As this blog has established, I really like the US National Parks service, so naturally going on vacation along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore is something that appeals to me. The Outer Banks as a whole are great for a beach vacation, but if you’re looking to get a way from some of the crowds and get more into nature, Hatteras is the place to be. Cape Hatteras and the Outer Banks are an important part of US history as the first English colony was settled on Roanoke Island. You may be familiar with this as the “Lost Colony” though modern research shows that the colonists most likely integrated with the local Native Americans who lived on Cape Hatteras.
Hatteras is most famous for its lighthouse though, which was moved inland in 1999 because of an eroding coastline. This wasn’t the first time that happened either – the barrier islands are constantly threatened by the ocean, which slowly changes their coastlines. Hatteras received its designation as a National Seashore in 1953, which allows the Parks Service to preserve the land and protect the animals that live there. A walk along the beach in the summer may reveal areas fenced off due to turtle eggs incubating in the warm sand.
As to spending a week on Hatteras, there’s a lot of fun stuff to do; I do recommend a day or two around Kitty Hawk and Roanoke for better shopping and a visit to Fort Raleigh (the site of the Lost Colony). However, the nice thing about Hatteras is its location, being a bit farther away from the crowds. It also has plenty of touristy shops to choose from, so that’s still easily available. The absolute musts on the island though?
- Climbing the lighthouse: Hatteras is the world’s second tallest brick lighthouse, so this is a good workout. It’s an amazing view though, and a little something to brag about. There’s also a small museum about the lighthouse and how it was moved, which is important for two reasons. First, it was the home of the people who used to run the lighthouse, and second, it has air conditioning.
- Visiting the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum: The waters off the Outer Banks are not just fun for swimming. They’re also the grave for over 600 ships that have wrecked here. This dangerous past proves why the lighthouse was necessary, and at the museum, you can see artifacts relating to everything from Black Beard to World War II. It’s a lot of history that you don’t really think about since ships rarely wreck here today.
- Taking the ferry to Ocracoke: I cover this more here, but riding the ferry to Ocracoke is one of my favorite parts of our vacation every year. They now have a passenger ferry in addition to the car ferry, which saves a decent amount of time and it also more comfortable. Ocracoke is a cute little island with a population of about 900 people, and it’s definitely a nice place to relax.
- Attending a Ranger program: Pretty much every National Park has some Park Ranger Programs, which are a lot of fun and can give you more insight about the area besides just how pretty it is. These are usually free and fun for the whole family – and why not add some science to a beach vacation? I attended two programs during the week: Night Sky over Hatteras and Morning Bird Walk. The stargazing program had a lot more people, but it was still really amazing to see the Milky Way splashed across the sky while listening to the waves crashing on the beach. The bird walk was also really great, and I thought it was pretty neat afterwards to be able to identify a few of the common birds I saw on the island. If you’re really into birdwatching, there are additional programs at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Hatteras is also home to Buxton Woods, which is a maritime forest and has a pretty cool ecosystem of its own
Hatteras is probably my favorite place on the Outer Banks. Besides what I mention above, there are also the usual beach activities like jet skiing, kite surfing, and eating too much ice cream. Whatever you decide to do, the National Seashore is a great place to visit!
Bonus tip: There’s a lot to do on Hatteras and the Outer Banks as a whole, but really, the best way to spend a week on Hatteras is to take it easy and enjoy this beautiful place.