Things to Do on Ocracoke Island

Ocracoke Ghost Walk

Tours begin at Village Craftsmen on Howard Street, are about 1 1/2 miles long, and take approximately 90 minutes. You will learn some of our unique island history, hear about harrowing hurricanes & shipwrecks, listen to tales of the supernatural & creepy local legends, and visit the graves of some of Ocracoke's founding families.
(252) 928-6300

Ocracoke Preservation Society and Museum

49 Water Plant Road
For a peek into Ocracoke's past, visit the Ocracoke Preservation Society's Museum. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to preserving the island's history and cultural heritage and to protecting its environment. Housed in the turn-of-the-century home of Coast Guard Capt. David Williams, the museum lets visitors glimpse island life in the early to mid-1900s. Many of the architectural elements are intact, and a bedroom, living room and kitchen are decorated with period furnishings donated by island families. The museum has photographs, artifacts and exhibits that pertain to island life and culture. A favorite is a video on the Ocracoke brogue. The museum also houses special rotating exhibits and a pleasant gift shop. During the summer, OPS hosts free porch talks that feature a variety of islanders sharing their knowledge of Ocracoke Island stories and history. Stop at the OPS gift shop for a schedule of these events. It's free to visit the museum, though donations are encouraged.
(252) 928-7375

Beach on Ocracoke Island

Ocracoke's beach has attracted increasing national attention as it worked its way up Dr. Beach's acclaimed list of Best Beaches. In 2007, Ocracoke became America's #1 Beach! The wide, sandy beach is clean, and there are plenty of spots where, with a little effort, you can enjoy it undisturbed by others. The ocean reaches high temperatures of 85 F in the summer and can adopt the clear aquamarine hues of tropical waters when the conditions are right. Board sports, surf fishing, swimming, shelling, reading and napping are all popular beach pastimes. The 16 miles of oceanfront beach are part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and are free of development. Pets are welcome, but must be on a 6' leash at all times.

Confirm seasonal routes, beach closures, and ramp openings with the National Park Service. All vehicles on the beach must apply for an off-road vehicle (ORV) beach driving permit.

Permits can be obtained at the NPS visitor center (40 Irvin Garrish Highway, Ocracoke, NC).

There are restrooms, changing rooms and a shower facility located at the day use area on Highway 12 just outside the village. There are plenty of good spots for those looking for more solitude along the entire beach up to the Hatteras Ferry. Look for the paved parking areas, not the sandy shoulder along the highway, for parking your vehicle.

Several threatened and endangered species, such as the piping plover and several species of sea turtles, nest on the island's beaches, and sections may be closed to the public in order to protect these nests. You will see NPS signs posting hours of access and closures at entry ramps where there are endangered species breeding and nesting. Be sure to pay close attention to the park regulations. Violations for intrusions into protected areas and for pets off leash are strictly enforced by park rangers. Check with the National Park Service Visitor Center on Ocracoke for the most updated information.

Ocracoke Lighthouse

360 Lighthouse Road
Ocracoke Lighthouse may be the shortest of the four Outer Banks lighthouses but that only makes it all the more charming. Rising only about 70 feet into the sky, the whitewashed tower sits on a lawn of flawless green surrounded by a white picket fence, outbuildings and a quaint keeper's cottage, creating a picturesque scene of old island life. Built in 1823, this is the oldest lighthouse in North Carolina and the second-oldest in the nation. It is still in operation, and its beam can be seen 14 miles out to sea. During the 4th of July celebrations, native historians are on hand to answer questions and offer a peek into the interior of the lighthouse, though climbing is not permitted.

Historic Marker of Fort Ocracoke

38 Irvin Garrish Highway, behind the NPS Visitor Center
This marker is a little hard to find, but it's worth seeking out. It's on a grassy patch behind the National Park Service Visitor Center and next to the boat ramp. Park the car and walk out to the sound and you'll see it. The marker commemorates Fort Ocracoke, the remnants of which lie submerged in Ocracoke Inlet toward Portsmouth Island. The fort was constructed by volunteers beginning on May 20, 1861; the day North Carolina seceded from the Union to join the Confederacy. One side of the marker lists all the men from Ocracoke and Portsmouth islands who served in the Civil War.

