Check here for frequently asked questions (and even better, the little-known answers).
What is Ocracoke and how do you pronounce it?
Ocracoke is the last island in the string of islands called the Outer Banks on the eastern edge of North Carolina. While the majority of the Outer Banks are in Dare County, Ocracoke is in Hyde County and is 23 miles off mainland Hyde. This 18-mile-long island can be accessed via NC 12 in Nags Head, Dare County; the Cedar Island ferry in Carteret County; and the Swan Quarter ferry off mainland Hyde County.
Because 90 percent of Ocracoke Island is owned by the National Park Service, there is no beachfront development, which is why Ocracoke Beach (about 18 miles long) is frequently noted as one of the best in the United States and even in the world. This is also why Ocracoke remains largely uncongested. The NPS provides lifeguard service from Memorial Day to Labor Day at the Day Use Area (known as the Lifeguard Beach) outside the village toward the north.
Ocracoke’s name is actually derived from a mispronunciation. It’s thought a small tribe of Native Americans known as the Woccocock were its first residents. Most believe the long line of early explorers, adventurers, would-be settlers, and colonists all shared a mispronunciation of “Woccocock” that became today’s “Ocracoke.”
How do I get to the island?
Basically, you have three choices: ferry, boat, or small private plane. If you’re traveling by vehicle, the final leg of your journey will be on one of three ferry rides: the free ferry at Hatteras, or the Swan Quarter or Cedar Island ferries (across the Pamlico Sound, which is the largest estuary in the United States). A new passenger ferry from Hatteras is projected to be available in May 2018.
If you’re riding the ferries, it’s smart to bring a snack. There are no vending machines on the ferries to and from Hatteras. The Cedar Island and Swan Quarter ferries have vending machines for sodas and snacks. You can certainly bring your own or purchase food at several locations along the way to Hatteras. And remember to purchase food before you get to Swan Quarter or Cedar Island. Alcohol consumption is NOT permitted on the ferries.
If you have a boat, you can certainly stop in Ocracoke and either anchor in Silver Lake Harbor or tie up at a (paid) slip at the Anchorage Marina or the NPS docks, although all of these slips have limited availability.
If you have a small private plane (one or two engines), you can arrive at Ocracoke’s airport in the daylight hours, although you must find your own transportation into the village. Howard’s Pub offers pick-up at the airport for lunch or dinner in their establishment.
Where should I stay?
Ocracoke has a variety of lodging options, from campgrounds, hotels and B&Bs to rental homes of all sizes. There are no chain businesses of any kind on Ocracoke. All businesses are locally owned and operated. Please see our “places to stay” section for all of the options.
When’s the best time to visit?
Well, opinions certainly vary on that point. Many will claim the heart of the summer as their favorite time. But many locals will tell you the spring or fall (our shoulder seasons) are ideal, because there’s frankly fewer tourists and the weather is still beautiful. Certainly, amenities vary depending on when you visit. All businesses are open by Easter weekend each year and a few stay open all year ‘round. Because of the way Ocracoke is situated geographically, the ocean is warm and swimmable from about mid-May until about mid-October. In the high season, visitors can do as much or as little as they’d like: visit shops and restaurants, go kayaking, hike in the maritime forest, learn to surf or kite surf, fish on the beach or off shore, learn about the island ecosystem, take in some local shows or hear a late-night band, or simply go to the beach all day.
While the summer season is busy on Ocracoke, the pace begins to slow in the fall. Some say that September and October are the most beautiful months on the island when the days are still warm and sunny. We have a full event calendar during these fall months that makes for an excellent stay. (Please see our Events page.)
From November until Easter some restaurants, hotels, and gift shops stay open, but many businesses close for the winter. During this time, there is still plenty to do if you want to fish, kayak, shell, bicycle, bird watch or just unplug from the world. Beautiful vistas of the ever-changing sea, sky, and landscapes are your reward.
Are there many mosquitoes?
We’d love to tell you otherwise, but yes, we do have mosquitoes. They’re prevalent on Ocracoke from about late May until October. When going out at night it is advisable to arm yourself with bug spray or the new wearable bracelet options. The village does have regular nighttime mosquito spraying in season, but the National Park Service does NOT spray for mosquitoes.
Can I get groceries on the island?
Yes, we have two small grocery stores, the Variety Store and the Community Store. While they may not have the vast selection you’re used to, both have what you need for a wonderful stay. The Village Thrift, our island thrift shop, also has an array of used goods, from technology to kitchen items, and even clothes and books.
