about ocracoke island

untouched, pristine beaches

welcome to ocracoke sign


Discover Ocracoke Island on the beautiful and historic Outer Banks of North Carolina! Our unspoiled seaside beaches stretch along 16 miles of this breathtaking Island. Owned by the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and maintained by the National Park Service, this pristine environment provides the perfect summer spot for swimming, fishing, boating and surfing. Because of the proximity to the Gulf Stream, our temperate weather also welcomes visitors the rest of the year. World-class shelling, biking, bird-watching and kayaking are just a few of the activities that await “off-season” guests.

The village of Ocracoke at the southern tip of the island is accessible only by private plane, private boat, or one of the state-run ferries from Cedar Island, Swan Quarter, and Hatteras Village.

These limited modes of access have helped preserve the prominent Old English-inspired brogue of the local residents and the old-time island way of life.

Relative Isolation

Until the 1950s, the island’s residents lived in relative isolation. Their contact with the mainland was from daily trips by the mail boat. They made their living from fishing and hunting and as guides. Ocracoke had long been the destination of wealthy hunters and fishermen and of mainland families who could afford to summer in the cool breezes that the Island offered.

It was not until Highway 12 was paved and scheduled ferry service was offered in 1957 that Ocracoke Island was truly discovered.

Touched by war

For a brief period during World War II, the Coast Guard station was transformed into a US Navy base. Beaches were closed, fishing was curtailed, homes and businesses were requisitioned, and the island’s lifestyle was interrupted. The war was witnessed firsthand offshore where “Torpedo Junction” claimed more than 60 ships during the first 6 months of 1942.

The British Cemetery on Ocracoke serves as a reminder of this period and of the generosity of Ocracoke people. It holds the bodies of four young British soldiers who lost their lives when the HMC Bedfordshire was torpedoed by a German submarine off the Ocracoke coast. Island residents found and buried the bodies on donated land and maintained the graves.

sailors drinking
ocracoke pirates

…and pirates

The history of Ocracoke is rich in sea lore. Blackbeard, the infamous pirate who plundered the Carolina coast in the early 1700s, fought his last battle just off the Island at Teach’s Hole, where he lost his head. Legend hints that his vast treasure may still be buried there. Ocracoke Inlet served as the main waterway at one time, forming port towns on Ocracoke and Portsmouth islands and spurring the growth of these coastal villages. Portsmouth Village, now a ghost town, is maintained by the Cape Lookout Park Service and is a great destination for a day trip.

The oldest working lighthouse in North Carolina and one of the oldest on the East Coast has stood tall on Ocracoke since 1823, guiding ships along the treacherous Graveyard of the Atlantic.

Our small community of 1000 year-round residents works together to preserve the Island’s culture and history. Learn about some of the first families of Ocracoke, its place in the Civil and World Wars, and Island traditions at the Ocracoke Preservation Museum near the ferry docks. Local volunteers aid the National Park Service in the care of the famous Banker Ponies that once roamed free and numbered near 200. Today, the descendants are penned on a large track just off Highway 12 and can be observed in their natural habitat.

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