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 Cape Hatteras National Seashore
 North Carolina

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Open All Year

  Stretched over 70 miles of barrier islands, Cape Hatteras National Seashore is a fascinating combination of natural and cultural resources, and provides a wide variety of recreational opportunities. Once dubbed the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" for its treacherous currents, shoals, and storms, Cape Hatteras has a wealth of history relating to shipwrecks, lighthouses, and the U.S. Lifesaving Service. These dynamic islands provide a variety of habitats and are a valuable wintering area for migrating waterfowl. The park's fishing and surfing are considered the best on the east coast. Click the "In Depth" button to the right for more detailed information.

Cape Hatteras stretches north to south across three islands - Bodie, Hatteras, and Ocracoke. The islands are linked by State Highway 12 - a narrow, paved road - and Hatteras Inlet ferry. Some of the special natural and historical features that you can visit along the way are described briefly below. The highway also passes through eight villages that reflect the nearly 300-year-old history and culture of the Outer Banks. The villages are not part of the park. For more information, stop at the Whalebone Junction Information Center near the park's northern entrance, or at any of the park visitor centers.

Cape Hatteras is at the ocean's edge, but no well-defined boundary marks where the sea ends and the land begins. Here land and sea work together in an uneasy alliance. They share many valuable resources. But the sea fuels the barrier islands and there are few places that escape its influence. On your visit take a  moment to discover this seaside kingdom.

Dwarfed, odd-shaped trees may catch your eye. Severely pruned by salt-laden winds, these trees are just one example of how the sea affects living things. Closer to the sea, shore birds patrolling the beach for food are interesting to watch. Some catch small fish or crabs carried by waves, while others probe the sand or search under shells for clams, worms, and insects. On a hike through the maritime forests you will leave the sea behind briefly. These woodlands of oak, cedar, and yaupon holly grow on the island's higher, broader, somewhat protected parts.

Bright red holly berries and wildflowers offer a brush of color that enlivens the mostly green, brown, and blue landscape. It is a landscape that is unusually peaceful - but not always. Storms sometimes batter the islands with fierce winds and waves. Over the years you can witness the retreat of the shoreline from these violent attacks. For the tiny ghost crab, living on the beach in a wave-washed underground burrow, survival is a matter of adaptation, adjusting to meet the demands of the land and sea.

In the protected waters west of the islands you can find excellent opportunities for crabbing and clamming. The ocean also harbors a bounty of life, which includes channel bass, pompano, sea trout, bluefish, and other sport fish. Wintering snow geese, Canada geese, ducks, and many other kinds of birds populate the islands. The best time for observing birdlife are during fall and spring migrations and in the winter. Salt marshes are a source of food for birds and other animals year-round. Here sound waters meet the marsh twice each day as tides come and go, exchanging and replenishing nutrients. At the ocean's edge, you are always on the threshold of a new experience.


  Images and text courtesy of National Park Service.




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