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 Cape Hatteras National Seashore
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From Top of Lighthouse (Left)
Lighthouse (Below)

 
  Cape Hatteras National Seashore encompasses much of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, a thin strand of barrier islands curving into the Atlantic Ocean and then back again in a sheltering embrace of North Carolina's mainland coast and its offshore sounds. The park provides many opportunities for recreation and relaxation. It also serves as a prime outdoor classroom for learning about diverse ecosystems, wildlife, and the dynamic geology of these barrier islands. Lighthouses, shipwrecks, and lifesaving stations echo the area's rich cultural history.

HOURS
The Park is open year-round. Begin your visit at National Park Service Visitor Centers. The Hatteras Island, Bodie Island and Ocracoke Island Visitor Centers are open year around (closed December 25), 9am - 5pm in the off-season, 9am - 6pm from Memorial Day - Labor Day. The public visitation season for the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is from approximately the Friday before Easter Sunday to Columbus Day each year. Lighthouse tours will begin at 9 a.m. daily and will run every 10 minutes with a limit of 30 visitors per tour. The last tour will be at 4:50 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day the last tour will be at 5:50 p.m. Tour fees are $6.00 for adults and $3.00 for senior citizens (62 or older), children (12 and under), and those holding Golden Access passes. The Bodie Island and Ocracoke Lighthouses are closed to climbing.

ACCESS
Cape Hatteras National Seashore is accessed by North Carolina Highway 12. From the north, entrance is via Nags Head, NC. From the south, use state-run ferries leaving Cedar Island or Swan Quarter for Ocracoke Island. Reservations are required and fees are based upon vehicle size and type. The state-operated ferry linking Ocracoke and Hatteras Islands are free. Call 1-800-BY-FERRY for more information. Public transportation is not available to the Seashore, and only limited taxi and auto rental services are on the islands.  The nearest major airport for commercial carriers is in Norfolk, Virginia. Two airstrips are on the Seashore, near the villages of Ocracoke and Frisco. Both airstrips have tie-down facilities and paved runways. They are only open during daylight hours and have neither runway lights nor fuel. Although the beach and sound can be accessed by foot, there are also designated four-wheeled drive ramps to reach them. Closed sections are well marked. Bicycling is hazardous on the islands. There is no bicycle path and NC Highway 12 is a narrow, busy road. Helmets are strongly recommended!

ACTIVITIES AND SERVICES

Ranger Programs
Ranger-led programs from Memorial Day through Labor Day offer a wide range of activities covering the cultural history, natural history and recreational opportunities of the seashore.

Children can become "Junior Seashore Rangers" as they participate in summer interpretive programs. Program schedules are listed in the In The Park visitor newspaper, available at visitor centers and campground kiosks.

Swimming
For your safety, DO NOT SWIM ALONE. Swimming in the ocean is not the same as swimming in a pool. Tides and rip currents make ocean swimming hazardous! Underwater sandbars develop offshore, forming a trough of water between the bar and the beach. When the sand bar breaks, the trapped water funnels out to sea through the break - sometimes sweeping swimmers with it. The important thing to remember when caught in a rip current is DO NOT TRY TO SWIM AGAINST THE CURRENT. Instead, swim across the current, parallel to the shore, slowly working your way back to the beach at an angle. Above all, remain calm. Check at a visitor center for more swimming safety information.

Fishing/Boating
Spring and Fall at Cape Hatteras offer what many consider to be the best fishing on the East Coast. Most of the beach and sound is open to fishing. Fishing piers are available in the villages of Rodanthe, Frisco and Avon. National Park Service boat ramps are located at the Oregon Inlet Marina and near the ferry office in Ocracoke village. Charters and head-boat services are available at local marinas.

Surfing
Popular places to surf are at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Pea Island, and just north of the village of Buxton. Rental equipment is available locally. Surfing is prohibited in designated swimming areas, adjacent to villages, and within 300 feet of fishing piers.

Windsurfing
Sites for this sport are located one mile north of Buxton at Haulover Day Use Area, and just south of Salvo at the Salvo Day Use Area. Rental equipment is available locally.

Trails/Hiking
Self-guided trails include the Hammock Hills Nature Trail on Ocracoke Island, the Buxton Woods Nature Trail near the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, and the Bodie Island Pond Trail and Dike Trail, both near the Bodie Island Lighthouse. The distance for these trails average one mile each. Longer hikes can be taken along the dikes at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and on the North Carolina Mountains-to-Sea Trail which runs through the Seashore.

Birding
Birding is a year-round activity at the Seashore. Terns and herons are best seen in the Summer. Spring and Fall are excellent times to view shorebirds, hawks and songbirds. Ducks and geese are common during winter months.

Places to Stay
Motels, hotels and rental cottages are available in all area villages.

If arriving by boat, park-provided slips are available at the boat docks in Ocracoke village on a first-come, first-serve basis for up to two weeks. From December through March, rates are 40 cents per boat foot per day, cap at 80 feet, maximum $32 per day. From April through November the rates are 80 cents per foot per day, cap at 80 feet, $65 maximum per day. Electrical service is only available during the summer. Rates are $3 per day for 110 volts, $5 per day for 220 volts. Concession-provided boat slips are also available on a first-come, first-serve basis for up to thirty days at Oregon Inlet Marina.

Camping on the National Seashore is limited to these campgrounds: Oregon Inlet, Cape Point, Frisco, and Ocracoke. The season runs generally from May into September. Memorial Day - Labor Day reservations are accepted only for Ocracoke through Biospherics, Inc. by calling 1-800-365-CAMP. Fees are $20.00 per night for all campgrounds, and $3.00 per person per day for organized groups in the designated group camping site. Holders of Golden Age and Golden Access Passports pay 50% of these fees. Campsites accommodate tents, trailers and motor homes for a 14-day maximum stay and are assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis. Restrooms, potable water, cold-water showers, grills and picnic tables are provided. No utility hookups are available. Dump stations are located near Oregon Inlet, Cape Point and Ocracoke campgrounds.

Private campgrounds offer utilities for trailers and recreational vehicles. Some are open on a year-round basis.

OTHER NATIONAL PARK SITES Wright Brothers National Memorial and Fort Raleigh National Historic Site are a short driving distance from Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Call (252) 473-2111 for more information on these National Parks and Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

WHAT TO BRING
Recommended items to bring with you are insect repellant, sun screen, and leashes to restrain pets. Please, do not bring metal detectors, fireworks, or free-roaming pets.

 

  Text courtesy of National Park Service.  Photos by Bruce Gourley.

 

 


 

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