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The Outer Banks of North Carolina: The Bucket List

Readers report their favorite campgrounds and experiences from the Outer Banks of North Carolina; one of the best places to go truck camping on the East Coast.  That is, if you survive the ferry ride.

Outer Banks North Carolina Camping

Perhaps the scariest truck camping experience we have ever had actually happened at sea.  After the 2013 Mid-Atlantic Truck Camper Rally, we caravanned with a half-dozen fellow truck campers to the Outer Banks.  This was an after-rally tradition that Angela and I greatly enjoyed.

On this particular year, our goal was Ocracoke Island.  To reach Ocracoke, we had to take a ferry ride with our truck camper rigs on board.  You can imagine loading six truck camper rigs on a ferry and then venturing out into the ocean.  What could go wrong?

Rainy Rocky Ocracoke Ferry Ride

Well, the skies had grown dark and threatening on our way south.  As we drove onto the second ferry, the wind began to pickup, and the seas started to churn.

Crazy Ocracoke Ferry Ride In Rain

A few miles out, that ferry was seriously rocking.  As the ferry chugged forward, increasingly large waves broke on the sides spraying salt water across the rigs in spectacular fashion.  We never really felt like we were in serious danger, but this was no pleasure cruise.

Ocracoke Island Campers Ocracoke Campground

When we arrived in Ocracoke, we traveled to the National Park Service Ocracoke Campground.  Since we were off-season, the place was nearly empty, save for a few brave tenters and a smattering of other RVs.  Without prior reservations, we were able to camp in consecutive campsites.

The grey stormy skies remained for the remainder of our short stay, and the temperatures dropped.  In mid-April, the Outer Banks can be spring perfect, or perfectly miserable.  At least there were no mosquitoes, or no-see-ums.

Ocracoke Island Howards Pub And Raw Bar

As a group, we enjoyed dinner one night at Howard’s Pub and Raw Bar just a few miles down the road.  During the day, we parked our rigs adjacent to the Ocracoke Island Visitor Center and walked the small town.

Ocracoke Island Walk With Duck

Exploring the streets, houses, and shops with our friends was by far the highlight of that trip.

4th Flight Wilbur Wright 1903

During a different year, Angela and I went truck camping on the Outer Banks by ourselves and visited the Wright Brothers National Memorial.  As an entrepreneur and enthusiast of history and aviation, the talk presented by the Park Rangers was deeply inspiring.  If you are anywhere in the vicinity, I would highly recommend at least two to three hours at the Wright Brothers National Memorial.  Angela and I loved it.

Another Ferry Going To Ocracoke Island

Above: The second year with the Northstar, the ferry ride was much calmer

From experience, you will likely need bug repellant, sun screen, and a high tolerance for unusually incessant wind in the Outer Banks.  It’s the only place where our water heater pilot light was blown out by the wind, and we’re not the only ones who have had that experience.  Why do you think the Wright Brothers went to Kitty Hawk?  Hint: it wasn’t the Spring Break babes.

Chuck and Jodie Ramsey
2012 Chevy Silverado
2014 Adventurer 116DS

Outer Banks Camping Cape Hatteras Light

When we visited the Outer Banks we stayed at Cape Point Campground.  The campground is surrounded by dunes and marsh areas.  There is no direct ocean view.

Access to beaches is a three-quarter mile walk, depending on which section you head to and where in the campground you start.  We recommend hiking out to the ocean along the back path.  There are no motor vehicles along that section of beach and lots of seashells.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse White And Black

At Cape Point Campground you are 1.5 miles from Hatteras Lighthouse along a paved road.  We walked to the lighthouse only to discover the tower wasn’t open to the public until the next day.  We were allowed to enter the base level and a docent explained the features which were interesting to us.  There is a great level path for bikes.

Cape Point Campground is $20 a night and only accepts cash.  If you have a senior pass, it is $10 a night.  The sites are all paved, all back-ins, and offer no hookups, but generators are allowed during the day.  Rustic showers are also available.

There is a dump station along the roadway between the lighthouse and the campground.  There are also some water faucets throughout the campground that you might be able to get potable water from if you have long enough hoses.

Snake Outer Banks

We’d recommend cameras, sun protection, sturdy walking shoes, and an open eye for snakes (water moccasins).

Bill Riggsbee
2015 Ford F-350
2017 Cirrus 920

Outer Banks NC Silhouette

The best way to visit the Outer Banks is with a truck camper!

Portsmouth Island and Cape Lookout are both very rural islands with no commercial enterprises and limited facilities.  They are only accessible by ferry.  Additionally, this is beach and back road driving in the sand.  If you get stuck it can be very expensive to get a tow truck over there.

Bring a tow strap, shovel, and boards to help you dig out if this happens.  Generally the other visitors are great and we all help each other.  At night remember the tides so you do not get caught with the overnight high tide.

