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Cape Hatteras is located on Hatteras Island in North Carolina. It is one of the remarkable barrier islands of North Carolina's Outer Banks. The Outer Banks are a string of barrier islands and spits running along the coast of North Carolina and southern Virginia. The Outer Banks is home to many things worth seeing - including some stunning beaches.

The Outer Banks have become a popular tourist destination for their open beachfront and the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The seashore is part of an important biodiversity ecoregion. The Outer Banks are well-connected to the mainland through roads and car ferries, so they are easy to visit.


Cape Hatteras - First English Colony & The Graveyard Of The Atlantic

The Outer Banks also have some of the oldest colonial European histories in the United States. They are home to the English Roanoke Colony - the early lost colony that disappeared from Roanoke Island in 1587 (and one can visit it today). The name "Hatteras" is the sixth oldest surviving English place name in the country, named by Sir Richard Grenville in 1585 (originally "Harask"). He was the admiral who led the ill-fated Roanoke Colony.

There are also hundreds of shipwrecks all along the Outer Banks that have earned it the nickname "Graveyard of the Atlantic." Cape Hatteras is famous (or infamous) for its treacherous currents, shoals, and storms that have claimed many ships through the years.

  • Wright Brothers: First Flew In The Outer Banks
  • Nickname: Graveyard Of The Atlantic

The Cape Hatteras National Seashore protects parts of Bodie Island, Hatteras Island, and Ocracoke Island (all barrier islands). It stretches over 70 miles and is managed by the National Park Service. Services there include ramps, campgrounds, nature trails, and lighthouses.

Related: Topsail Island: Home To The Best Snorkeling In North Carolina

Getting To Cape Hatteras And The Outer Banks

Getting to and from the Outer Banks of North Carolina is surprisingly easy. Some drive while others fly. Once on the islands, there are a few roads that make their way north to south (so there's no way to get lost on the islands).

  • Closest Major Airport: Norfolk International Airport, 85 Miles Away

The closest major airport is Norfolk International Airport, 85 miles to the north. From there, one can enjoy a scenic drive to the islands. Summer is a popular time to visit the islands, and the roads can become a bit congested. If the main road, the I-64, does become congested, consider using Route 460.

  • Road Access: Via I-64
  • Congestion: The I-64 Can Be Congested In The Summer

Alternatively, if one comes from the south, there are car ferries connecting the islands with the mainland. There are numerous car ferries - too many to list out here, but one can see them on the Outer Banks website. They all offer regular services, with some being free and others charging a toll.

Reservations are not needed with some of these ferries - just drive up and board the next one. Other ferries can be reserved by calling (800) 293-3779.

  • Ferry Duration: 1 to 2.5 Hours
  • Payment: Free or Toll

Planning A Visit To Cape Hatteras National Seashore

The Cape Hatteras National Seashore is open year-round - although some NPS programs and various facilities are only offered seasonally.

  • Season: Year Round

There are four developed campgrounds offered by the National Park Service located on Bodie, Hatteras, and Ocracoke Islands. Each of the islands has a visitor center and various other attractions. It is best to refer to the National Park Service website for opening times and other information.

Related: How To Visit Portsmouth Village, Ocracoke's Beautiful Ghost Town

Things To Do At Cape Hatteras

Today Cape Hatteras is famous for its shipwrecks and lighthouses and is considered to have some of the best fishing and surfing on the East Coast. Activities at Cape Hatteras include hiking, fishing, various water activities, camping, and nature viewing.

Climbing The Historic Lighthouses:

One of the top attractions in the park is exploring the lighthouses - of which there are three in the park. To climb the lighthouses, visitors need to be at least 42" and able to climb all the steps.

  • Bodie Island Lighthouse: Open Seasonally For Self-Guided Climbs
  • Cape Hatteras Lighthouse: Undergoing Restoration And Closed For Climbing
  • Ocracoke Island Lighthouse: Not Open For Climbing, But The Base Is Sometimes Open For Viewing

Enjoy the drive and car ferries, and have a blast exploring Cape Hatteras!