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Hatteras Attractions

The natural world is the most stunning of Hatteras attractions — from Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge to Hatteras Island National Seashore. It’s hard for anything else to compete with the wonders that Mother Nature provides here, so many of the local points of interest are nature-oriented. You can walk mile upon mile of beautifully undeveloped shorefront searching for shells and other treasures or get yourself out into the deep, blue sea on anything that floats—standup paddleboards and kiteboards are the latest crazes. But beyond the water, the landscape and the wildlife, there are some fantastic Hatteras attractions that offer interesting diversions and inform visitors about the rich history of Hatteras Island. The most well-known of Hatteras attractions is the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, but other popular sites will get you up close and personal with the Native Americans who were the real first inhabitants of these islands, teach you about how locals predicted weather years ago, about the courageous men from the U.S. Life-Saving Service who went to the aid of hundreds of shipwreck victims and about the long and storied history of the Graveyard of the Atlantic. The Hatteras attractions are either free or charge a very modest fee. Several of the places listed here are also included in Hatteras History, so you may want to refer back to that section for more information. Also see Hatteras things to do for other ways to get to know this island.

Avon

South of the Tri-Villages of Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo, past a sizeable stretch of undeveloped Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Avon is considered the largest and busiest of the Hatteras Island towns (but remember that’s relative to Hatteras Island, not where you come from). Avon has the only two stoplights on the island and the only chain grocery store. It also has a wealth of accommodations, shops, restaurants, watersports outfitters and a well-loved fishing pier over the ocean. If you’re here to kiteboard, paddleboard or windsurf, Avon can hook you up. South of Avon is one of the island’s most popular kiteboarding and windsurfing spots; it’s known as The Haulover or Canadian Hole.

Buxton and Frisco

Buxton and Frisco are two distinct villages but they border one another (without any parklands in between) so they kind of blend together. Both of these villages are set among the Buxton Woods Maritime Forest, lending a different feel from the villages to the north, and Buxton is situated at the island’s widest point.

Buxton is the home of the world-famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, which you can climb for a view of the island. It’s also home to Cape Point, the magnificent point of land that juts farthest into the ocean. Visiting Cape Point (as long as it’s not closed during bird-nesting season) is an essential Outer Banks experience, and the National Park Service has a campground close by. Buxton offers several accommodations, shops, restaurants and outfitters along with many county services, ballfields, the islands’ schools and the community center known as the Fessenden Center. Frisco is much quieter and predominantly residential, but there are a couple of galleries, a coffee shop and a few other businesses and campgrounds. There’s also an airstrip here. It’s perfect for that feeling of getting away from it all.

Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station

23645 N.C. Highway 12, Rodanthe
(252) 987-1552

The Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station is the nation’s largest and most complete existing example of the life-saving stations that were built along the Atlantic coast in the late 19th century to attend to shipwrecks and to rescue survivors. The 1874 Station was the first operational Life-Saving station built in North Carolina, serving until 1954. Chicamacomico has been partially restored, thanks to numerous volunteers who formed a nonprofit organization to save it, and it is now a fine museum and historic site; all structures are original buildings. It is also the only place anywhere in the world that re-creates the full historic beach apparatus life-saving drill on a regular basis with active-duty United States Coast Guard personnel.

On a visit here you’ll see the 1874 Station, the 1911 Station, two cookhouses, water tanks and cistern, a stable, a tractor shed, the smaller boathouse (now the Visitors Center) and a village home built in 1907. In the museum, you’ll learn about the U.S. Life-Saving Service and some of the rescues that occurred here. Artifacts, uniforms, rescue equipment, displays and video presentations abound, and self-guided tours help complete your knowledge of place and history. These stations have many stories to tell. Life-Saving crews at Chicamacomico performed many daring rescues, including one of the greatest rescues of WWI, that of the British tanker Mirlo in 1918. When the Mirlo was sunk by the German submarine U-117, Chicamacomico’s crew rescued 42 of 51 British sailors. The gift shop is full of unique nautical items and works by local craftspeople plus books and old-fashioned toys.

Check their website for special program information, admission fees and hours of operation. Chicamacomico is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit raising all of its own funds; it has no federal, state or other budget. 

Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum

59200 Museum Drive, Hatteras Village
(252) 986-2995

At the end of N.C. Highway 12 just past the ferry docks, the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum attracts a lot of attention with its ship-like building, porthole windows and curved timbers. One of three North Carolina Maritime Museums operated by the North Carolina Division of Cultural Resources, the museum focuses on the maritime history and shipwrecks of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, often called the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Exhibitions cover five centuries, with shipwreck artifacts and memorabilia on display. Changing exhibits tell dramatic tales of lifesaving, piracy, maritime culture and underwater heritage.

View the original 1854 Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Fresnel lens, the Enigma machine from the U-85, the bell from the Diamond Shoals Lightship, artifacts from Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge and exhibits exploring Hatteras Island during the Civil War, including artifacts from the Monitor. Discover Hatteras’ amazing link to the Titanic. See unusual artifacts that have washed ashore as well as vintage diving and sport-fishing fishing equipment. 

