Location: Avon, North Carolina
Webpage: National Park
General Description: Located on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore extends over 70 miles from Bodie Island to Ocracoke Island. Once dubbed the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” for its treacherous currents, shoals, and storms, Cape Hatteras has a wealth of history of relating to shipwrecks, lighthouses, and the US Lifesaving Service along with miles of undeveloped ocean shoreline, salt marshes, seabirds, and small mammals. There are three visitor centers along the Seashore beginning in the north with Bodie Island Visitor Center located next to the Bodie Island Lighthouse. The Hatteras Island Visitor Center located in the lightkeeper’s quarters at the Hatteras Island Lighthouse. Finally, the Ocracoke Island Visitor Center located near the Ocracoke Lighthouse. In addition to the lighthouses, there are a number of small parking lots to provide access to the beach where visitors can swim, fish, watch the wildlife, or collect seashells.
1) 70 miles is a long way to drive, especially when the view of the ocean is cut off by the sand dunes that are an essential component of protecting the barrier islands making up the Outer Banks. The National Park Service is in a constant battle with the sand and surf to maintain the road and I suspect some part of the road is always under construction. Ultimately this will be a losing battle since the Outer Banks are in a constant rolling motion moving towards the mainland. Any major storm, especially a hurricane, can create new inlets cutting through the islands or completely taking out the road. To view any part of the National Seashore it is necessary to stop at one of the small parking lots and walking over the dunes to the beach. Viewing the Atlantic Ocean is a great way to spend a couple of hours, however, September is not a time I would consider getting in the water.
2) The distance is so great that we never made it to Ocracoke Island which has a 45 minute ferry ride (free) from Hatteras Island to access. We enjoyed viewing the lighthouses at Bodie and Hatteras, however, we decided not to attempt the climb to the top. Over 300 steps is not my idea of a good time any more!
3) The Visitor Centers were a disappointment for me after seeing all the great museums at other locations. Neither of the two Visitor Centers we visited we much beyond a gift shop and tickets for the lighthouse.