Outer Banks Pink Truck

Portsmouth Island is reached from Atlantic, North Carolina (Morris Marina) while the Cape Lookout ferries (there are two) are caught in Davis.  The cost for the ferries is about $75+ round trip depending on the size of your rig.  Reservations are highly recommended.

The Cape Lookout Lighthouse is on Cape Lookout.  The historical village of Portsmouth can be found on Portsmouth and is maintained by National Park Service, and the mosquitoes.

Outer Banks Dunes

Free camping is open all along the beach, as long as you do not drive over the dunes or through the bird and turtle nests.  Beware; flies and mosquitoes can be terrible out there at times.  Remember your bug spray and keep the screen door shut.

The park rangers are serious about the closures.  Do not try to go through them or they will track you down and – at a minimum – give you a ticket.

Outer Banks Shark

Both of these places are great for fishing (bring your own bait), birding, sun bathing, and general relaxation.  You will need to take all of the food and beverages you want with you.  There are no stores on the islands.

Bring extra groceries just in case the ferries are down (it happens rarely).  Ice and fuel (gas and diesel) can be purchased from the park rangers during the day and potable water and public showers are available as well.  Extra tarps are nice for shade or to help break the wind.

Crab At Outer Banks

I cannot say this enough; bring sunscreen because it can be brutal out there with the sun reflecting off the sand and water as well as the normal exposure.

Oh yeah, did I mention these are great places for fishing?

Charles Phy
2011 Dodge 5500
2010 Eagle Cap 1160

Outer Banks Ocean Beach

My grandsons and I really enjoyed our visit at Kitty Hawk. There were a lot of children there during spring break.  The ranger talk was excellent.

Kitty Hawk Grandsons

The plaque between my grandsons indicates the spot of the first successful flight by the Wright Brothers.  The white stone markers show the length of their progressively longer flights.

Wright Brothers Workshop And Living Quarters

The two wooden buildings are representations of their workshop and living quarters. The monument in the background is for the Wright brothers. We also walked to the base of the monument.  You can see the place of their first flight to the left of the visitor center.

We also visited the Cape Hatteras lighthouse.  It was a unique experience traveling south along the sand bank and, at spots, being able to see the ocean on both sides.

Outer Banks Ferry Ocracoke

As we were nearing Ocracoke I asked my oldest grandson (the navigator) how much farther it was.  He looked at his phone and said, “Thirty miles and it will take two hours”. “What?” I said, not knowing we had to ferry part of the way.  That’s one of the little memories of this trip.

Outer Banks Camping OBX RV Park

The two RV parks where we stayed were simply for their close proximity to either Kitty Hawk or the ferry.   OBX RV park is on Colington Island in the Kill Devil Hills, west of the banks.  The water in the picture is the canal that separates the island.  The park was neat, well kept, and quiet.

We also stayed at Teeters RV park in Ocracoke.  If we had it to do over, I would try to stay in the National Park Service Ocracoke Campground not far from town and on the ocean.

Bill and Kira Jones
2017 Ford F-350
2018 Northern Lite 9-6Q SE

Oregon Inlet Outer Banks

We stayed in the Oregon Inlet Campground, which is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and is operated by the National Park Service.  At $28 per night, it was the lowest cost paid campsite we stayed at during our three months in the eastern USA.

The sites do not have RV hookup utilities, but there is a very good dump station at the fishing center towards the bridge.  It’s free of charge for campers, and directly across Highway 12 at the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center.  Fresh water is also available there.

Empty National Campground Outer Banks

The campground is very well laid out and clean.  There are two loops for RVs and one for tents.  There are two well appointed restrooms/semi-enclosed bathhouses with showers.  The shower water is heated to warm.

It was cold and windy when we were there in November.  We strongly suggest to be prepared for strong windy conditions, possibly with rain.  That walk back after a shower, into the wind, was a real bone chiller.

Pets are welcome.  We had two dogs with us.  There are many sand burrs in the vegetation, and the dogs got them in their pads.  Sand burrs were not a problem on the sandy hiking trails to the beach.

While we were in the campground, there were two other RVs and a few tent sites occupied.  It was very quiet.  Beach access from the campsite was a short hike over two dunes; about 1,000 feet distance or less.

We liked driving further south on Hatteras Island for reconnaissance of the NPS Cape Point Campground and beaches near that campground.  Beach access from the campground appeared to be about 2,000 feet or more, possibly further than a comfortable walk.

The drive was most interesting and the terrain varied more than I was expecting.  Some areas are developed, while others are desolate and very natural.

Outer Banks Island Sand Across Road

There is a coastal transition zone with many birds and an interesting mix of water, sand, land, vegetation, and wind shaped trees.  There was calm water on the west side and the open ocean on the east side.

Both campgrounds and beach areas are seriously out in the ocean, and we found that to be a most interesting experience.

