Cape Hatteras National Seashore | BEACHES

Cape Hatteras Map

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Cape Hatteras National Seashore has approximately 40 miles of north to south coastline running from the northern section at Bodie Island to the southern most tip of Hatteras Island, Cape Point. There is another 26 miles of east to west coastline running from Cape Point to Ocracoke Island. Every foot, unless closed temporarily for sea turtle or bird nesting season, is open to the public. If you can pull off the road safely, you can hike through the brush and over the dunes to your own secluded spot on the beach. However, most people forgo the Lewis and Clark approach, instead preferring to access the beaches at public parking areas along NC-12, the Outer Banks Scenic Byway, or by hiking paths over the dunes that have already been blazed by others.

The following web pages have detailed information and maps about all of the beach access points for each region, along with photos of the parking areas and beaches. However, be sure to read all the information on this page, as it contains important and interesting beach information.

Bodie Island to Cape Point, Hatteras Island (Atlantic Coast)

Cape Point, Hatteras Island to Ocracoke Island (Atlantic Coast)

Pamlico Sound Beach Access

Passage over the sand dunes to the beach

Passage over the sand dunes to the beach

The beaches, which I might add are some of the cleanest I have run across, can be divided into three distinct regions, each with its own pros and cons. The beaches along the Atlantic coast from Bodie Island to Cape Point are prone to much larger waves and colder water. These beaches take a direct pounding from the ocean waves, making this side of Cape Hatteras National Seashore the preference for surfers. During my visit the waves were reaching seven to ten feet high. Surfers from all over the east coast where there. I was told that a storm had come through a few days earlier, and this was the reason for the super large waves. I’m not sure what the normal wave size is, but I can tell you that the waves on the east-west beaches from Cape Point to Orcacoke Island on the very same day were at least 50-75% smaller. These Atlantic coast waves looked like fun for teenagers and adults to play in, but I wouldn’t let my child play in them. They reminded me of California beaches that are pounded by the Pacific.

The colder water temperatures are caused by the Labrador Current, a cold current that begins in the Arctic Ocean and runs south along the Atlantic coast until it merges with the Gulf Stream—a warmer current—at Cape Point. A park Ranger told me that the best time to swim on these beaches is when the air temperature is at least in the high 80s (Fahrenheit), which makes the cold water seem refreshing. In the low 80s or 70s, it’s just cold water. I also noticed more sea shells on these beaches than on the beaches from Cape Point to Orcacoke Island.

Rough seas along the open Atlantic shoreline of Hatteras Island

Rough seas along the open Atlantic shoreline of Hatteras Island

The second region of beaches is those running east to west from Cape Point to Ocracoke Island. These beaches feature warmer water due to being along the Gulf Stream, less wind, and smaller waves since they do not directly face the waves coming from the east. I definitely recommend these beaches for families and for those who want to spend a relaxing day at the beach. These beaches reminded me of Florida beaches.

Calmer seas along the east to west shoreline from Hatteras to Ocracoke

Calmer seas along the east to west shoreline from Hatteras to Ocracoke

The third region is the beaches along the Pamlico Sound. The Sound is completely protected from the pounding of the Atlantic, and it is more like a lake than the ocean, making this the perfect place for those with toddlers. It is also the preferred location for kite boarders. Kite boarding is most similar to water skiing, the only difference being that a giant kite is pulling you along the water and not a ski boat. You wouldn’t water ski in giant waves, nor would you kite board in them. There were a few odd-ball kite boarders on the rough Atlantic side of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, but 95% of them were in the Pamlico Sound. Though protected from the waves, there is still plenty of wind.

Shoreline of the Pamlico Sound

Shoreline of the Pamlico Sound

The only problem with the Sound is that the beaches are very small and not very sandy—more like a lake shore than an ocean beach. On top of that, there are very few areas that are easily accessible to the public. Other than a handful of locations, getting to the shore of the Pamlico Sound usually requires a 4-Wheel Drive vehicle and an Off Road Permit…or a long walk down one of these roads.

Off Road Permits are needed for most access roads to the Pamlico Sound

Off Road Permits are needed for most access roads to the Pamlico Sound

Regardless of waves and wind, the beaches on Bodie Island tend to be more crowded, with the crowds gradually thinning as you travel south. This is because all vehicles must come through Bodie Island, and people tend to stop at the first beaches they come to. In addition, one of the largest nearby areas of population is Norfolk, Virginia, and Bodie has the closest beaches. Ocracoke Island beaches tend to be the least crowded due to the fact that you must take a ferry to get there. All of Bodie and Hatteras Island beaches are accessible by car.

Sections of a beach or an entire beach may be closed at various times due to wildlife nesting seasons. This tends to be from April to August. Signs will be posted.

Beach closed to all traffic, foot and vehicle

Beach closed to all traffic, foot and vehicle

Beach closed for bird nesting season

Beach closed for bird nesting season

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Last updated on March 24, 2020
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