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Top 8 Things to See on Ocracoke Island

Ocracoke Island

Ocracoke Island, a tiny oasis located in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, is an almost hidden gem with a rich potpourri of history, culture, natural beauty, peace, and tranquility. As an untouched paradise, the island promises experiences that will leave you both enchanted and relaxed. Here are some of the top things that should definitely be on your itinerary when visiting Ocracoke Island.

1. Ocracoke Lighthouse

Ocracoke Lighthouse

As an iconic emblem of Ocracoke Island, the Ocracoke Lighthouse continues to shine its light across the waters, guiding sailors just as it has for centuries. Towering at a height of approximately 75 feet, this historic structure is the oldest operational lighthouse in North Carolina. The lighthouse’s stark white, candy-striped exterior not only signifies its importance to maritime history, but also enhances its charm and allure for visitors from all over the world.

While climbing to the top of this historical beacon is not allowed, its presence still evokes feelings of wonder, awe, and admiration. Steeped in rich history, the Ocracoke Lighthouse dates back to 1823 when construction began, after Congress authorized a budget of $20,000 for it. The lighthouse was completed later that year, far below the budget at a total cost of $11,359, and by the summer of 1824, Anson Harker, the first lighthouse keeper, arrived to oversee its operations.

Located at the southern end of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, in Ocracoke Village, this lighthouse has played a significant role in shaping the history of the Outer Banks. From guiding ships safely through the shifting channels of Ocracoke Inlet to helping General Washington’s Continental army with supplies during the Revolutionary War, this lighthouse has been an indispensable asset in the development of the region.

Visitors to this historical site, nestled among age-old trees, can revel in the serenity and tranquility that envelops it. The Ocracoke Lighthouse is open to the public during the summer months with limited hours; it is always best to check with the Ocracoke Discovery Center for details on visiting hours. This picturesque lighthouse offers a sublime experience that hearkens back to the past and serves as an excellent backdrop for panoramic photographs, capturing the essence of Ocracoke Island’s maritime heritage.

2. Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach

Ocracoke Lifeguard Beach Sunrise

Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach, hailed as one of the best beaches in the United States, is a treasure trove of natural beauty and recreational opportunities. Nestled in the heart of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, this paradise for beach lovers invites you to luxuriate in its warm and inviting golden sands, bask under the radiant sun making patterns in the sky, and lose yourself in the rhythmic symphony of the waves.

What makes the waters here special is their warmth, graced by the influence of the nearby Gulf Stream. This makes them pleasantly inviting for both adults and children alike, who can frolic in the clear, tranquil sea, and play safely to their heart’s content thanks to lifeguard supervision. The beach also assures every convenience for visitors, ranging from showers, changing rooms to accessible restrooms, ensuring a leisurely and hassle-free beach day.

Observing these patterns can amplify your beach experience. Why not join in the rhythm, and break out your surfing or body-boarding skills? These waves are perfect for lovers of sea sports. Even moments of simple play in the waves are elevated as you become part of this natural rhythm and energy.

Before diving in, though, remember to respect mother nature’s power. The changing tides, the surf, and the strong winds are ongoing reminders of the dynamic nature of these barrier islands. Even at the shore’s edge, waves can be powerful and unpredictable, with the potential to cause injuries. Always prioritise safety and pay heed to any instructions or alerts, ensuring an enjoyable visit for all.

Finally, after a day filled with sun, sand, and surf, why not indulge your creative side? Get down with the kids and build sandcastles straight out of fairytales, or challenge your friends to a spirited game of beach volleyball. There’s no limit to the entertainment Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach offers.

3. British Cemetery

British Cemetery

The British Cemetery in Ocracoke takes visitors on a poignant journey into the past, offering a glimpse of the island’s intricate history intertwined with the lives of foreign forces during World War II. Located off British Cemetery Road, this site bears testimony to the tragic loss of British sailors whose vessel, the HMT Bedfordshire, was torpedoed by a German U-boat on May 11, 1942. The attack claimed the lives of all 37 British Royal Navy sailors on board, with the bodies of four sailors washing ashore on Ocracoke Island in the following days. Compassionate residents buried the sailors in local cemetery plots, which now host these four graves.