Are there public showers?
Public showers are available at the National Park Serivce Day Use Area (known as the Lifeguard Beach) outside the village. And we always suggest taking a shower, whether you think you need one or not. Your fellow travelling companions will thank you.
Can I fly my drone?
Drones are NOT allowed on any National Park Service property, which is the entirety of Ocracoke Beach and the land outside the village. However, you may fly drones within Ocracoke Village.
Is the island (and its businesses) dog friendly?
Dogs are allowed in restaurants with outdoor seating only: Dajio, SmacNally’s, the Jolly Roger, Ocracoke Coffee Co., and the Magic Bean Coffee Bazaar.
Pet-friendly hotels include: Anchorage Inn, Blackbeard’s Lodge, Pam’s Pelican B&B and Silver Lake Motel. Dogs are allowed on the beach, but they MUST be leashed when not swimming in the water. Beware, however, that the summer months are very hot on the beach and may be too hot for dogs. Dogs may be unleashed in the village area, but a local ordinance requires that owners pick up after their dogs’ business.
I’ve heard I can drive on the beach. Does that require a permit?
One of the beautiful things about Ocracoke is that if you have a 4WD vehicle you can load all of your gear, drive onto the beach at one of several ramps, pick a spot and, voilà, you’re at the beach. Any vehicles driving on the beach MUST be 4WD and must have a permit. Beach-driving permits are sold daily at the NPS Visitors Center. Weekly (covering two weekends) and annual permits are available. These can also be purchased online.
Are there special beach walks or access points?
Yes. Those without 4WD vehicles may go to the beach at the Day Use Area (known locally as the Lifeguard Beach) where lifeguards are on duty daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Showers and restrooms also are available here. At the Pony Pen beach (in the middle of the island), there are two portable toilets, but no showers. Dogs on leashes are allowed on these beaches.
Can I surf at Ocracoke?
Surfing is great on Ocracoke. Visit Ride the Wind Surf Shop (www.surfocracoke.com) for surfing instruction or information.
What are rip currents?
Rip currents are fast-moving “rivers of water” created at sandbars that can suddenly grab even the strongest swimmers and pull them out far beyond the breaking surf. Panicking and trying to swim against a rip current can lead to a fatality. Swimmers and surfers are strongly encouraged to become educated on rip currents. Good information is on the NOAA website. Also, do not hesitate to talk to the lifeguards at the Lifeguard Beach to learn about rip currents. It also is advisable to swim there to be under the watch of the lifeguards.
What about sharks? Are those around?
Sharks are part of any ocean’s ecosystem and can be present in any ocean water, which means Ocracoke Island is no exception. Dr. Stephen Leatherman, aka “Dr. Beach,” (who has designated the Lifeguard Beach as the best in the nation in 2007 and No. 3 in 2017) notes that sharks are not the biggest danger on the beach. Rip currents are. You can learn more at Leatherman’s website, drbeach.org. Note that sharks live in the Pamlico Sound and swim in and out of the inlet near South Point.
What’s the chance I can find the Internet or Wi-Fi while I’m there?
The island is equipped with Internet service and all of the hotels and B&Bs have Wi-Fi (either as part of the room charge or with a nominal fee) as do almost all of the rental houses. However, for those who do not find Internet offerings within their accommodations, several locations on the island offer free Wi-Fi: Ocracoke Coffee, the Magic Bean Coffee Bazaar, the Ocracoke Gas Station, the Slushy Stand, and the Ocracoke Community Library (open to the public weekday evenings from 3 to 7 p.m. and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays).
Do any of the hotels allow smoking?
Almost all lodgings allow smoking outside. Check with your specific hotel about in-room smoking. Frankly, that’s a bit rarer these days, but you probably already knew that.
Does the island have recycling services?
Yes, Ocracoke recycles. Some rental houses and hotel rooms have separate containers for recycling, but if you really want to help, you are certainly welcome to deliver your recyclables to the Ocracoke Convenience Site at the north end of the village. Aluminum, hard plastic, paper, and light cardboard boxes go in one bin; glass in another; and corrugated cardboard in another of these bins.
Is the island vulnerable to hurricanes?
Yes. Hurricanes happen on Ocracoke since it is right along the Atlantic Coast. With weather-prediction technologies these days, we know well in advance if a hurricane is coming. In that case, the Hyde County government will issue mandatory visitor evacuations several days before a storm’s predicted arrival. Lodging companies have evacuation policies to refund your fees. These should be read carefully.