Guide To Visiting Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Photo Credit: Alan Szalwinski via Flickr CC2.0

Cape Hatteras National Seashore, located in Nags Head, North Carolina, preserves the portion of the Outer Banks from Bodie Island to Ocracoke Island. The area stretches over 70 miles, is the first national seashore, and is managed by the National Park Service. This section of the beach is the largest, preserved parcels on the Outer Banks. Bringing in thousands of visitors each year, Cape Hatteras offers miles of tranquil yet beautiful beaches to walk on or drive near. Here is a list of everything you need to know about visiting Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

History of Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Much like today, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore is and has been quite a secluded piece of land. Settled on originally by North Americans, satellite branches of the Algonquin Tribe, set up thriving communities all over Hatteras Island. From the outskirts of Rodanthe, or as they named it, Chicamacomico, all the way to the edges of Hatteras Village, or Hatterask, the Algonquin Tribe were the only residents on the Islands for centuries. They built their life on delicate seafood, small game, and serene living.

Once the 1600s and 1700s rolled around, the European settlers finally discovered the island and started to take a liking to the delicious seafood, the lush forest that was loaded with untouched, quality timber, and 2 reliable routes from the inlets to the ocean. They quickly began to set up ports along both inlets, Hatteras and Ocracoke. The area became a gold mine for life saving stations that were located just off of the islands.

While they had already made a place to receive goods from in the area, it still had so much untapped potential. After a short time being located on the island, the European settlers realized they could bring in more food, trade, or money by going further into the ocean. The hunter and fisherman would make dangerous trips to the islands in the 1930s which would involve them traveling across the Oregon Inlet on a privately run ferry. While the roads and waters were muddy pathy and soft, sandy roads, that did not stop many vacationers from visiting the islands. The population became a sought after destination.

In the more central part of the Outer Banks towns like Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills, and Kitty Hawk were beginning to experience a rise in visitors as well. The barrier islands homeowners were concerned that their homes were going to become another area that turned into a commercially developed beach attraction. This is when the settlers in Hatteras partnered with the federal government and national Seashore to designate large portions of the shoreline as a National Recreational Park.

Visiting The Seashore

To visit the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, all you have to do is find a public parking area. Since the park is so large in size, it is accessible to all visitors on Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands. To enjoy everything that the National Seashore has to offer, it is best to plan a vacation to the islands and experience for more than just a few minutes. Each day you can find something different and fun to do.

There are many public beach access points that locals and visitors can find stretched throughout the sand along NC Highway 12. Once you have pulled off of the highway, your way to dunes and enjoy the beautiful sandy beaches. One of the best ways to explore the miles and miles of beach is driving on the beach in an off-road vehicle. There are very few places in the United States that allow you to drive on the beach, so take advantage of the opportunity while you can. Though driving on a beach seems like a harmless task, it is quite different than driving on the road, ice or snow, so it is required to take a 10-minute class on how to properly drive on the beach. You can find class information at the local visitor centers.

Unlike many beaches, you are also allowed to have bonfires on the beach unless there is a specific ordinance out stating otherwise. All visitors of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore are advised to follow the National Park Service rules and regulations. These regulations can be things like walking on the sandy paths and not to pick vegetation on the dunes. A full list of the rules can be found at

Things To Do On The Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Photo Credit: capehatterasnps via Instagram

While the beach itself offers many fun activities and watersports to participate in, at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore there is so much more to experience. On the water or sand, you can enjoy a day of surf fishing, or take a trip out on the ocean to go kayaking or stand up paddleboarding. Enjoy the point where the salt marshes reach the Atlantic Ocean and meet while relaxing, getting a suntan on the beautiful beach. Be aware of rip currents and even famous shipwrecks that you may find while swimming around or boating through the area. The OBX is also known for its great waves. So grab a surfboard and try out surfing. The state park is a great, secluded place to learn a new water sport without disrupting or being disrupted. They also offer areas for campers and picnics. If you are feeling very adventurous you can even try windsurfing or kiteboarding, it is the same area where the first plane took flight at the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Many kiteboarders and windsurfers head down to Buxton or Hatteras Village to enjoy their favorite sport.

One of the most popular things to visit while enjoying a day or a few on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore is the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. While there are 3 lighthouses located within the National Seashore including the Bodie Island Lighthouse and the Ocracoke Lighthouse. Locals and visitors who opt for a lighthouse tour of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore will want to dedicate a full day to this adventure. With so much to see and do, it is pertinent to make more than just an hour or two exploring everything. Don’t worry you won’t regret it either.

There are dozens of public beach accesses along the oceanfront in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Public parking, restrooms, and showers are offered at Coquina Beach on Bodie Island, Salvo day, Frisco Day Use Area, and Ocracoke Beach. Walk the beautiful shoals or venture out to Roanoke Island, there are endless possibilities.


Where is Cape Hatteras National Seashore Located?

The Cape Hatteras National Seashore is located on the Outer Banks or OBX and coves from Bodie Island and South Nags Head all the way to the southern tip of Ocracoke Island.

How do you get to Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Take the NC Highway 12 South route that stretches through the length of the seashore.

How Large is the National Seashore

It is over 70 miles long and around 24,000 acres.

Is Hatteras Island part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore?

The majority of the island is a part of the national seashore. From Rodanthe to the edge of Hatteras Village is all a part of the National Seashore.

What towns are a part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore?

Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras are all part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

What Special Events take place on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore?

Events such as the Full moon Lighthouse Climbx, Fishing, Ranger, and Crabbing with a Ranger all take place in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

No matter what brings you to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, you will have a great time. From exploring loads of history to enjoying a beautiful day on the Atlantic Ocean, this area has it all. You can even visit neighboring historic sites like Fort Raleigh National Historic Site or Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Enjoy relaxing or seeing wildlife like sea turtles and much more. For the perfect place to stay check out our local vacation rentals, and enjoy your time on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

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