The torpedo attack on the HMT Bedfordshire was part of Operation Paukenschlag, or Operation Drumroll, a plan conceived by German Rear-Admiral and U-boat commander Karl Dönitz. The operation aimed at exploiting the United States’ vulnerabilities due to its inadequate war preparations and striking merchant ships along the poorly protected eastern seaboard. The German U-boats’ predatory tactics caused devastating losses to the Allied merchant ships, sinking a staggering 397 ships between January and June 1942.

The North Carolina coast, particularly Cape Hatteras, became a navigational focal point for the U-boat commanders, resulting in a staggering number of merchant ships being sunk off the coast and earning the area the grim nickname “Torpedo Junction.” Local beaches were strewn with wreckage, oil, and bodies from the relentless attacks, which continued unabated until reinforcements arrived to provide the necessary defense.

Every spring in May, the Ocracoke British Cemetery witnesses a special ceremony hosted by the National Park Service, the US Coast Guard, and the British Royal Navy, to pay tribute to the brave men who lost their lives in the attacks. This ceremony is a testament to the historic alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom, further highlighting the bond that has been forged over centuries of working together.

4. Ocracoke Preservation Museum


The Ocracoke Preservation Museum, nestled in the heart of Ocracoke Village, is a gateway to the rich cultural history and maritime heritage of Ocracoke Island. When you meander through its doors, you aren’t merely stepping inside a museum; you’re stepping back in time, immersing yourself in a tapestry of stories that have shaped the island and its way of life.

Situated in the historic David Williams House, which dates back to 1900, the Museum itself is a compelling artifact. David Williams, a noted ship pilot and the last keeper of the Ocracoke lighthouse, built this house. Therefore, his residence, which exudes quaint charm with its cedar-shake siding and white picket fences, naturally lends itself to be a portal into the past. Experiencing the architecture, the layout, and the preserved historical elements such as the heart-pine flooring, you approximate the living conditions of inhabitants from over a century ago.

Inside the Museum, you encounter vibrant displays of artifacts, photographs, and island memorabilia that weave an intricate narrative of Ocracoke’s vibrant history. Everyday objects from bygone eras find a place here, transforming into time capsules that echo the island’s unique story. The Museum holds a variety of collections spanning across different eras, the centerpiece being an assortment of maritime artifacts that attest to the island’s long-standing relationship with the sea.

Through these exhibits, you embark on a journey that grants a comprehensive understanding of the island’s varied maritime culture. Ships models, nautical instruments, and other maritime memorabilia bring alive the island’s seafaring origins and the lives of pilots, fishermen, and wreckers who made the sea their home.

5. Portsmouth Village


Step into a world frozen in time as you explore Portsmouth Village, a historical site preserved and maintained by the National Park Service. This deserted village offers visitors the unique experience of immersing themselves in a time capsule preserved in its original glory from the height of its bustling life to its gradual decline and eventual abandonment.

Visiting Portsmouth Village feels like stepping into a black-and-white photograph, one where the structures still stand, echoing the tales of a lively community that once inhabited them. Despite its current desolation, the village seems to hum with the lively echoes of children’s laughter, the rhythmic tolling of church bells, the fascinating tales spun in local stores, and the ceaseless activities revolving around harbor life.

The village’s ethereal silence is a stark contrast to its past as a bustling sea village. Founded in 1753 on the North Carolina coast, it served as a major maritime center until the mid-19th century, its importance underscored by the establishment of a lifesaving station, a post office, and a school. As you wander its lanes, you can envision the harbor buzzing with activity, filled with cargo from ships too large to traverse the shallow inlets.

One of the highlights of Portsmouth Village is the Theodore and Annie Salter House, which now serves as the visitor center. The Salters were among the last residents of the village, and their home provides a fascinating glimpse into a typical island life during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Artifacts, photographs, and archival documents preserved and displayed in their house, as well as the Post Office and the General Store, weave stories of survival, resilience, and simple joys.

