Published by Christina Riley. Last Updated on February 29, 2024.
The Outer Banks is one of North Carolina’s most pristine and beautiful places, all the way from the Virginia border down through Cape Lookout National Seashore. Much of the area’s beauty can be uncovered through these wonderful things to do on Ocracoke Island, though.
Only accessible through a public ferry or private boat (or private plane), visitors will find that there are plenty of memories to be made on Ocracoke Island, whether you’re here for a weekend or longer. The barrier island is home to a quaint fishing village, pirate legends, and relatively untouched beaches, among many more highlights.
Whether you know the island well or you’ve never visited it before, we’re leaving no detail behind. If you live in the Ocracoke area and are wondering, “What are the best things to do near me?” we think this guide will help you enjoy one of our favorite spots on the NC coast!
For a relatively small island, there’s a lot to know before you go, and here’s what you’ll find below:
- Where is Ocracoke Island (Quick Facts and Location Info)
- The History of Ocracoke Island
- Getting to Ocracoke Island Today
- Getting Around Ocracoke Island
- Where to Stay
- Annual Events
- Year-round Things to Do on Ocracoke Island
- Nearby Places to Go
Read More: The Best Things to Do in the Outer Banks
Where is Ocracoke Island?
As promised, here are a few quick facts to go with Ocracoke Island location info:
- Ocracoke is a 16-mile long barrier island off the coast of North Carolina and looks off to the Atlantic Ocean.
- It is technically part of the well-known Outer Banks, but there is no bridge that connects Ocracoke to the island of Hatteras.
- The only way to reach Ocracoke is via ferry, private boat, or private plane, which we will go into more detail on options below.
- The Village of Ocracoke is located at the southwest end of the island and it is best to traverse the island via bicycle or golf cart.
- The main road that runs through Ocracoke is NC-12, also known as Irvin Garrish Highway in Ocracoke Village. This road is also part of the Outer Banks Scenic Byway that runs all the way through Cape Hatteras National Seashore up to Nags Head.
- With the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Pamlico Sound providing calm waters on the other, there are plenty of opportunities for aqua adventures!
The History of Ocracoke (Blackbeard and More!)
Before you dig into the best things to do on Ocracoke Island, you need to understand its interesting background. Here are some important historical tidbits:
- Before it became a part of North Carolina, Ocracoke was inhabited by Native Americans.
- The Wocon tribe, pre-dating European arrival, is credited with living here.
- In fact, the earliest recorded names for the island come from the Wocon people. (Ex. Wokokon and Wocokon)
- The “W” was dropped from these names and they evolved to become “Ocracoke.”
- Pirates frequented Ocracoke and used it as a hiding spot and base of operations.
- On November 22, 1718, the infamous Blackbeard was killed here by Lieutenant Robert Maynard on orders delivered by then-Virginia Governor Spotswood.
- The island was granted to then-Colonial Secretary of North Carolina John Lovick in 1719 and William Howard bought Ocracoke Island in 1759. In fact, the name “Howard” has been passed down to residents of the island today.
- Regardless of the island’s relative seclusion, it has seen some action over the years.
- Ocracoke Inlet served as a strategic entry point during the Revolutionary War and also, the Civil War.
- Fort Ocracoke was established on Beacon Island nearby and was attacked in 1861. The fort was abandoned as a result.
- On May 11, 1942, the HMS Bedfordshire of the British Royal Navy was sunk by a German U-Boat off the coast of Ocracoke Island. All on board lost their lives and are honored at the British Cemetery in Ocracoke Village.
- During the past couple of hundred years, Ocracoke has attracted mariners and anglers. The seafood industry is still a big part of what makes Ocracoke the amazing place we all know today. Ocracoke Seafood Company (416 Irvin Garrish Highway)—operated by Ocracoke’s Working Watermen—is the island’s only fish house, and the base of operations for more than 30 area watermen. It’s easy to spot along NC-12/Irvin Garrish Highway.
There are so many more interesting facts about Ocracoke. Stay tuned for more! In the meantime, let’s continue this guide to Ocracoke Island’s attractions!
Getting to Ocracoke Today
The ferry is the only way to get to Ocracoke, and there are several accesses depending on where you are coming from. All of the public ferries allow both passengers and vehicles.
- The Hatteras Ferry (1 hour): The Hatteras Ferry to Ocracoke is FREE and during peak season runs every 30 minutes from 5:00 am to midnight. Advanced reservations are not needed for this ferry because it runs frequently. But do note that the Hatteras Island Ferry terminal is located 16 miles away from the Village of Ocracoke so plan on that length when factoring in leaving for your ferry.
