Ocracoke Summer: Beach Days & Nights

In May 2018, Dr. Beach rated Ocracoke the #2 beach in the U.S.A. 

According to Dr. Beach (a.k.a., Dr. Stephen Leatherman), our pristine, wild beaches, protected by the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, are notable for their cleanliness, free & easy access, fine sand, excellent water quality, lifeguarded areas, lovely weather, abundant wildlife, and peace & quiet.

Photo by Robert Chestnut

Ocracoke Beach Fires

Ten Ways to Enjoy Ocracoke’s Beaches

By day….

Safety First!: Ocracoke’s Lifeguard Beach (Ocracoke Day Use Area) is the safest place to swim. The lifeguards are on duty 9–5 daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Even at that popular beach, there’s enough room to spread out and enjoy your own piece of paradise. Ocean swimmers should be aware of the possibility of rip currents. Know the signs and how to “break the grip of the rip”: https://oceantoday.noaa.gov/ripcurrent/


Discover Treasure: No, not Blackbeard’s. For many Ocracoke visitors, the real treasure is our abundance of seashells. Ocracoke is one of the North Carolina’s best beaches for finding the state shell, the Scotch Bonnet. Broken bits of Scotch Bonnets are easy to find, but the elusive whole specimens are the shell-seekers favorite find. Other plentiful shells are lettered olives, scallops, baby’s ears, cockles, whelks, and sand dollars. Beachcombers will also find small pieces of coral, big pieces of driftwood, and huge pieces of shipwrecks (this part of the N.C. coast is the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" ). Shelling is best at low tide and at the north and south ends of the island, but you can enjoy good luck up and down the sandbar.


Build a Sandcastle: Ocracoke has great sand for castle-building, and plenty of shells for decorating. You don’t even need a bucket and shovel – just let some wet sand slip through your fingers to build a classic “drip castle.” Some beach architects get creative and competitive, and show off their skills at the annual 4thof July Sand Sculpture Contest. Anyone can join in the fun by signing up here: http://business.visitocracokenc.com/form/view/11309


Catch Your Dinner: Ocracoke is renowned for its fishing, and summer is a great time to cast a line in the surf. What’s on the menu for summer suppers? Tasty pompano, flounder, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, and red drum can all be caught from the shore. The helpful staff at Tradewinds Tackle can tell you what’s biting and where, and what to use for bait. 


Take a “Scud”: Ocracoke has several beach access ramps for Off-Road Vehicles (ORVs), and many visitors and residents enjoy a scud – that’s the local term for a leisurely drive. Sunset from South Point is a must-see. If you have your own 4-wheel drive vehicle, you’ll need a permit from the National Park Service to use any of the ORV ramps. The permit office is open every day and you can also purchase a permit online. (https://www.nps.gov/caha/planyourvisit/permitsandreservations.htm#ORV) Ocracoke Beach Ride Rentals provides the 4x4 and the permit; call 252-916-0133 for reservations. New for 2018 is Ocracoke Beach Tours, which takes passengers on village and beach tours in their open-air tram. 


Sit in the Saddle: Charlie Horse Stables offers four guided horseback riding trips to the beach every day for groups of up to five people. The rides last an hour and are fun for all ages. Call 703-650-8007 for reservations. 


Pitch In and Clean Up: Ocracoke’s pristine beaches depend on all of us to keep them clean and beautiful. The National Park Service and local organizations lead several beach litter pick-up efforts each year, but anytime is a good time to help out. Thanks!


By night….

Go Ghost Hunting: Take the kids and a flashlight to the beach at night to hunt for ghost crabs – Ocracoke’s most populous beach critter. The translucent white crustaceans glow in the dark and come out at night to soak up the moon’s rays. The fun is in “catching” them with your flashlight beam and watching as they scurry along the sand, popping in and out of their holes and tunnels.


See the Stars: Ocracoke’s night sky is amazing. The island is one of the darkest spots on the East Coast, with almost no light pollution, giving visibility to hundreds of thousands of stars. Cape Hatteras National Seashore offers a Night Sky program every Monday night at 8:30 PM at the Lifeguard Beach/Ocracoke Day Use Area. Learn about the constellations and planets visible from Ocracoke, including the Milky Way. 


Roast a Marshmallow: Nothing beats a beach fire for family fun at night. To build a fire, all you need is some firewood (available at the Ocracoke Variety Store), a free permit from the National Park Service (download and print one here: https://www.nps.gov/caha/planyourvisit/permitsandreservations.htm#Fire), a shovel (for digging the fire pit) and a bucket (for extinguishing.) Even better, you can hire Ocracoke Beach Fires to do it all for you. They provide everything for the fire including set-up, clean-up, and beach chairs, so you can just walk in and walk out. Don’t forget the marshmallows!


What did we forget? Surfing, sea kayaking, boogie-boarding, kite-flying, bird-watching, just relaxing…. so many more ways to enjoy the sea, sand, and sun! What’s your favorite?

Ocracoke Island, NC

16 miles of beautiful, pristine beaches in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore

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