British Cemetery

220 British Cemetery Road
On May 11, 1942, about 40 miles south of Ocracoke, a German submarine torpedoed and sank the British vessel HMS Bedfordshire. The 170-foot ship was one of 24 antisubmarine ships loaned to the United States by Winston Churchill. The entire crew of four officers and 33 crewmen drowned. U.S. Coast Guard officers found four of the bodies washed ashore three days later. The soldiers were buried on a plot of land next to a family's cemetery on land donated to Britain. The Coast Guard still maintains the grave sites and flies a British flag over the graves. Every year on the Friday closest to the May 11th anniversary of the sailors' deaths, there is a formal military ceremony with invited guest speakers to honor the British sailors. The adjacent village cemetery also provides an interesting look back into Ocracoke Island's past.

Ocracoke Working Watermen\'s Exhibit and Education Site

276 Irvin Garrish Highway, Community Square Dock

Come dockside and visit the Skipjack Wilma Lee. Berthed at the historic Ocracoke Community Square dock, the Skipjack Wilma Lee is a beautifully restored 50-foot wooden boat from a bygone era. One of only a few remaining Chesapeake Bay Skipjacks, the Wilma Lee is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Built in Wingate, Maryland in 1940 by Bronza Parks and restored in 2002, the Wilma Lee was then donated to Ocracoke Alive Inc, an Ocracoke based non-profit organization dedicated to arts and education. Skipjacks were single-purpose, sloop-rigged oystering boats with a huge sail plan for pulling oyster dredges through the rich oyster beds of Chesapeake Bay. As the oyster beds of the Chesapeake were depleted and decimated by disease, skipjacks moved south where they were used and built by Albemarle and Pamlico sound watermen.

Though not an Ocracoke boat in origin, the Wilma Lee holds the spirit of hard work and adventure that characterizes the oystering trade then and now. Step back to the time of sail power and visit the Wilma Lee.

Stop by for free dockside talks aboard the Wilma Lee this summer. For more information, call 252-928-SAIL or visit

Beach Jumper Marker on Loop Shack Hill

Irvin Garrish Highway
When driving to the village from the lifeguard beach, look for a large black granite marker on the right side of N.C. Highway 12 just before you reach the village boundary. Behind the marker, up past the dunes is an area of the island called Loop Shack Hill, the site of a little known WWII U.S. Navy project called the Beach Jumpers. This marker was installed in the fall of 2009 at a reunion of the U.S. Navy Beach Jumper Association held at Ocracoke to commemorate the island's participation in this top secret operation.

The story of the Beach Jumpers has only come to light in recent years. In 1943, during WWII before the Naval Station was built on the island, Ocracoke hosted an advanced amphibious training base where tactical cover and deception units, precursors to the celebrated Navy Seals, were organized and trained for the U.S. Navy. This undercover military project was known as the Beach Jumpers and existed not only on Ocracoke but also in other prime locations along the East Coast. In addition to training, these tactical cover and deception units monitored hidden German submarine activity off the eastern coast of the United States during the war. As part of the project a facility was established at Loop Shack Hill to receive pulses from a magnetic cable that ran from Ocracoke to Buxton that indicated when underwater vessels, possibly German submarines, were in the area.

Ocracoke Ponies and Pen

7669 Irvin Garrish Highway
There are many theories about how ponies found their way to Ocracoke Island. Some say they arrived on English ships during 16th-century exploration, others say they were victims of Spanish shipwrecks and some say they were simply livestock for the locals. However they got here, the ponies roamed the island freely for at least two centuries and were very much a part of the island lifestyle in days gone by. The local Boy Scouts even rode them, making them the only mounted troop in the country.

When N.C. Highway 12 was paved in 1957, cars and ponies began to collide. The National Park Service wanted to get rid of the entire herd, but the islanders protested and the Park Service agreed to contain some of the ponies on the island. In 1959, they developed the Ocracoke Pony Pens, a 180-acre pasture area that today houses about 24 ponies. Several ponies are rotated up to the front pasture so that visitors can always get a look at these unusual equines. The Ocracoke ponies have distinctive physical characteristics: five lumbar vertebrae instead of the six found in most horses, 17 ribs instead of 18 and a unique shape, posture, color, size and weight.