- The Cedar Island Ferry (2 hours 15 minutes) and the Swan Quarter Ferry (2 hours 40 minutes): Reservations are highly recommended for both the Cedar Island and Swan Quarter Ferry services. Coming from Durham, we usually decide to take the Cedar Island Ferry after spending the night in Morehead City or Beaufort. This means less time in the car driving and more time on the ferry than if we had taken the Swan Quarter Ferry. After reserving your ferry, make sure to arrive at least 30 minutes early as you will need to wait in line to secure your ticket from your reservation.
Note: The Cedar Island and Swan Quarter terminal on Ocracoke lands near the Village and is not the same ferry terminal as the Hatteras/Ocracoke ferry terminal.
Getting Around Ocracoke
While the ferry to Ocracoke does include your vehicle, getting around the island by golf cart or bike is the most preferable form of transportation.
We’ve rented a golf cart from Ocracoke Island Golf Carts (216 Irvin Garrish Hwy). They provide hourly, overnight, and multi-day rental options. It is preferable to reserve your cart in advance, but they do offer walk-in rentals if supply is available.
If you’d rather cruise around on two wheels, renting a bicycle on Ocracoke is just as easy! Most of the local businesses have bike racks outside so you don’t have to worry about parking spots.
The paths are wide and from end-to-end from the Lifeguard Beach to the village is only a 2-mile ride. Renting a bicycle on Ocracoke is super affordable and there are several companies to choose from including:
How Big is Ocracoke Island?
Ocracoke Island is 16 miles long but is often less than 1 mile wide. This means that it is easy to explore most of the island with just a golf cart or a bicycle!
Where to Stay on Ocracoke Island
There are plenty of inns, short-term rentals, and hotels located on Ocracoke to choose from depending on your budget and desired accommodation needs. Here are a few options.
When visiting Ocracoke in 2022, we stayed at Blackbeard’s Lodge (111 Back Rd), which has the atmosphere of a Bed & Breakfast but with the privacy of a hotel.
There are 36 newly renovated guest rooms that include suites, efficiencies, and fully stocked kitchens. Guests will enjoy access to an outdoor pool, game room, and direct bicycle and golf cart rentals.
The rooms are pet-friendly and within walking distance of Village restaurants and shops.
The Pony Island Inn
Another fantastic lodging option is The Pony Island Inn (785 Irvin Garrish Hwy). Also located in the heart of the Village, The Pony Island Inn has a total of 50 guest units including 5 suites with whirlpool tubs, 4 efficiency units, and a beautiful outdoor pool.
If you are more of a camper, the National Parks Service Campground is less than 4 miles from the village and offers 136 well-maintained campsites.
Open seasonally from April to November, this is a popular option for many visitors looking to escape the buzz of life and take in clear starry nights.
Do you have a favorite place to stay on Ocracoke Island? We’d love to hear about it!
Read More: National Parks in North Carolina
Annual Events on Ocracoke
Plan your trip to Ocracoke around some of these annual events! Blackbeard’s Pirate Jamboree and the OWWA Oyster Roast are two of the island’s most popular events and bring lots of visitors and locals alike to celebrate.
Here they are, along with some more celebrations:
- Portsmouth Island Homecoming (April, Every Other Year): This exciting event on Ocracoke Island’s neighbor Portsmouth Island is open to all. Portsmouth Homecoming brings together ancestors of those who lived on the former port town. As advertised, everyone is welcome to buy a ticket and attend.
- Ocracoke Fig Festival (August): During the Ocracoke Fig Festival, you can learn about the island’s relationship with the delicious fruit enjoyed savory and sweet.
- Blackbeard’s Pirate Jamboree (October): The Blackbeard’s Pirate Jamboree is a fun mix of Halloween and history. The event commemorates the last days of the infamous Blackbeard, who was killed off Ocracoke Island on November 22, 1718. Food and fun join the history and attendees are encouraged to show up in their best pirate gear!
- OWWA Oyster Roast (December): The Ocracoke Working Watermen’s Association Oyster Roast & Shrimp Boil attracts seafood lovers to line up at tables to shuck oysters, peel ‘n eat shrimp, and slurp fish stew. Cold beverages and dessert are also offered.
- More Annual Events on Ocracoke Island:
Year-Round Things to Do on Ocracoke Island
Those annual events deserve a spot on your calendar, but of you are curious about what to do on Ocracoke Island throughout the year, there are plenty of options.
