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Nature & Wildlife Adventures in Ocracoke Island: A Visitor’s Guide


Nestled within North Carolina’s Outer Banks along the eastern coast of the United States, Ocracoke Island is renowned for being an outdoorsy paradise. With miles of unspoiled beaches, breathtaking trails, preserves, and endless natural beauty, this NC island is a dream destination for those who want to connect with nature.

Every corner of the island displays exuberant flora and rich wildlife, including stunning birds, box and sea turtles, snakes, raccoons, squirrels, white-tailed deer… Phew, the list is long!

All this natural beauty can be enjoyed at your own pace or through activities like kayaking, paddleboarding, fishing, and much more.

Planning a visit to the region soon? Here’s a well-curated list of the best ways to enjoy nature and wildlife on Ocracoke Island, NC.


1. Spot local flora and fauna along the Hammock Hills Nature Trail


Hammock Hills Nature Trails is a great opportunity for nature lovers to experience the local fauna and flora. The 3/4 mile hiking trail takes about 30 minutes and it offers a great introduction to the island’s diversity — from maritime forest and sand dunes to salt marsh ecosystems and exuberant wildlife. 

Around the maritime forest and sand dunes keep your eyes peeled for a wide variety of bird species, lizards, snakes, and box turtles. The wetlands are home to frogs and toads which are a hit with the kids — they love listening to the calls of these creatures and spotting them in the water.

The rich flora also makes everything more appealing. Oaks and hickories provide a lovely canopy and shade for hikers and seasonal blooming flowers give the trail a splash of color. Along the trail, you’ll also find signposts providing educational information about the fauna and flora. 

If you’re traveling with your furry companion, Hammock Hills Nature Trail is dog-friendly, allowing them to hike with you as long as you keep them on a leash. 

Mosquito alert: make sure to bring mosquito repellent — especially if you are visiting during the summer months — for a more comfortable experience.



2. Walk or bike around the
Ocracoke Lighthouse

A visit to Ocracoke Lighthouse, the oldest operating lighthouse in North Carolina and the second oldest in the United States, is not only infused with history and architecture. After checking out the iconic white structure, walk or bike around the area to explore the natural scenery and wildlife.  

Among the gorgeous live oaks, loblolly pines, red cedars, coastal grasses, and wildflowers you’ll have the chance to spot seabirds, shorebirds raccoons, squirrels, and colorful butterflies. Here’s a tip: walk from Silver Lake Harbor to the lighthouse. This is a short and pleasant walk where you can soak in the island’s slow pace of life and admire the marvelous natural backgrounds. 

Don’t forget to take a picture with your family in front of the lighthouse, a jewel of early 19th-century architecture and a symbol of Ocracoke. It’s a fantastic backdrop for family pics blending the picturesque architecture with the breathtaking coastal vegetation of the area.


Springer's Point


3. Admire majestic live oaks and tidal pools at Springer’s Point Nature Preserve

Home to a variety of ecosystems, including maritime forests, tidal red cedar forests, salt marshes, wet grasslands, and a picturesque sound-front beach, Springer’s Point Nature Preserve is another must-visit spot for wildlife and nature enthusiasts featuring a gorgeous 0.8-mile nature trail. 

Meandering the maritime forest, salt marsh, and wet grasslands, the trail offers amazing views of Pamlico Sound, plaques with interesting information about the unique plants and trees you find along the way, and benches where you can take a rest and soak all in. Some highlights of the preserve are the majestic live oaks covered in Spanish moss and the fascinating creatures you have the chance to spot all around — from ospreys and herons to box turtles, and various snake species. Another popular activity is exploring the tidal pools home to a lovely marine ecosystem.

Did you know? At the beginning of the 18th century, the infamous pirate Blackbeard camped in this very area before meeting his end. The waters off Springer’s Point, known as Teach’s Hole, witnessed the final battle between Blackbeard and the British Royal Navy.

Note: There is no parking available in this area; walking or biking is required to access it.


4. From inshore fishing to big catch hotspots, embark on a fishing adventure

The entire Outer Banks is famous for being an exceptional fishing spot, but Ocracoke goes the extra mile when it comes to this outdoor activity. With several fishing charters available on the island, it’s easy to explore deeper waters for offshore fishing, and the island’s location, just 12 miles from the Gulf Stream, makes it a big catch hotspot.

From wading to surfing and kayak fishing, there are also incredible inshore fishing opportunities on Ocracoke, thanks to the largest estuary systems in North America on the sound side of the island.

The world-class fishing options cater to anglers of all ages and experience levels, and among the most popular catches are speckled trout, pups, wahoo, sailfish, triggerfish, snappers, bluefin tuna, and Spanish mackerel, to name a few.



