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North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Trade your flip-flops for hiking boots and explore a seaside trail.

Contact Information:

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Rt. 1, Box 675

Manteo, NC 27954

919/473-2111

Location:

Cape Hatteras is off the coast of North Carolina, east of Pamlico Sound. North of Cape Hatteras are the towns of Nags Head, Kittyhawk, and Kill Devil Hills.

Getting There:

Motorists can reach the park from the north via U.S. 17 and 158 or from the west via U.S. 64 and 264. Park headquarters is off U.S. 64/264, three miles north of Manteo at the park sign. The trail begins on NC 12 at Whalebone Junction in Nags Head. The trail is not blazed. The Cape Hatteras National Seashore Ranger Station is located 6 miles south of Whalebone Junction at the Bodie Island lighthouse.

Two toll ferries travel from the mainland to Ocracoke. One leaves from Swanquarter, N.C., which is reached via U.S. 264. The other leaves from Cedar Island, N.C., reached via U.S. 70. Reservations are recommended (800/BY-FERRY). A free ferry links Hatteras and Ocracoke islands.

Seasonal Information:

For hiking, the recommended seasons are spring and fall (April, May, September, and October) when the temperatures are mild and bugs aren’t a nuisance. In summer, temperatures can be in the low 90s with high humidity. In winter, temperatures are usually in the mid-40s; frost is rare. Wind is an everyday occurrence. Just hope you don’t experience the infamous Outer Bankers wind and rain; storms sometimes batter the islands with fierce winds and waves.

Wildlife:

Your only companions could be high-jumping porpoises, low-flying pelicans, and giant sea turtles.

A walk around a large freshwater pond will bring you close to the egrets, herons, and other shorebirds who live here year-round. Migrant warblers flow through in a seemingly endless procession during spring and fall. Ponds and marshes are also home to mouth bass, leopard frogs, yellow bellied turtles, and muskrats.

Most of the island’s wildlife live in Buxton’s maritime woods. There you will see white-tailed deer, gray squirrels, and snakes ~ black racers, rough green snakes, and venomous cottonmouths.

The remnant of a horse herd that once roamed free can still be found on Ocracoke Island.

You may also want to visit the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Many species of waterfowl and other birds live in this protected area or stop here during migrations. You can see them from observation platforms or from walking trails.

Insects:

Contact park office for information.

Plant Life:

Flora ranges from beach grass to maritime forest.

Leathery-leaved live and laurel oaks, yaupon holly, and loblolly pines stretch over relic dune ridges. Less rugged species, such as flowering dogwood and American hornbeam, grow in the woodlands. Bright red holly berries and wildflowers provide a touch of color beyond green, brown, and blue.

Facilities:

There are national parks and private campgrounds along the route that are only a short walk from the beach. All camping within the National Seashore must be at a designated site.

  • The National Seashore operates four summer locations: Oregon Inlet, Ocracoke, Cape Point, and Frisco. Campgrounds are usually open from Memorial Day through Labor Day; sometimes the season runs longer. Sites include grills, flush toilets, cold showers, tables, and drinking water. Dump stations are located at Oregon Inlet, Cape Point, and Ocracoke.

  • For commercial campground information, contact:
  • Dare County Tourist Bureau
  • Box 399
  • Manteo, NC 27954
  • 919/473-2138 or 800/446-6262.

The Hatteras Island Visitor Center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The Ocracoke Visitor Center and Museum contains photos and artifacts of island lifestyles and history. The Ocracoke and Bodie visitor centers are open seasonally.

The park has three concession fishing piers, located in the villages of Rodanthe, Avon, and Frisco. They provide fishing facilities, related gear, and supplies on a fee basis. The Oregon Inlet Fishing Marina also provides charter boat fishing and gear for a fee.

There is a convenience store marina located near Oregon Inlet.

Parking:

There is lots of parking ~ over 20 sites ~ available on the islands.

Permits:

No permits are needed.

Policies:

Contact park office for information.

Hazards:

  • Strong currents and shifting sand can make swimming dangerous. Don’t swim near surfers.

  • Hurricanes can occur from June through October.
  • Make sure to carry plenty of water to avoid heat exhaustion.
  • There are no established bike paths in the National Seashore. Highway 12 is a busy roadway with soft sandy shoulders and narrow lanes. Use extreme caution and ride defensively. When bicycling on the highway be careful of strong winds and blowing sand.
  • Watch out for sharp objects such as broken seashells, crabs, cactus, and spurs on the beach. Protect your feet from hot sand.
  • Sand and wind conditions require longer-than-normal tent stakes.

Leave No Trace:

  • Camp only at designated sites.

  • Use recycling bins provided at each seashore campground.
  • Try not to disturb migrating birds such as the piping plover, whimbrel, red knot, and sanderling.
  • All LNT guidelines apply.

Maps:

A trail brochure is available from Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and there’s excellent information in North Carolina Hiking Trails, by Allen De Hart (Appalachian Mountain Club, 5 Joy St., Boston, MA 02108.)

Other Trip Options:

  • Visit Wright Brothers National Memorial (919/441-7430), site of the famous flying attempts, just 9 miles north of Whalebone Junction. A new one mile long bicycle path graces the outskirts of Wright Brothers National Memorial.

  • Ft. Raleigh National Historic Site (919/473-5772), 8 miles west of Whalebone Junction, commemorates the “Lost Colony,” the first English attempt to settle the New World in the 1580s.
  • Also worth a visit is Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head.
  • If you’re a windsurfer, just head north of Buxton to Canadian Hole.
  • For more information on the Outer Banks, call the Dare County Tourist Bureau at 800/446-6262.

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