The museum features year-round programming for people of all ages.  Enjoy creating coastal crafts, movie nights and presentations by experts in maritime history, food, art and culture. For a daily schedule of activities go to the website at www.ncmaritimemuseums.com and view the calendar for more information.

From April through mid-October, hours are Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  From mid-October through March, hours are Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Admission is free; donations are appreciated. Discover fun, beautiful and educational souvenirs, books and gifts in their Meekins Chandlery Gift Shop, with hours corresponding to Museum hours.  

Hatteras Village

On the southern end of Hatteras Island, Hatteras, or as the locals call it, Hatteras Village, is known for its ties to offshore fishing. The village borders Hatteras Inlet, giving recreational and commercial fishing boats an easy route to the Gulf Stream and the inshore fishing grounds. Hatteras has several marinas where commercial and recreational boats dock, making this a great place from which to book an offshore charter. Several Hatteras Island motels, plenty of vacation rental homes and restaurants support the fishing and vacation industries. Hatteras also offers quite a bit of shopping, from art galleries to jewelry shops to clothing boutiques. For a fascinating look at the island’s storied maritime history, check out the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. The ferry to Ocracoke Island leaves from Hatteras Village.

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge

N.C. Highway 12, Rodanthe
(252) 987-2394

The refuge’s visitor center, located on the northern end of Hatteras Island about 4 miles south of Oregon Inlet, is a good place to start a Pea Island visit. It gives an introduction to the ecosystems and wildlife of the refuge and the activities that are permissible there. You may also pick up informational brochures, the National Park Service’s newspaper and trail maps. A restroom and plenty of parking are available. You may start your walk on North Pond Wildlife Trail here.

The visitor center is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day. Beyond the visitor center, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is a 13-mile stretch of pristine barrier island. The beaches are wonderfully devoid of people most of the time, and there are several access points for getting to the beach. Pea Island is also great for surfing, surf fishing, shell hunting, kayaking, photography and other eco-friendly outdoor activities. Driving on the beach is not allowed here. Leashed pets are allowed on the beach but not on the walking trails or overlooks.

North Pond Wildlife Trail is a good, flat, easy trail that starts at the Pea Island Visitor Center, about 4 miles south of Oregon Inlet. Park in the parking lot and look for the North Pond Wildlife Trailhead behind the restrooms. A sturdy, handicapped-accessible boardwalk leads back into the marshy areas around North Pond where you’ll see a variety of birds and wildlife. The trail turns into a hard-packed natural surface that extends for a half-mile and ends in a two-level observation tower where you can see from sea to sound. After North Pond Wildlife Trail ends, you may keep going on an unpaved service road that takes you all the way around the pond. This service road connects with the Salt Flats Wildlife Trail, and at the end (N.C. Highway 12) you can either turn back and go the way you came or cross over the dunes and walk along the beach to get back to the visitor center. The entire loop, if you take the beach route, is about 4 miles. The northern leg of the North Pond circuit is prone to excessive mosquitoes at all times of the year. Don’t let that keep you away; just bring insect repellent.

You may also park at the Salt Flats Wildlife Trailhead, a little over a mile north of the visitor center. This trail ends at a disabled-accessible overlook, which provides views of the Salt Flats area as well as North Pond. You’ll see a lot of birds on these trails no matter what time of year you’re here, but this hike is most phenomenal in the fall and winter  when thousands of migratory birds are resting over on the pond. You’ll see snow geese, Canada geese, tundra swan and numerous species of ducks. You may pick up trail maps at the Visitor Center from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day or from the racks on the front porch after hours.

Guided bird walk programs are offered at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge year round, and other programs — Turtle Talks, Soundside Adventures and Birds and Their Adaptations — are offered in the summer months. Canoe tours are offered during the warmer months as a fee-based program. See http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Pea_Island/visit/plan_your_visit.html for a list, or call the visitors center. 

To learn more about Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuges Visitors Center on the north end of Roanoke Island, about a quarter-mile past the entrance to Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. The center’s exhibits offer information about Pea Island and 10 other refuges in northeastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia. The staff that manages Pea Island also manages Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge on the Dare County mainland; see the separate entry on the new center in the Roanoke Island site. 

Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo

Known as the Tri-Villages, the communities of Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo border one another on the north end of Hatteras Island (just south of Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge). The locals know where the villages begin and end, and while the distinction may not really be important to the visitor, it is very important to someone who grew up here. All three villages are small but filled with vacation rentals, campgrounds, small motels, restaurants, shops and watersports outfitters.

Rodanthe is home to the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station Historic Site, one of the nation’s most complete life-saving sites. Visiting the restored station offers a great history lesson about the service that preceded the U.S. Coast Guard. There’s also an oceanside fishing pier in Rodanthe. Waves is home to two of the Outer Banks’ largest kiteboarding centers and their attendant amenities like restaurants, accommodations and shops. Salvo is the quietest of the three villages, predominantly residential and perfect for a quiet vacation.