The Outer Banks are among North Carolina's most famous tourist attractions, well-known for their remote location and laid-back environment. Camping along these islands is pretty popular with Ocracoke Island being a top choice for its distant, beach-front camping experiences. If you've visited the Outer Banks and have never taken the time to fully explore the 16-mile stretch of Ocracoke, spending a night or two under the stars is a great way to get familiar with its beautiful landscape.
Camping on Ocracoke Island
Given its calm and idyllic atmosphere, hotels and cottages fill up rather quickly on Ocracoke Island -- an island you can only access by air or ferry -- especially during the peak season. Camping on the island offers you the opportunity to stay overnight for significantly less money (between $20 to $35 a night). However, it's important to understand that camping along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore in any place other than a designated campground is not permitted. So, if you're thinking about setting up a tent on Ocracoke, there are only three campgrounds to choose from.
National Park Service's Ocracoke Campground
This public campground is maintained by the National Park Service and offers 136 campsites, making it the largest on the island. Because campsites have ocean access, you need longer tent stakes to secure your shelter in the sandy soil. Sites are relatively rustic and the grounds don't offer any utility hookups. Cold water showers are available, but there aren't any laundry facilities. Sites cost $28 per night, and you must book reservations for any of the locations.
Keep in mind that the summer months are a very busy period for tourism on Ocracoke, so you'll want to plan your trip ahead of time. Also, take note of the campground's amenities:
- Barbecue grills
- Drinking water
- Dump station
A small, privately owned campground just outside the village, this recreational facility offers two full hookup campsites, 12 sites that feature water and electricity, and 10 tent-only sites, as well. The rates range from $20 to $30 a night, with tent camping being the least expensive option. Each site comes equipped with a picnic table and some tent sites offer a grill. Bathhouses are available, but there aren't any laundry facilities. The campground is seasonally operational and open between March and November. Call 800-705-5341 to make reservations.
Teeter's is closer to the Pamlico Sound side of the island, and is not situated right next to the beach. However, additional amenities include:
- Free Wi-Fi
- Access to the Historic British Cemetery nearby
- Local shopping and dining
- Electric hookups at tent-only sites for a $10 fee
- Drinking water
- Sewer access
Once known as Ocracoke Station & Beachcomber campground, Jerniman's Campground is a slightly larger, privately owned campground located less than a mile from Silver Lake. Jerniman's offers 29 electric and water-accessible sites and 7 tent-specific sites. Picnic tables and grills are available at every site, and there are bathhouses nearby for a comfortable stay. To stay at Beachcombers, you're likely to pay between $25 and $35 per night, depending on the type of site you reserve. The rates are based on six people per campsite, with a $5 fee for every additional person.
Interestingly, this campground sets itself apart from others with its onsite deli, which serves fresh sandwiches, as well as markets that sell gourmet groceries, beach supplies, and souvenirs. The campground is open year-round, and you can reserve your spot today by calling 252-928-4031.
Jerniman's sets itself apart from others with its amenities:
- Onsite restaurant and bar
- Game room with pool and arcade
- Golf cart rentals
- Dump station
Things to Do During Your Stay
Camping on Ocracoke is unlike any other type of camping you'll experience. With its awe-inspiring views and sedate pace, there are a ton of unique things to do after you set up camp on the island.
See the Ocracoke Lighthouse
Ocracoke is home to one of the country's oldest and shortest lighthouses on the Atlantic coast. Originally built in 1823 by the United States government to replace the unstable do-it-yourself lighthouse that residents had set up on Shell Island, Ocracoke Island Lighthouse stands 65 feet tall and its beacon can be seen up to 14 miles into Pamlico Sound. Amazingly, the lighthouse is still operational, though it was automated in the early 20th century. While she is a beautiful sight to behold, the lighthouse isn't open to public climbers.
Visit Portsmouth Village
Portsmouth Village is a deserted village on Porstmouth Island, which is located just south of Ocracoke. It is normally difficult to reach the island, but visitors are encouraged to take the ferry to Portsmouth because of its close proximity to Ocracoke. Portsmouth was once a bustling center of trade in the region, but with Union blockades during the Civil War and national railroad lines making transporting goods easier, the village slowly dwindled until only two female residents remained. These women left in 1971, turning Porstmouth Village into a ghost town.
Learn About Ocracoke's Past
Take a trip to the historic David Williams House on Ocracoke Island where you'll find the Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum. Run by the Ocracoke Preservation Society, this local museum is focused on highlighting island life throughout the past few hundred years. With multiple permanent and rotating collections, as well as outdoor exhibits, the Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum is a great way to get a taste for what life was once like on the Outer Banks.
Visit Ocracoke's Pony Pen
There's nothing that stirs the blood more than seeing a wild herd of horses, and a small wild herd of mustangs calls Ocracoke home. Brought to the island from 16th century Spanish shipwrecks, these wild ponies roam a fenced-in section of the island and are direct descendants of these Spanish mustangs. Characterized by their stockier, shorter stature, you can see these ponies at the Pony Pen. Since they are wild -- though they've adopted Ocracoke's obligatory sedate pace -- you aren't allowed to interfere with them, but you can see them best at the feeding section in this designated area.
Take Some Time To Truly Relax
Sometimes, trips and vacations can be more stressful than relaxing because of the amount of planning, navigating, and traveling that's involved to make them a success. Yet, camping at Ocracoke Island is anything but stressful. The magic of the island is its ability to transform all of its visitors into the calm, carefree people the islanders are known to be.