Beaches & Wildlife

Ocracoke’s beaches, like our wildlife, are protected, pristine, and a pure joy to behold.

Imagine standing on a beach that for miles in either direction is nothing but sand, surf, and dunes. No hotels. No condos. Just the freedom to do as you please. Ocracoke is famous for the natural beauty of its sand, sun, and surf. With sixteen miles of pristine, undeveloped, wild beaches, the island always has the perfect spot just for you.

From the north end to South Point, the beach offers plenty of wide-open spaces for all to enjoy. Surf fishermen, kite-flyers, kiteboarders, sunbathers, shell-seekers, surfers, boogie-boarders, sandcastle-builders, nature lovers—and everyone else—will find that Ocracoke’s beaches are among the best in the world. (Don’t just take our word for it… Dr. Beach thinks so, too! In case you don’t know, Dr. Beach is a nationally recognized authority on US beaches, and highly credible.) All of the ocean beach is owned by the National Park Service as part of Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Parts of the beach are open to Off-Road Vehicles; please check the park map to find out which ramps are open to driving. Seasonal closures for bird and turtle nesting may be in place.

Parts of the beach are open to Off-Road Vehicles with permits. There are also parking areas with beach access pathways. On the sound side are parking areas for the wild pony pastures and a nature trail. A large, free parking area is located at the southern end of Hwy. 12 in the village adjacent to the National Park Service Visitor Center, which has public restrooms and the ORV permit office.

Most of the sound side of Ocracoke is undeveloped as well. The wetlands, marshes, and marine estuaries make the island a happy and healthy home for birds, fish, turtles, shellfish, and other wildlife. Over 400 species of birds have been spotted on Ocracoke—start your list and see how many you can find. A glimpse of the island’s wildlife usually begins with your trip over on the ferry. The gulls follow close behind the boat hoping for a handout, and, if you’re lucky, bottle-nosed dolphins will put on a show for you.

Here’s how you can get your beach-driving permit online:

• Go to the Cape Hatteras ORV Permit page on Recreation.gov.

Fill out the online application.

• Print the permit and proof-of-permit and place them in your vehicle. (Annual proof-of-permit stickers will be mailed, but the printed proof-of-permit is good for 30 days.)

And here’s how you can get your beach-driving permit in-person:

Go to one of the three visitor centers.

Show the required documentation to the National Park Service staff members selling permits.

Fill out the ORV permit.

Watch the 7-minute video (you can skip this step if you bring last year’s permit).

Pay for your permit.

Place the permit in your vehicle’s glove box and affix the proof-of-permit to your vehicle’s windshield.