A Trip to Ocracoke Island
Explore North Carolina’s most remote inhabited island
Unlike many coastal towns in North Carolina that require families to simply load up the car, round up the kids and drive a few short hours, visiting the largely uncommercialized, primitive and historic Ocracoke Island requires planning and organization. It’s well worth it, though, to enjoy a relaxing beach vacation immersed in the Outer Banks’ expansive natural offerings.
Here’s what you need to know to get the most out of a vacation on our state’s most remote inhabited island, where you’ll discover a family paradise filled with nature and adventure.
Opt for Two Wheels Instead of Four
Cycling remains the preferred way of traveling around Ocracoke Island. Cyclists have greater access to beautiful island views and can more easily visit local restaurants and landmarks. You’ll see duck families waddling around, old fig trees (there are at least nine varieties growing on the island, according to a 2011 Ocracroke Observer report), the Ocracoke Lighthouse (officially known as the Ocracoke Light Station) and ancient cemeteries (there are more than 80 family graveyards on the island, according to OcracokeNavigator.com, a website providing 200-plus interactive maps of the island).
Plan to take bikes with you, or rent them locally (numerous options are available). Secure young kids by renting a pull-behind attachment.
Explore by Foot
It may take a bit of a trek to reach Springer’s Point, but it’s rewarding, even if small kids are in tow. This large patch of preserved land on Ocracoke Island houses peaceful, sandy trails; live oak trees; birds and critters; and historical markers that educate visitors on the island’s varied history. It is believed that Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard, considered this secluded and beautiful part of the island his favorite hideout.
Hike all the way through Springer’s Point and you’ll find yourself on the Pamlico Sound side of the island — a great swimming option for young kids since the water is calmer than the Atlantic Ocean side. Plus, crowds are often smaller, and groves of established trees provide shady spots for picnics and hammocks. Bug spray is a must. There are no parking options at Springer’s Point, which is why you must access the area by foot or bicycle.
Dine by Sunset
Ocracoke Island offers limited grocery store options, so shop before you come. Do take advantage of the island’s local restaurant offerings, however.
Enjoy coconut shrimp and other coastal-inspired fare on the deck of the Jolly Roger Pub & Marina, a family‑friendly waterfront pub where you can watch the sun set while listening to Jimmy Buffet or Brad Paisley covers. Boats motor in and out of the marina as families and fisherman head out or return home from water adventures.
For a more upscale dining experience, head to Dajio. The New American menu changes with the seasons and island offerings, hence the wide range of fresh seafood options.
You will need a day to get to Ocracoke Island, which is only accessible by ferry, boat or private plane. Fortunately, you’ll be taking the scenic route with ocean views no matter what method of transportation you choose.
The Hatteras Ferry route is free, fast (takes about an hour) and first come, first served, so get there early. Both the Cedar Island Ferry and Swan Quarter Ferry take more than two hours and require advance ticket purchases through the North Carolina Department of Transportation at ncdot.gov/divisions/ferry/pages/default.aspx, where you can also view ferry schedules.
Be sure to stop by the Ocracoke Pony Pens on your way in to see the “Banker” ponies, descendants of horses that arrived with shipwrecked explorers in the 1500s. Learn more at visitocracokenc.com/wild-ponies.
Addie Ladner lives in Raleigh with her husband, two young children and beagle mix.