from Cape Hatteras, as well as your vehicle!)
- Cape Point Campground
The barrier islands of the Outer Banks are full of great campsites, ranging from RV resorts to no-frills dry camping in the National Seashore campgrounds. If you are looking for the perfect one-stop shop for comparing RV parks, campgrounds, and glamping options and prices with instant booking, we highly recommend Campspot.
RV Rentals: If you are looking to get closer to nature but don’t have an RV, consider renting one through RV Share. We used this service when renting out our Casita and found them to be high quality and easy to use!
Other Area Accommodations
If you are looking for other accommodations, you can find plenty of great stays not far from the pristine beaches in this area. Booking.com is a great resource that allows you to compare prices easily and lock in the best rates for stays ranging from hotels to private rentals! For a complete list of Ocracoke Island Rentals, use the link below: