Visiting Cape Hatteras National Seashore, NC
There are very few places I visit more than once. With the precious vacation time I have, I like to see new places and enjoy new experiences. But I have a short list of well-loved places and at the top of the list is Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina. This year, my children and I are celebrating our 15th anniversary of annual summer trips to Cape Hatteras, coinciding with the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary. This is so appropriate for us because everything the National Park Service (NPS) offers has made our trips so much more than a visit to the beach.
NPS publishes a calendar of events, which is jam packed in the summer months. The vast majority of the activities are free and ideally suited to families. We’ve been crabbing, learned how to do cast netting, used a seine net to look at sea creatures, snorkeled with NPS-provided equipment, climbed a lighthouse, learned about the night sky, and we’ve seen turtles hatch. Yes, we’ve seen sea turtles hatch!
As a bonus, just a short drive from Cape Hatteras is the Wright Brothers National Memorial, where you can see the location of the first flights and replicas of the Wright brothers’ first planes. All of this in the company of a park ranger providing excellent and enthusiastic guidance. With all of that in mind, here is a list of our favorite things to do in Cape Hatteras, NC.
Sea Turtle Hatching
Our most memorable experience at Cape Hatteras National Seashore was watching park rangers excavate a turtle nest. Sea turtles nest along the shore, and park rangers carefully monitor and protect the nests. Once hatched, the rangers excavate the nests to learn more about sea turtle nesting habits and egg viability. If you’re lucky, and we have been the two times we’ve observed, the rangers are able to also save baby sea turtles that couldn’t quite make it to the surface. The rangers later release the turtles into the ocean, which you may be able to observe also. The NPS actually has a turtle nest excavation hotline to keep track of these events (252-475-9629).
The North Carolina coast is known for its lighthouses, and there are three lighthouses in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore: Cape Hatteras, Bodie Island and Ocracoke Island. The Cape Hatteras and Bodie Island lighthouses can be climbed, and Cape Hatteras even offers a full moon climb. Tickets for the full moon climb are popular and we have yet to snag tickets for this, but a climb during the day is great too. Children have to be at least 42 inches tall and be prepared for a bit of a workout. The Cape Hatteras lighthouse is equivalent to climbing a 12-story building, so of course, a stop at Uncle Eddy’s for frozen custard afterwards is perfectly justified.
Riding the Ocracoke Ferry
On many of our trips to Cape Hatteras, we’ve caught the ferry over to Ocracoke Island. The ferry itself is free and the trip down the length of Hatteras Island is beautiful. Once on Ocracoke Island, there are miles of gorgeous, empty beaches, a pretty little town to wander around, the Ocracoke lighthouse, and the Ocracoke ponies. You can even adopt one of the ponies, if your son or daughter has always wanted a pony. We like to finish off our trip with tacos from Eduardo’s Taco Stand.
Also, no trip to Cape Hatteras is complete without a hot dog from Frank’s OBX Dog House; I like the German Shepherd.
And don’t forget the Junior Ranger Program for the kids. With all of the Park Service’s fun things to do in Cape Hatteras, they’ll be able to earn several badges throughout your trip. Cape Hatteras National Seashore can also make a wonderful day trip from Hilton Garden Inn Outer Banks/Kitty Hawk near the Wright Brothers Memorial or even Hampton Inn & Suites Outer Banks/Corolla.
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Andrea is a single mom in Arlington, Virginia with a 15-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter. Her children took their first trips when they were just four…