The pens are located on N.C. 12 about 7 miles north of the village. It's free to visit, but donations are welcomed to help pay for the food and veterinary care of the ponies. Remember: The ponies are not tame, and they may try to kick or bite you if you try to feed or touch them. Also, remember that people food can be very dangerous for horses, so don't take the chance of making one of these wonderful creatures ill by offering chips or the rest of your sandwich.

Hammock Hills Nature Trail

4281 Irvin Garrish Highway
Just across from the National Park Service's Ocracoke Campground, the Hammock Hills Nature Trail is a 3/4-mile trail through the island's maritime forest and salt marsh. It's a great trail for nature lovers and bird watchers, and there are informative signposts along the way. The hike takes about 30 minutes. There are parking places for several vehicles, or you can access the nature trail by foot or bicycle using the paved bike trail that starts at the village edge across from Howard's Pub. Be sure to bring along insect repellent—the trail is also popular with mosquitoes!

Springer's Point

Springer's Point covers about 90 acres of maritime forest bordering Pamlico Sound near South Point. In 2002 after 10 years of research and negotiation, the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust purchased a 31-acre tract of this land and established a nature preserve. A high point of land overlooking the inlet, Springer's is believed to be the site of the earliest settlements on the island. Supposedly Blackbeard, whose real name was Edward Teach, met up with some fellow pirates here shortly before his 1718 death for several days of rum drinking, a pig roast, bonfires and music. He was discovered at his hangout in November and beheaded in a bloody battle. The deep hole just off the point is a popular fishing spot and still called "Teach's Hole."

Today the preserve is available for more serene pleasures. A half-mile stroll along the groomed trail takes you among the gnarled and ancient live oaks and maritime evergreen forest to the water's edge, where a rookery of heron, egret and ibises can be spotted to the east. Along the trail visitors will see an old well, all which is left of a former home site. Also, take time to notice the amazing fences made of natural wood and vines. The inimitable Sam Jones, who once owned the property, is buried here, next to his horse.

Parking is not available; you must walk or bike to access the property. Donations supporting maritime forest restoration can be made at

Portsmouth Island

Portsmouth Island, just across the inlet from Ocracoke Island, is an enchanting place to visit. This uninhabited island is rugged and remote, one of the last Atlantic coast islands that is free of development, thanks to its status as part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore. There is much to do on this island, all of it free and simple, filled with history and the allure of the natural world.

On the north end of the island is a veritable ghost town known as Portsmouth Village. The village was once one of the largest settlements on the Outer Banks, though no one lives there now, save a caretaker. Portsmouth Village was established in 1753 on the shores of Ocracoke Inlet, and it was predominantly a "lightering" village. Large ships that used Ocracoke Inlet as a major trade route to the mainland would have to be unloaded to pass through the inlet and the shallow sounds and then reloaded as they found deeper waters. The residents of Portsmouth Village did the lightering of the load by moving goods to several smaller flatboats and then reloading the ships a ways down the water. A large community sprang up around this business, with a post office, a church, a school and many homes.

In 1846 Hatteras Inlet opened in a hurricane and was deeper and safer than Ocracoke Inlet. The shipping route shifted to the north, and the Portsmouth villagers had to find other ways to make a living. Later, during the Civil War, many islanders fled to the mainland to avoid advancing Union troops and never came back after the war. Portsmouth Village's population continued to decline until there were only three residents
left in 1970. In 1971, one of them died and the other two left the island reluctantly. In 1976 Portsmouth Village was saved when Cape Lookout National Seashore was established. The village is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Many of the buildings have been restored, and visitors can enter the church, Coast Guard station, school house and post office for a peek at old island life. The interiors look as if the people have just left, and you can look into the windows of some old buildings and see the villagers' former belongings. There is also a visitor center in a restored house where you'll find restrooms and exhibits on the island's history. You can walk from the village to the beach, though it is a long walk so be prepared. The beach at Portsmouth Island is expansive and clean, and the shelling is outstanding.

Conveniences are few on Portsmouth Island. Restrooms are available, but drinking water and food are not. Bring your own, plus sunscreen and insect repellent. The mosquitoes are voracious on Portsmouth Island. The island is only accessible by boat. Tours to Portsmouth are available through Rudy and Donald Austin. Their number is (252) 928-4361 or (252) 928- 5431.