There are eight legs that climb into our car when we travel to the beautiful barrier islands of North Carolina. Two humans and one Labrador retriever. Voting with our limbs, it’s always hands and paws up for Ocracoke Island.  

You may know Ocracoke as that southern reach of the Outer Banks; a low-key, comfortable island that speaks to a time when life seemed uncomplicated. That’s the way they like to keep things on Ocracoke: uncomplicated. And it can still be that way for those of us who travel with a leash, a water bowl, and a faithful friend.

Plan well—Stay well

One of the beauties of Ocracoke is that it doesn’t demand much from its visitors. Smile, be courteous, share, and play nice with others. Follow this same playbook when traveling to the little island with your pooch and all should go well.

If your dog has any special dietary or medical needs, stock up before boarding the ferry to the island. Specialized shopping options on Ocracoke are limited.

Whether you are camping, booking a hotel room, or staying at a private rental, there are many options for pet-friendly stays. When booking, ask if dogs are allowed and if there are extra charges. We’re campers and love the National Park Service campground a few miles north of the village. Jerniman’s Campground at the edge of town has full hookups for RVs. Blackbeard’s Lodge and the Anchorage Inn both have pet-friendly accommodations. Private rentals in pet-friendly vacation homes can be booked through Ocracoke Island Realty and Blue Heron Realty. In peak season, reservations are a must, whether for camping or traditional stays.

The village has many spots where well-behaved dogs are welcome. Grab a fresh-brewed coffee and cinnamon bun, and relax on Ocracoke Coffee Company’s large deck. Or mingle with the locals and eat authentic Mexican fare under the patio umbrellas at Eduardo’s Food Truck. SmacNally’s on the harbor, in the heart of downtown, welcomes leashed, well-behaved dogs on the patio. The menu includes light snacks and full-fare meals.  

Beach manners

Ocracoke—only accessible by ferry at either end—is part of the 130-mile stretch protected as Cape Hatteras National Seashore. These beaches are not only playgrounds for beach-loving humans, but they’re also important nesting grounds for sea turtles and shorebirds like the endangered American Oystercatcher. 

You can enjoy long beach walks with your dog but keep them on a leash (six-foot length maximum). And please always pick up the “you-know-what.”

The dunes lining the gorgeous beaches are environmentally sensitive and easily disturbed, so staying off them is Beach Etiquette 101 for both humans and dogs. There are clearly marked access points where either a pathway or a boardwalk will take you to the oceanfront. One of our favorites is the boardwalk immediately across the roadway from the Banker Ponies pen. There’s a shaded picnic table beside the parking lot which makes a perfect spot to have lunch before heading to the beach.

Keep everyone safe

Before leaving home, make sure vaccinations are up to date and that your dog has the proper tick and flea protection. We clip a vaccination tag onto Envy’s collar in case disaster strikes and we are separated. On walks near the beach as well as campgrounds, watch for prickly and painful sandspurs that are easily caught in a paw.

Use common sense and don’t leave your dog in a vehicle, especially on those glorious sunny Outer Banks days. The inside of a vehicle parked in 70-degree weather can reach 100 degrees in just 20 minutes, causing heatstroke. 

Happy puppy, happy people

Doing things with our pup is a highlight of our travels, especially in outdoorsy places like Ocracoke. With a little planning, we’ve found activities that are dog friendly and safe for all.

Ocracoke Village is small, compact, and friendly—everything you’d want when exploring with your dog. Looking for a shady stroll? Head for Howard Street and peek at the historic backyard gravesites. Or walk in the sunshine along Irvin Garrish Highway (Ocracoke’s main street) and pop in and out of the small shops carrying artisan goods. 

Springer’s Point Preserve is a protected piece of maritime forest, salt marsh, and wet grasslands along the sound beachfront. The 0.8-mile nature trail is open to the public (8 am to 6 pm) and loops to the sound-side beach overlooking Teach’s Hole, named after Edward Teach—aka Blackbeard the pirate—overlooking the spot where he was beheaded in 1718. Dogs must be on a leash and leave no trace. There is no parking available at the site. Ocracoke Assembly of God Church is less than a half-mile down the road and offers parking by donation.

The Outer Banks is renowned for its lighthouses, with the oldest operating lighthouse in North Carolina being the Ocracoke Lighthouse, built in 1823 and now operated by the National Park Service. While the corkscrew-like staircase inside the lighthouse is not open for climbing, on-leash dogs and their owners are welcomed on the boardwalk to the base of the tall, white structure.