Also noteworthy is the historical Methodist Church, a beacon of faith that held the community together. The presence of the school showcases the importance of education, while the well-preserved U.S. Lifesaving Station stands testimony to the selfless heroics of crews who braved the relentless sea to rescue sailors from shipwrecks.

For the curious wanderers, Portsmouth Village offers guided walking tours seasonally, where park rangers enlighten visitors with historical anecdotes and fascinating trivia about the village. There’s also the option to download an audio tour and embark on your own unique journey of exploration.

Visiting this village requires some preparation. It is only accessible by boat, and public facilities are limited. Restrooms are available in the Salter House and there are compost toilets on the road past the Life Saving Station. Also, ensure to have essentials like insect repellent, drinking water, food, sunscreen, adequate clothing, a hat, and good walking shoes as the village trails can challenge you with standing water and sandy soils.

6. Ocracoke Pony Pens

Ocracoke Ponies

For horse enthusiasts, a visit to the Ocracoke Pony Pens on Ocracoke Island in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore is a truly special treat—one that plays out like an enchanting narrative from a time long forgotten. Here, the Ocracoke Wild Ponies, a symbol of free will and unbroken spirit, thrive under the careful stewardship of the National Park Service, embodying a mesmerizing blend of raw wild beauty and graceful strength.

Legend has it that these remarkable creatures were left behind by Spanish explorers in the 16th and 17th centuries. European ships, embarking on expeditions to the New World, often carried livestock aboard. When a ship ran aground near the coast, these animals were thrown overboard to lessen the load and refloat the ship. As the ship set sail again, the horses and other livestock were often left behind, left to adapt and survive on their own on these new shores.

The survival and evolution of these abandoned horses led to the creation of a unique equine tapestry, one that has left hoof prints across the sands of time. First documented by European settlers in the 1730s, the ponies have been integral to the island’s history ever since. They served the residents as beasts of burden, companions during beach rides, and even competitors in local races. The role of these ponies was so significant that even the Ocracoke Boy Scouts had the honor of tending to these equines, boasting the only mounted troop in the nation in the late 1950s.

Following the construction of Highway 12 in 1957, concerns about over-grazing and traffic safety led to the ponies being corralled. Since the early 1960s, the National Park Service has taken the mantle of caring for this resilient herd, helping preserve and understand their unique lineage.

Transitioning from the bustling activity of the village and its beaches to the quietude of the Ocracoke Pony Pens, you’ll find a moment of serene contemplation. You can view these majestic creatures from the enclosure itself or from a distance on the beach, each perspective offering a unique glimpse into their lives. The sight of these animals in their natural habitat, particularly during the early morning or late afternoon feedings, is a moving spectacle that connects you directly to the island’s rich history and its close relationship with these remarkable creatures.

7. Springer’s Point 

In the heart of Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, lies Springer’s Point — a nature preserve filled with breathtaking splendor. This sanctuary of rejuvenation allows travelers to connect with nature in ways that are compelling, soothing, and awe-inspiring. The island, often overlooked in favor of more commercial tourist destinations, is a tranquil haven that offers an intoxicating mixture of thriving biodiversity, historical intrigue, and serene landscapes.

Upon setting foot in Springer’s Point, you are instantly engulfed in a world teeming with life. Greenery saturates the landscape, a rich quilt of maritime forest and brackish marshes. The lush foliage captures a beautiful kaleidoscope of colors, complementing the clear blue sky overhead. With every step, you wind through trails thick with gnarled live oaks–silent, resilient sentinels of time–as their branches reach out and form natural tunnels, inviting you deeper into the preserve’s hidden gems.

This symphony of nature’s charm, however, shares its stage with echoes of human history, stirred by tales of adventure, fortune, and piracy. The island, synonymous with maritime heritage, whispers secrets of daring exploits from centuries past. Its stories are immortalized in legends of hidden treasures and infamous pirates.

