Top Ten Tent Camping in the Carolinas
Ocracoke Island is accessible only by ferry, but the extra effort reaps scenic rewards. Most of the island is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and is kept in its natural state. The village of Ocracoke is a worthy destination itself. It harks back to a 1950s fishing village, with its cottages, narrow streets, and lack of franchise operations. The natural setting, the village, and the campground combine to make a relaxing getaway worth a few days or more of your life.
The campground itself is the least inviting thing on the island, but it will suffice as your headquarters for exploring Ocracoke. The 137 campsites are located in a flat behind dunes that separate you from the beach and the Atlantic Ocean. Most of the campsites are on the main loop, which is broken by three crossroads. Some small cedar and other trees, pruned back by the relentless wind, dot the otherwise grassy campground. The loop curves around to reach the so-called "dune sites." These campsites are larger and are a short walk toward the beach from the paved parking pad. Other sites have average tent areas directly by the parking pad. Even the dune sites are open to the sun. The sites on the inside of the loop are small and pinched-in together.
The loop curves away from the beach, but even these sites are an easy walk to the beach. These sites, located away from the water, back up to a wetland, which can be problematic if the mosquitoes are biting. The campsites on the loop crossroads are mostly flat, grassy, and open to the sun. Three separate bathroom areas with cold showers are spread throughout the campground.
Reservations can be made in advance. After making a reservation, you are guaranteed a campsite, but you cannot pick out a specific site. A timely arrival is recommended even with a reservation, especially on weekends. Reservations can be made only between mid-May and mid-September. Reservations are highly recommended on holiday weekends and from early July through mid-August. Be aware that mosquitoes can be a problem after wet spells, and mosquito repellent and a screen shelter will make your stay much more enjoyable. Furthermore, if you are taking either the Cedar Island ferry or the Swan Quarter ferry, it's also wise to make reservations for your arrival and departure, especially during the busy season. I recommend coming during the shoulder seasons, when the crowds are gone, the village of Ocracoke is in really low gear, and the better campsites are available.
Life slows here on Ocracoke Island. You can sense it as you walk the beach. A great place for quiet beachcombing is the beach access area across from the pony pens. More about the pony pens later. No cars are allowed on the beach here and no development can be seen. Cars are allowed on the beach near the campground. Sea kayaking is popular on the Pamlico Sound side of the island, and boats of all sorts can be rented in the village of Ocracoke. You can also rent bikes for pedaling around the village, charter a sportfishing boat, or eat in a unique restaurant (no franchises allowed!), visit the Ocracoke Lighthouse, built in the early 1800s, or just sit back on a bench at Silver Lake Harbor and watch the boats come and go. Take the Ocracoke Historical Interpretive Trail to learn about the lengthy past of this land. This place really does have character. Supplies can be had in the village.
The ponies that once roamed Ocracoke are now taken care of by the park service. They are quartered a few miles from the campground. The animals are thought to have swum ashore from a Spanish shipwreck long ago. An interpretive trail travels near the horse pens. Another interpretive trail, the Hardwood Hammocks Trail, travels into the island interior. The path starts just across the road from the campground. Start your planning now, for a trip to Ocracoke Island.
Address: Ocracoke Island Campground, Route 1, Box 675, Manteo, NC 27954; (252) 473-2111; http://www.nps.gov/caha; reservation, (800) 365-camp; ferry information, (800) 293-3779 or at http://www.ncferry.org
Open: Friday of Easter weekend through mid-October
Assignment: First come, first served and by reservation
Fee: $18 per night
Elevation: 20 feet
Pets: On leash only
Fires: In upright grills only
Alcohol: At campsites only
Vehicles: Must be parked on paved surface only
From the intersection of US 64/264 and US 158 just south of Nags Head, drive south on NC 12 for 59 miles to the ferry at the southwest end of Hatteras Island. From here, take the free ferry over to Ocracoke Island. Once off the ferry, keep south on NC 12 for 9.5 miles to reach the campground, on your left. There are two other, longer toll ferry options to reach Ocracoke Island. For more ferry information call (800) 293-3779.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication