I wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to visit anywhere in the Outer Banks but Hatteras Island was the draw for me. I’m already trying to convince my husband that we need to plan another Outer Banks Vacation just so I can spend more time exploring the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore stretches between Bodie, Hatteras, and Ocracoke Islands. It’s a beautiful shoreline drive with places to stop and explore along the 70-mile drive. You’ll find great places to eat, lighthouses to photograph, gorgeous beaches to stroll and if you’re a Nicholas Sparks fan, you may seek out the home that was used when filming the Nights in Rodanthe movie. Hint: It’s in Rodanthe.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
I enjoyed the Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head areas of the Outer Banks but the real draw for me was the more unspoiled landscape found along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, which is NC Highway 12. There was just something about driving down a road flanked by sand dunes and ocean views that seemed almost magical.
Our beach rental was located on Hatteras Island so we took our time exploring the attractions, beaches, and souvenir shops on the way. Here are some of the highlights from our trip.
Bodie Island Lighthouse
Address:8210 Bodie Island Lighthouse Road, Nags Head | Phone: 252-475-9501 | Website
Constructed in 1871, this attraction features the Lighthouse, a National Park Ranger/ Visitor Center, and a boardwalk leading to an incredible view of not only the lighthouse but of the surrounding marshlands. You’ll catch a glimpse of egrets and waterfowl and according to the signs we strolled past, snakes as well. It was at this stop that I learned I’ve pronounced “Bodie” wrong for years. The name is actually pronounced “Body”.
Surfing in Rodanthe
The kids took surfing lessons and loved it. You can read about their lesson and near-death experience (as told by my daughter) in this surfing in the Outer Banks post.
Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station
Address: 23645 NC Hwy 12 | Phone: 252-987-1552 | Website
Located on the National Register of Historic Places, the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station is the largest and most complete US Life Saving Service station in the country. It is also the only station that serves as a museum in the US. My husband and I were in awe as we listened to the docent share true-life stories of the miraculous rescues that took place and learning how this station, and others along the coast, paved the way for the US Coast Guard. This stop offers a fascinating glimpse of nautical and island history. We left with an appreciation of the dedication and bravery of the men who risked all to save those from marine disasters as well as how difficult life on the barrier islands can be.
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
My husband and I spent hours at Pea Island taking photos, watching the pelicans and dolphins compete for food, beachcombing, and kite flying (which we purchased from Kitty Hawk Kites).
On this trip, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge was definitely a highlight. After all, we saw dolphins and a shipwreck in the same spot! Score!
Address: NC Hwy 12
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
At 208 feet tall, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse in North America. In addition to the lighthouse, you’ll find a keeper’s home turned visitor center and museum on site. Though we didn’t attempt it, the lighthouse is open for climbing.
You’ll also find a nearby small British cemetery that is maintained by the National Park Service. The soldiers buried here were killed during WWII when their ships were attacked by the Germans off the coast in the Outer Banks.
A ¾ mile walking trail that leads you through some of the native vegetation with placards along the way sharing tidbits about the environment of Hatteras Island.
Address: 46375 Lighthouse Road, Buxton
Horseback Riding Lessons
The kids also enjoyed a 3-hour long horseback ride on the beach with Equine Adventures. I’ll share more on that later.
U.S. Weather Bureau Station
This unique building once served as one of the first weather reporting stations in the U.S. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and now serves as a Welcome Center and National Park Service site.
Address: NC Hwy 12, Hatteras
Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
This free museum features shipwreck artifacts, interactive exhibits about pirates, and the Civil War and the iron clad U.S.S. Monitor. Pick up a scavenger hunt at the desk if you have kids with you.
Address: 59200 Museum Drive, Hatteras
Where we Stayed
The Lighthouse View Oceanfront Lodging in Buxton provided the perfect accommodations for my family. Located on the third floor, this large vacation rental included patios on both the front and back of the rental, beach and ocean views, a private bedroom, loft with two small beds, and a hallway bedroom. Traveling with three women can be a challenge when it’s time to go out to eat but the property had a full and half bath so we had plenty of mirror space. The full kitchen allowed us to prepare meals at the unit while the large living area gave us plenty of room to spread out, watch TV, and enjoy each other’s company. While my husband and I explored the area, the kids hung out on the beach or in the onsite pool.
While I enjoyed our entire visit to the Outer Banks, Hatteras Island captured my heart and I don’t feel like a few days was nearly enough time to truly explore (and relax). I’m trying to convince my husband that we need to a camping trip for the two of us and my 23-year old is trying to figure out how he can relocate to the Outer Banks.
Have you spent time exploring the Outer Banks?