Across the Oregon Inlet from Nags Head is Hatteras Island. Known for great fishing and clean beaches, Hatteras consistently attracts vacationers who are looking for a laid-back yet entertaining atmosphere on the water. The island encapsulates some of the best things the Outer Banks has to offer: history, natural beauty, exciting watersports, and quaint shops that stock items found exclusively in this region.
Places to explore on Hatteras Island include the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Canadian Hole (famous among kite surfers), the towns of Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco and the extremely popular Hatteras Village.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
The Cape Hatteras National Seashore is natural splendor at its best. As part of the National Park Service, this area that extends from Nags Head to Ocracoke Island boasts sparkling beaches, gorgeous sunsets, and lush maritime forests. At night, the pitch-black skies contrast the bright stars for some of the best star-gazing on the East Coast. Here, a plethora of activities can be explored: swimming, hiking, kayaking, fishing, boating and more. Drive your 4-wheel-drive vehicle onto the beach to easily access the water, or enlist the services of a local horseback riding company for an exhilarating tour of the area. It’s recommended that some time is spent in this gem of a park to appreciate all that it has to offer.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
One of the most iconic sights in North Carolina is the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse with its swirling black and white stripes that extend 12 stories vertically before reaching the magnificent Fresnel lens. This beacon of light saved many a mariner from the perilous shoals that lurk just off the coast of Hatteras Island. Completed in 1870, this structure is the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States and one of the most famous in the world. The light emitted from this beacon extends 20 miles out to sea—giving a warning to all mariners of the dangerous Diamond Shoals. Interestingly, almost 20 years ago, it too needed to be protected. In 1999, the lighthouse and its adjoining structures made headlines when they were successfully relocated nearly 3,000 feet inland to safeguard them from the encroaching sea. Visitors can still climb the lighthouse most months of the year, but keep in mind that children must be more than 42 inches tall.
Graveyard of the Atlantic
Not every ship escaped the treacherous waters off the North Carolina coast. Hurricanes, the dangerous shoals, and wartime activities have sunk many ships in the area, giving it the name “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” To commemorate the ships that have come to rest there as well as the humans who lost their lives, the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum was established on Hatteras Island. The museum is a treasure trove of interesting stories of both loss and survival and also contains historical accounts of famous shipwrecks. Fun family activities and unique special events are often featured in the museum as well. Visitors recommend the museum as one of the top places to go while on the island.
Fish Along 50 Miles of Shoreline
The waters of the Gulf Stream are home to many species of fish that anglers love to catch. Since it’s only 15 miles from shore, fishermen are drawn here. Few places have fishing as great as that which can be found off Hatteras, which is renowned as a destination for fishermen of any ability from across the nation. And though surf-fishing or pier fishing can be a rewarding experience on the island, most prefer to try fishing off-shore via a private charter boat rental or by booking a spot on a fishing boat. Plus, if you are staying in a vacation home, you’ll probably have an adequately stocked kitchen to prepare your catch for the family dinner.
Off Road Vehicle Use on Cape Hatteras
Many off-road vehicles (ORVs) may drive on the beaches of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, but only on specific routes established by the National Park Service (NPS). 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. Each ORV must purchase either a 10-day permit or an annual permit to drive on the NPS beach routes. Permits may be bought online at www.recreation.gov by searching for Cape Hatteras Off-Road Vehicle or in person at select visitor centers in Nags Head, Buxton, and Ocracoke. 4WD vehicles are recommended for beach driving, and tire pressure should be lowered to 20psi. Only specific vehicles are allowed on the beach (no motorcycles, campers, or ATVs) so please check restrictions before purchasing your permit. For more information, call 252-473-2111 or visit the park website at www.nps.gov/caha.
To find out more about Hatteras Island, be sure to check out Sunny Day's Guide to Hatteras & Ocracoke.