Hatteras & Ocracoke Islands, NC  - Vacation Travel Guide

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Hatteras & Ocracoke Area Features

Out and About on the Islands

If you’re looking for awesome outdoor adventures, you came to the right place. The islands of Hatteras and Ocracoke offer many exciting outdoor activities that will get the heart pumping and the body moving. Or, relax and do something outside that is both enjoyable and captivating. Whether you opt to play on land or in the water,  these adventures will keep you entertained and create memories of a lifetime.

Surf's Up!

The waves off the coast of the Outer Banks are perfect for East Coast surfing. From Hatteras to Ocracoke, you’ll find beaches that can handle just about any swell direction the Atlantic can throw your way. Combine that with summer water temps from 75-82º and the friendly surfing culture, and you’re in surfing heaven. The beaches in June and most of July are fun for playing in the surf or boogie boarding, but they have the smallest waves at that time of the year. Late summer and fall bring the tropical lows and storms of hurricane season. Time to break out the performance board! East Coast surfers live for this time of year. The low-pressure systems that pass along the coast provide clean (and on occasion, double overhead and bigger) waves. If you’re a beginner, use good common sense. Storm swell is for experienced surfers only! Countless local businesses offer boards for rent and lessons if needed. Just make sure to reserve a board early when the waves are good—they go fast!

Catch the Wind

Hatteras Island is a windsurfing and kiteboarding hotspot that attracts thrill-seekers from all over North America. These two very different sports need the same two elements: wind and water, and Hatteras Island has plenty to go around. Because Hatteras Island is a sandbar out in the Atlantic Ocean, it gets some of the best wind and waves on the East Coast. One of the greatest things about kiteboarding here is the unlimited number of downwinders you can do. A downwinder is when you launch at one spot and end up several miles downwind when you are done. Don’t forget to drop a car off at your downwind destination so you can get back.

The Pamlico Sound offers miles and miles of shallow water that is great for windsurfing, The Reef is a special spot that can offer great jumping and wave conditions, and the ocean can serve up some heavy surf. Soundside, there are plenty of places to launch that have endless waist-deep water with minimal waves or chop. The conditions are rougher on the oceanside and Hatteras’ shore break is known for denying access to even the most seasoned windsurfers. The waves have turned many a rig into a crumpled mess. Kiteboarding and windsurfing are two sports that beginners really should take lessons in order to participate safely. Experienced and certified coaches can get you on the water and cruising along effectively, efficiently and safely.


Paddleboarders flock to the sound sides of Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands where warm, calm waters await. If you would like to try the sport, rent a stand-up paddleboard and maybe get a little instruction at Hatteras Watersports Rentals, OceanAir Sports or Kitty Hawk Kites. It's pretty easy to learn but experts advise first learning and practicing on “flat water” such as the Pamlico Sound. Don’t be surprised if you end up taking a refreshing dip in the water once or twice until you get the hang of it! Once riders get used to keeping their balance and paddling smoothly, they may want to head to the ocean for more challenging fun. The beautiful part of this sport is that when you find a wave to ride, you’re already standing up. Riders first try to catch a breaking wave, and then use the paddle to increase speed while riding the surf.

Go Off-Road Driving

One adventure you might be able to take in your own vehicle is a drive on the beaches of Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Provided your vehicle is suited for off-roading, you may be permitted to journey over sand dunes and along breaking waves to remote and unspoiled areas of the national park. Some of the beautiful natural sights you’ll see will surely stay with you forever. Please note though that off-road vehicles (ORVs) can only drive on specific routes established by the National Park Service—and there are strict rules to protect both you and the environment. Current open and closed ORV routes can be found on the park's Facebook page, while on-site signs and Carsonite posts also provide accurate info on open and closed areas. Permits are required and ORVs must be registered, licensed, insured, have no more than two axles, and carry a low-pressure tire gauge, shovel, jack and jack support board. Towed boat and utility trailers having two axles or less are also permitted on the ORV routes, but travel and camping trailers are not. ATVs, UTVs, and motorcycles are not allowed on beaches. For more information or for details regarding permits and where to buy them, please call 252-473-2111 or visit the park website at www.nps.gov/caha.

Check Out the Birds

As the early morning sun rises, a red-winged blackbird calls from atop the marsh grass while visitors who are about to embark on a guided bird-walk stop to admire his beauty. These early risers pull on caps and long-sleeved shirts to protect themselves from the sun and mosquitoes, gather up their field guides and binoculars, and then hurry off to meet their guide on the Visitor Center porch at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge—one of the best birding areas on the East Coast.

Over 365 species of birds can be found on the refuge and the fun part is trying to see how many you can spot. While on birding tours, gaze up into the trees, across the marshes, and along the trails for new and unique birds. The tour guides on this journey provide new birders with checklists so they can see how many were spotted on the trek. Free tours are offered three days a week, and the mile-long walk along the North Pond Wildlife Trail lasts about an hour and a half. However, the trail is open every day from sunrise to sunset if you would like to search for birds on your own. For a different perspective and the chance to see even more species of birds, climb the two-story viewing tower. There, meet some serious birders who may be able to give you some tips on where to glimpse rarely seen birds.

Enjoy Some Beach Time!

And finally, for pure relaxation at its best, just head to the beach! Stick your toes in the sand, open a good book and relax while listening to the soothing sounds of the lapping water. Businesses throughout the area rent beach chairs, umbrellas and other specialty items to make your day on the beach more comfortable.

With so many fantastic activities to choose from, your trip to Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands can be jam-packed with amazing things to do and explore. So gather the family and go have an adventure outdoors!

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