Spotlight: Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Explore this diverse and scenic coastal oasis
What You’ll Find
Whether you enjoy fishing, birding, surfing or shell hunting, Cape Hatteras National Seashore has something for everyone. On the Outer Banks of North Carolina, this beautiful ribbon of sand between the Atlantic Ocean and Pamlico Sound affords visitors both breathtaking sunrises and awe-inspiring sunsets.
Cape Hatteras became the nation’s first national seashore in 1953, and preserves the barrier island’s natural, historical and cultural heritage, as well as offering many different types of recreation.
The shifting sand of these barrier islands creates a biologically diverse and constantly changing ecosystem along the Atlantic Flyway—making Cape Hatteras an important feeding and nesting site for an abundance of bird species and a designated Globally Important Bird Area. Its pristine beaches serve as vital nesting habitat for several species of sea turtles as well.
Cape Hatteras is a relatively short drive from several major urban hubs. It is less than two hours from Norfolk, Virginia, about three hours from Raleigh, North Carolina or four to five hours from the Washington D.C. area. Visit the park’s directions page for more details.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore boasts three first-come, first-serve campgrounds located at Oregon Inlet, Cape Point and Frisc and one reservable campground at Ocracoke Island. Each campground is a short walk to the beach. For lodging opportunities in the villages dotting the seashore, visit the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau.
Make Sure You
Visit one or all of Cape Hatteras’ three historic lighthouses! Shipwrecks were common along this infamous stretch of coast known as the “graveyard of the Atlantic.” As many as 2,000 ships found their final resting place along these shores. The three beacons that still stand today aided many mariners in safely passing this treacherous stretch of shoreline and represent the courage, hardship and perseverance of the early settlers on this isolated chain of islands.
Climb the 257 steps of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse or photograph Ocracoke Island Lighthouse (not open for climbing). The Bodie Island Lighthouse is a must-see during your visit. It opened to visitors in 2013 for the first time in the beacon’s 140-year history after a four-year renovation. You can now climb to the top by joining a ranger-guided tour.
Immerse yourself in the rich history of the Outer Banks by joining a ranger-led program during the peak season, when topics might include pirates, barrier island nature or lighthouses. The Wright Brothers National Memorial and Fort Raleigh National Historic Site are also a short drive from the seashore.
If you are visiting with children, the Junior Ranger Program is a fun way for them to get hands on with the nature and history of the park. Kids from five to 13 years old can earn a Junior Ranger badge by completing the booklet’s age-appropriate activities or by attending park ranger-led programs.
Off-road vehicle driving on Cape Hatteras National Seashore requires a permit. Driving routes may change daily during shorebird and turtle nesting season. Purchase your ORV permits for the 2014 season through Recreation.gov or at one of the three ORV permit offices on the seashore. You’ll be required to watch an ORV Permit video. Get the most current route information at any permit office or by checking this interactive map.
Visit the Cape Hatteras National Seashore website to start planning your trip.
Did You Know?
German U-Boats were operating off the coast of Cape Hatteras during World War I and World War II. The U-Boat, short for the German word Unterseeboot, was a submarine used to disrupt shipping lanes along the Atlantic Coast during the wars. U-Boats sunk nearly 80 ships off the North Carolina coast during World War II in “Torpedo Junction.” The first U-Boat sunk by U.S. Forces on the Atlantic coast happened right off of Bodie Island, now part of Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
The most highly awarded maritime rescue in U.S. history was a result of a torpedo launched from U-117. The men from the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station heroically rescued 42 of the 51 British sailors on the tanker Mirlo from a sea of burning gasoline. For their valor, Congress awarded the six Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station rescuers the Grand Cross of The American Cross of Honor, six of only 11 of these medals ever awarded. Read more about the U.S. Lifesaving Service and visit the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum on Hatteras Island to view U-Boat artifacts and learn more about Torpedo Alley.