Enjoy the Beach
The beaches of Ocracoke Island are truly special, whether you’re at Lifeguarded Beach, the sound-front beach at Springer’s Point, or anywhere else. Spending the afternoon at the beach is one of the best free things to do on Ocracoke Island
The Ocracoke Lifeguarded Beach is operated by the National Park Service and is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. As the name suggests, lifeguards are on duty during the day between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
There are plenty of amenities including restrooms, outdoor showers, and even a wheelchair-accessible beach ramp.
If you are an adventurous one, off-roading at the beach on Ocracoke is an option. You’ll need to obtain an ORV (Off-Road Vehicle) permit from the National Park Service at $50 for 10 days.
This can be purchased at the Ocracoke Island Discover Center (next to the ferry terminal in Ocracoke Village) and taped to your front window.
Driving on the beach without a permit is a federal offense, and if you do not have a 4WD vehicle getting dug out of the beach can come with hefty fines!
Ocracoke Beach Fires
A bonfire with Ocracoke Beach Fires is one of the most magical ways to spend an evening on the island.
To have a fire on the beach a FREE National Parks Service fire permit is required, but if you book an experience with Ocracoke Beach Fires, they will take care of all of the details for you! They’ll even set up the fire and chairs for you (and handle clean-up!), so all you have to worry about is keeping it going.
Of all the experiences we’ve enjoyed in North Carolina, a beachside oyster roast and s’mores for the kid is hard to top!
If you’re into spooky stories, Ocracoke Beach Fires also hosts Ghost Story Beach Fires during the summers where a local history guide will tell local ghost stories while you toast s’mores on the beach!
360 Lighthouse Rd
Visiting Ocracoke Lighthouse is a must when on the island. It is the second-oldest operating lighthouse in the nation, second to Sandy Hook Lighthouse in New Jersey.
Of the North Carolina lighthouses, Old Baldy on Bald Head Island is the oldest and Ocracoke Lighthouse is the second oldest.
Constructed in 1823, it served to provide safety for ships traversing Ocracoke Inlet. The white brick exterior of the lighthouse is unique and was made of lime, salt, ground rice, whiting, and clear glue applied to the brick exterior.
Standing 75 feet tall, this one is considered short in comparison to the rest of the Outer Banks lighthouses.
Another important thing to note about Ocracoke Lighthouse is that it is not open to climbers, nor does it have a gift shop or museum.
Springer’s Point Nature Preserve
One of the best things to do in Ocracoke Island is to spend time at Springer’s Point Nature Preserve (104 Loop Rd). The maritime forest features 122 acres of public forests, salt marsh, and wet grasslands.
Take the 0.8-mile nature trail to a sound-side beach Teach’s Hole, the iconic spot where Blackbeard was killed in 1718.
To get to Springer’s Point it is recommended that you walk or bike there because there is no parking for vehicles at the trailhead. If you do plan on driving, parking is available at the Ocracoke Assembly-God Church a half-mile down the road by donation.
Local Business on Historic Howard Street
Local businesses are scattered throughout the Village and Historic Howard Street is where you’ll find a few of them.
- Find handmade crafts, jewelry, and pottery inside the Village Craftsmen (170 Howard St).
- Sip a delightful fig latte from Magic Beans Coffee Bazaar (35 School Rd) and stay awhile.
- And don’t forget to wander the shelves at Books to Be Red (34 School Rd). They have a fantastic local history section as well as an extensive children’s selection!
Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum
The Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum (49 Water Plant Rd) is housed in a restored 1900s house and holds tons of unique local stories.
There are both permanent and rotating exhibits that give visitors a glimpse into life on Ocracoke through time. Some of them focus on Blackbeard, but there is so much more to see inside beyond the infamous pirate.
We loved the exhibits on waterfowl carvings and the contributions of female islanders throughout the years.
If you are looking for deep research, the museum houses a vast book and photo collection. Make sure to stop in the gift shop for history books and Ocracoke memorabilia that can be hard to find elsewhere!
Read More: Amazing Museums in North Carolina
Fishing on Ocracoke Island
The Gulf Stream is located just 12 miles offshore, attracting fish for anglers of all skill levels. There are several fishing charters that offer half-day or full-day trips, but because it is so popular make sure to book in advance to ensure your spot.
We recommend stopping at Tradewinds Tackle Shop (1094 Irvin Garrish Hwy #388) for all of your fishing needs before dropping a line! They’ve been fishing the waters around Ocracoke Island for more than 40 years, so you can trust their advice and their fishing gear.