Centuries ago, the infamous pirate Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, allegedly secreted himself and his plundered fortunes among these ancient woods and tranquil waterways. Local lore maintains that the ghost of Blackbeard yet lurks among the gnarly live oaks and along the secluded shorelines of Springer’s Point. It’s easy, as you pick your way through the forest, to imagine shadowy figures moving among the trees, whispered conversations carrying on the salt-tinged breeze, faded echoes of raucous laughter, and rowdy sea shanties mixing with the more natural sounds of the island.

8. Hammock Hills Nature Trail


Hammock Hills Nature Trail, located on Ocracoke Island, is a beautiful and serene escape into the wild natural setting of the Outer Banks. Measuring 3/4-mile-long, this trail invites you to lace up your hiking boots and set off on a journey that is as informative as it is breathtaking.

Beginning your exploration through a shrub thicket woodland, the trail immediately sets a deep connection with its surroundings. Following this path, you will cross a beautifully structured boardwalk where the trail starts its looping course just past a freshwater branch of Island Creek. If you choose to turn right at the juncture, the terrain changes to showcase an open dune landscape, peppered with low-growing prickly pear cacti—a rather unexpected but delightful find.

Soon enough, the trail veers into a pine forest, a testament to the regenerative power of nature in an environment where only the most salt-tolerant can thrive. The scent of pine fills the air and under the cooling shade of these evergreens, you get to marvel at the richly diverse maritime forest while enjoying the refreshing salt breeze carried in from the nearby ocean. Here, the symphony of songbirds native to the region provides a soothing soundtrack to your journey.

Look up and you might spot a black skimmer, a gull-like bird known to swoop low, using its large lower bill to scoop up its fishy meals from this nutritious marsh. In the later hours, the setting sun might delight you as it dips into the waters, gracefully obscuring the distant shores of North Carolina.

The trail winds back, pulling you away from the marsh before re-immersing you into the protective cover of the pine forest. If you’re lucky, you might even spot some of the local fauna like white-tailed deer and marsh rabbits. This lower, protective pine covered zone is a sanctuary for the forest’s population: black racers, skinks, mice, and tree frogs finding refuge from predators like owls and the northern harriers often circling overhead.

Stay with Ocracoke Island Realty

Your seaside story awaits at Ocracoke Island Realty, where unforgettable memories are just a reservation away. Choosing to stay with us isn’t just about finding a place to sleep; it’s about crafting an experience that cherishes the charm and tranquility of Ocracoke Island, complemented with the comfort and convenience of feeling at home.

As the day wanes and the lighthouse begins its nightly vigil, picture yourself nestled in one of our many waterfront rentals, with the sounds of the waves serenading you to sleep. Or, if you prefer a touch of history, imagine staying in one of our historic homes, each with unique stories etched into their walls. Whether you’re looking for a pet-friendly space to bring your furry friend, seeking the luxury of a poolside view, or dreaming of short stays carved out just right for quick island getaways, Ocracoke Island Realty offers a tapestry of options to suit your every need.

We are not just a booking service. Ocracoke Island Realty embodies the heart and soul of island hospitality. Our local expertise ensures that your vacation pulses with the island’s best-kept secrets and must-see destinations. From sunrise strolls on untouched dunes to an adventure-filled day of world-class sportfishing, boating, kayaking, and paddleboarding, your itinerary can be as relaxed or as action-packed as you desire.

For those who hear the island’s call not just for a visit but as a siren song to put down roots, our real estate listings beckon with promise. Let our seasoned agents guide you through the process of making Ocracoke Island a more permanent backdrop to your life.

We at Ocracoke Island Realty understand that a vacation is not just a break from the everyday; it is an interlude where life-long memories are created, where time stands still just long enough for you to catch your breath, and where the magic of the island strengthens bonds with loved ones.

As the sun dips below the horizon and the stars begin their nightly dance, you’ll know that Ocracoke isn’t just a destination; it’s a feeling—a warm, at-ease, contented feeling that says, “You’re where you belong.” Book your next vacation with Ocracoke Island Realty, and let us welcome you home to a slice of paradise where every moment becomes a treasure.