Take the Ferry to Explore Ocracoke Island in the NC Outer Banks

Take the Ferry to Explore Ocracoke Island in the NC Outer Banks

Few places are as magical as Ocracoke Island. Once a favorite haunt of Blackbeard the Pirate, this remote retreat boasts some of America’s most beautiful beaches… along with breathtaking views of Pamlico Sound on one side and Atlantic Ocean on the other. Not to mention a legendary lighthouse, quaint shops, charming seaside restaurants, art galleries, and more.

To top it off, Ocracoke is a genuine island, completely surrounded by water. You can’t reach it by car, foot, or bicycle. You have to get there by boat or private plane.

Don’t own a boat or plane? No problem. Take the ferry instead!

Getting There Is Half the Fun

Actually, you can choose from four different ferries to reach Ocracoke Island. The most popular is the Hatteras Ferry, which runs 365 days a year, totally free of charge. Board it anytime between 5 a.m. and 12 midnight at the Hatteras Ferry Terminal on NC Route 12 in Hatteras. All ages are welcome – in fact, it’s a special favorite for families with little children.

Departure times vary, depending on the season, but in summer the ferry usually departs once every 30 minutes for the 40-to-45-minute trip. You can take your car, truck or SUV aboard – yes, literally. Or, if you prefer, you can board by bicycle or on foot.

Don’t Miss the Boat!

But bear in mind, this famous free ferry ride is immensely popular, especially during tourist season, and seating is “first come-first served.” So take a few simple steps to make sure you get onboard:

  • Book ahead either online or by calling 1-800-BY-FERRY.
  • Plan your daytrip for a Sunday, Monday, Friday, or Saturday. Tuesdays through Thursdays are the busiest days, especially in summer.
  • Opt for a departure time before 9 a.m. or after 5 p.m. That way, you’ll beat the crowds. Plus, if you time it right, you’ll get to view a spectacular sunrise or sunset over the water.
  • Arrive at least 5 to 10 minutes before the scheduled departure time.
  • Come to Ocracoke Silver Lake Terminal before midnight for your return trip to Hatteras – that is if you don’t want to be stranded overnight at Ocracoke!

If you’re visiting between July 3 and September 10, you now have another way to ferry between Hatteras and Ocracoke: the new Ocracoke Express Passenger Ferry, for foot and bicycle passengers only. The fare is $5 one way, $10 round-trip, seven days a week. Call 1-800-BY-FERRY for details.

Ferry from the Mainland, Too

Prefer a longer trip, with more time on the water? Board the Swan Quarter Ferry at 748 Oyster Creek St in Swanquarter, NC, for a leisurely ocean excursion lasting about two hours, 40 minutes. Or try the Cedar Island Ferry, which departs from Cedar Island, NC, for a memorable trip lasting 2 hours, 15 minutes.

Both ferries require advance reservations, both charge a (reasonable) fee, and both allow vehicles, bicycles, and pets onboard. Call 1-800-BY-FERRY for more information.

All ferries furnish plenty of deck chairs, so you can savor the sea breeze, view the glistening waves, watch gulls circling overhead, and perhaps even spot some sea creatures during your relaxing ride.  

You’ve Arrived at Ocracoke. Now What?

As a true island – stretching 14 miles long – Ocracoke is even more unspoiled than the rest of the Outer Banks. Yet it still offers plenty to see and do including:

  • Ocracoke Light Station, the second oldest operating lighthouse in America, built of solid brick in 1823 to replace an earlier wooden structure. Painted white and towering 75 feet tall, this iconic lighthouse still helps guide fishing and pleasure boats through the shoals of Ocracoke Inlet. Its 19th-century Fourth Order Fresnel Lens – now electrified – shines a powerful stationary beam visible 14 miles out at sea. Unfortunately, the lighthouse is not open for climbing, but you can visit the seaside site, view the structure up close, and wander all around the beautiful grounds.
  • Miles of secluded beaches, where wild sea oats wave atop the dunes, shimmering waves lap the shore, white sand sparkles in the sun, and all your everyday cares simply slip’n’slide away. Check out Ocracoke Village Beach, conveniently located right outside the central village. Prefer a bit more seclusion? Drive or cycle to Lifeguard Beach, rated one of USA’s best beaches by Dr. Beach himself. Love to go fishing and/or shelling? Visit South Point at Ocracoke Island’s southern tip, where you can spot native wildlife, cast your line in the surf, and find stunning seashells galore.
  • Ocracoke Village itself, covering only four square miles, with about 1,000 year-round residents, yet bustling with shops and eateries. Dine on delectable fresh-caught seafood (and more) at the Ocracoke Oyster Company. Sample authentic Cajun and Southern fare at the Flying Melon Café. Treat your sweet tooth to an indulgent dessert at the Ocracoke Fudge & Ice Cream Shop. Plus, browse for handcrafted pottery, jewelry, paintings, blown glass, baskets, carvings, collectibles, clothing, and much more at over 18 shops and galleries.

And don’t forget to pause a moment to remember Blackbeard the Pirate, who met his death during a legendary battle in Ocracoke Inlet on November 22, 1718.

Ahoy, matey! Gather the fam right away and hop aboard the ferry to Ocracoke!

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