Ocracoke Pony Pens
There are several spots to see wild horses in North Carolina, and Ocracoke Island is another spot. These ponies landed on the island after a shipwreck forced them to swim ashore.
While these horses are wild, they have resided within a 188-acre pen managed by the National Park Service since 1959. The ponies can be seen from a raised viewing platform off NC-12 between the Ocracoke/Hatteras Inlet ferry and Ocracoke Village.
Hammock Hills Nature Trail
For those who love the outdoors like us, we highly recommend the Hammock Hills Nature Trail as a fun thing to do on Ocracoke. Located across from the Ocracoke Campground on NC-12, the 0.75-mile loop goes through some of the highest points on the island.
Hikers will see diverse wildlife and a fantastic view of the Pamlico Sound at the halfway point. This is a great trail for families with young children!
As of Spring 2022, parts of the trail remained closed due to damage from Hurricane Dorian.
Where to Eat on Ocracoke Island
Of course, one of the best things to do on Ocracoke Island is to eat!
We’ve thoroughly enjoyed investigating the best places to eat for you, and here are a few of our favorites:
- Breakfast: Pony Island Restaurant (51 Ocean View Rd) and Helios’ Hideaway (589 Irvin Garrish Hwy Unit A, breakfast pitas!)
- Lunch: Jason’s (1110 Irvin Garrish Hwy)
- Lunch, Dinner, and Later: Howard’s Pub & Raw Bar (1175 Irvin Garrish Hwy)
- All of the Above: Eduardo’s Ocracoke (10 Lawton Ln)
- Lunch, Dinner, and Live Music (during the Season): Dajio (305 Irvin Garrish Hwy), Ocracoke Oyster Company (621 Irvin Garrish Hwy), and Smacnally’s Waterfront Bar and Grill (180 Irvin Garrish Hwy)
- Coffee: Ocracoke Coffee Company (226 Back Rd, live music, too!)
- Wine Tastings and Beer: Zillie’s Island Pantry (538 Back Rd)
Plenty of places on the island serve beer but 1718 Brewing (1129 Irvin Garrish Hwy) makes its own. In fact, they produce just everything including stouts, IPAs, lagers, and more.
The beers here pair nicely with the food served by Plum Pointe Kitchen, which shares the building with the brewery. Order a crab-stuffed pretzel and thank us later.
We think a visit to this spot is the perfect reward after exploring all of these wonderful things to do on Ocracoke Island.
Ready for These Things to Do on Ocracoke Island?
Speaking of which, are you ready to enjoy everyone one of these things to do on Ocracoke Island. We think this is a wonderful place, filled with fun and magic for every kind of traveler.
Whether you love history, beautiful scenery, or a campfire on the beach, there is something waiting for you on Ocracoke Island.
If you’ve been to this wonderful island, we’d love to know your favorite spots. Let us know in the comments section or by email.
Also, don’t forget to share your Ocracoke adventures with our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group! Before you do any of the above, though, here are some nearby places to go.
More Things to Do Nearby
If you are staying for a while and itching for a day trip from Ocracoke, we’ve got some ideas for you!
A trip out to Portsmouth Island is a must especially if you have a spare morning or afternoon. Only accessible via boat, charter a tour with Portsmouth Island Adventures and see the abandoned town yourself.
Protected by the National Parks Service, the town has a fascinating history. From a former booming shipping port to today’s uninhabited island, Portsmouth is just something you need to see to believe.
Grab the free ferry from Ocracoke to Hatteras at the opposite end of the island and continue along the Outer Banks Scenic Byway that runs through Hatteras Island until it ends past Bodie Island Lighthouse.
Within an hour of the ferry terminal, here are a few places we think are worthy of a stop on Hatteras Island.
Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
The Graveyard of the Atlantic is a free museum to the right of the ferry terminal and definitely worth a visit.
The museum details the history of shipping and shipwrecks along the Outer Banks. Inside, you’ll learn that the Outer Banks are nicknamed the graveyard of the Atlantic because there are more than 2,000 ships that have wrecked off the coast of the shores!
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
Travel 13 miles along NC-12 toward Buxton and visit one of our favorite and more iconic North Carolina lighthouses. Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States and is marked by its diagonal stripes.
More OBX Travel Guides
We could keep showing you around, all the way up and down the coast. Check out our Eastern North Carolina map to find other specific places you want to visit.
In the meantime, here are some more NC travel guides that include our favorite things to do on Ocracoke and nearby!