5. Immerse yourself in nature on a paddleboard or kayak

While visiting Ocracoke, hitting the waters and experiencing the natural beauty from a different perspective is one of the most beautiful things you can do. Rent a kayak or paddleboard and glide through the tranquil waters that surround the island. You’ll have the chance to see the diverse ecosystems and wildlife up close, whether you explore the serene marshes, the tranquil sound-side shores, or the blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

Paddling through the salt marsh creeks and Pamlico Sound, for example, is highly recommended since you can see ancient trees, hidden coves, and unspoiled shorelines, and spot plenty of birds and marine life.

Engaging in these activities is easy since there are several rental options available on the island, so you don’t need to worry about bringing your own equipment. You can also check out kayaking and paddleboarding excursions that provide a fun and informative experience while exploring the natural surroundings.


Ocracoke Beach

6. Indulge in the most pristine beach scenery

The number one thing to do when it comes to nature exploration on Ocracoke Island is to explore its 16 miles of pristine, undeveloped beaches. 

The local beaches are great for embracing nature in all its serenity since the shores on Ocracoke are generally uncrowded. In 2022, the Lifeguard Beach was ranked as the best beach in the USA by Dr. Beach, thanks to its clean waters and sand, safety, and for being the perfect environment for relaxation, and connection with nature and wildlife. 

Along the unspoiled shores on the island you can enjoy the stunning scenery composed of sea oats, and beach morning glory giving a touch of color to sand dunes, among other coastal vegetation. Keep your eyes peeled on the blue waters of the ocean since dolphins can be seen playing in the surf.

Other captivating creatures you can spot include sandpipers, plovers, gulls, and sea turtles, occasionally spotted during nesting season.




7. Feel miles away from everything on Portsmouth Island

Portsmouth Island is an uninhabited island located just south of Ocracoke Island on the other side of Ocracoke Inlet. This is a go-to place for adventurers who want to feel they’re miles away from civilization and be surrounded by wild and rustic surroundings.

Visitors usually feel they step back in time while visiting the island, especially because of its eerie yet charming abandoned village among unspoiled nature. While there are no vacation homes or active businesses on the island, you can find unlimited camping options to connect with nature. Throughout the beaches and natural surroundings dotted with marsh grasses and dune vegetation, you’ll spot plovers, terns, and skimmers, as well as fiddler and ghost crabs.

However, one of the biggest attractions in Portsmouth is beach combing. The island is a beachcomber’s paradise where hundreds, if not thousands, of local North Carolina shells are scattered along the shore.

Note: Portsmouth Island is remote and only accessible by a small boat or privately run boat. There are no stores or accommodations on the island.


Extra tips on How to Make the Best of Your Nature & Wildlife Adventure on Ocracoke Island

Here are some extra tips for enjoying the best Mother Nature has to offer to the fullest and in the most respectful way:

  • Pack Essentials: Remember to bring sunscreen, insect repellent, water, and snacks when heading outdoors. The sun can be strong, and mosquitoes can be prevalent in certain areas. 
  • Check the Weather: Ocracoke’s weather can be unpredictable, so always check the forecast before heading out. Be prepared for changes in weather conditions, especially if you’re planning outdoor activities like hiking or kayaking. 
  • Stay Hydrated: Bring plenty of water when exploring outdoors, especially in the warmer months. There are limited facilities in some areas, so it’s important to be prepared.
  • Leave No Trace: Carry out all trash and respect the natural surroundings. Stick to marked trails to prevent erosion and protect vegetation.
  • Respect Wildlife: Ocracoke is home to diverse wildlife, including birds, sea turtles, and marine mammals. Be respectful of their habitats and observe wildlife from a distance to avoid disturbance. Also, avoid picking flowers or damaging natural formations. 



Nature and Wildlife Adventures in Ocracoke Island: A Visitor’s Guide

Now that you’re covered on the best nature and wildlife adventures in Ocracoke Island, it is time to plan your trip and count the days for experiencing one of the most beautiful natural settings in the US.

Want more general tips about Ocracoke Island? Then head to our destination blog! From the best events happening year-round on the island to the perfect spots to have breakfast, we have you covered. And there’s much more content coming soon, so stay tuned.



Where to stay in Ocracoke Island, NC

If you choose to vacation with Ocracoke Island Realty, you’ll have an unparalleled experience of relaxation and adventure on the stunning shores of Ocracoke Island.

Our local expertise means you’ll have access to insider tips on the best activities, dining, and attractions on Ocracoke Island. Our rental properties are top-notch, equipped with all the amenities and comforts you and your family need for a memorable vacation by the sea.

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