We do not think we would want to be anywhere near this area during high season.  It looks like the crowds could just be too much.  We prefer low people density and quiet conditions.  The non National Park Service campgrounds we saw along the way, even at this time of year, appeared to be full, with units crammed next to each other.

While there, we went to the Wright Brother’s National Memorial. It is well worth the time and effort.  Dogs are welcome.  We walked most of the grounds.

Joe Sesto
2015 Silverado 3500
2015 Bigfoot 2500 10.6e

I read Flying Magazine in my teens.  The Wright brothers’ story of dogged innovation and imagination motivated me to want to visit Kitty Hawk – some day.

I was a licensed pilot and plane owner by my 30s, but lived in California, which is a continent away.  All our earlier airline trips to the East Coast were to the north or south of the Carolinas.

When we set out in late November 2015, we aimed for Williamsburg, Virginia.  It was about 80 degrees when we got there, making the trip down the coast in December a real pleasure.

Wright Brothers Museum And Visitor Center

Wright Brother’s National Memorial was everything I expected and more.  The museum walls were covered with portraits of aviation pioneers, explorers, record setters, military heroes of the air and other notables.

Under each portrait was a brief biography.  I knew of many, but some were new to me and added to the experience.  It took a couple of hours to read them.

The museum also has a Wright Flyer and training glider.  Outside there is replica of their hangar and cabin.

Wilbur And Orville Wright Memorial North Carolina

The real story is on the flight path behind the museum and hangar.  There is a medium size monument and plaque at the start and a smaller monument and plaque at each flight’s finish.  The last one designated just about one minute of flight.  Only 66 years later, the Eagle landed on the moon.  That was the same day I got my private pilot’s license, July 20, 1969.  My Cessna 172 also landed safely.

We spent the day before in Jamestown.  That night we stayed just a bit north of Kitty Hawk, within ten minutes, but I don’t recall the name of the RV Park.  It was just one of many on the 7,800 mile trip back and forth across the United States.

Kevin Harris
2014 Ram 3500
2007 Lance 1191

Driving On Sand Outer Banks

If you enjoy being off-the-grid and love fishing, collecting shells, or just being away from it all, Cape Lookout National Seashore is the place to go.  It is the southernmost island in the Outer Banks and is only accessible by private ferry.

If you don’t bring it with you, you won’t be able to get it on the island.  The Park Service does sell ice and fuel, but nothing else.  If you need something, the ferry service can bring most anything over for a small fee.

The island has cabins that are maintained by the National Park Service.  Prices depend on the size and when you go.  We always take the truck camper and camp right on the beach.  There’s nothing like the sound of the waves as you drift off to sleep.  The ferry prices are dependent on the size of the vehicle you bring over.

During the summer months, you can climb the lighthouse and tour the old town.  If you go in the summer, bring bug repellent!  At all other times, bring a fishing pole, a good book, and a camera.

Steve and Teresa Gomez
2014 Ford F-350
2015 Host Mammoth

Walking On Sand Dunes Oregon Inlet

Probably the number one attraction for us in the Outer Banks was the beach.  We enjoy walking along the beach collecting shells and watching the pelicans and waves.  Visiting the lighthouses also occupied our time.

The Ocracoke Lighthouse was the smallest of the three we visited with extremely limited parking, and was the hardest to find.  Cape Hatteras Light station on Hatteras Island was the most impressive with plenty of parking.  Finally, Bode Island Lighthouse on Nags Head was also really nice with plenty of parking.

Host Camper Bode Island Lighthouse

Above: Bode Island Lighthouse on Nags Head

We also visited the Wright Brothers National Memorial.  This might be number one on our list because of the historical significance.  In 2017 and 2018 the museum/visitor center is/was closed for remodeling.  It is supposed to reopen late summer 2018, so check ahead.  The memorial itself is outdoors as well as the markers identifying the first flights taken.

First Successful Flight Wright Brothers

Above: First successful flight for the Wright Brothers

We camped at two National Seashore campgrounds; Oregon Inlet Campground, and Ocracoke Campground.  These were both dry camping areas.  There was water available and bathhouses, but no electricity.  Dinner at SmacNally’s on Ocracoke Island was great.

Camping at each location was $14 per night with the National Parks Pass.  There are other commercial campgrounds along the way for those that prefer full hookups.

Ocracoke Island is only accessible by ferry.  The ferry between Hatteras Island and Ocracoke is free!  The ferry from Cedar Island to Ocracoke cost $30.  There is also another ferry from Swan Quarter, North Carolina to Ocracoke.

Ferry schedules are available online.  Bridges connect the remaining islands to the north so the bulk of the National Seashore is drivable.

Mosquito and no-see-ums can be a problem depending on winds, so bug spray might be in order.

Fred Patterson
2013 Ford F-350
2002 Lance 1161

Camping Outer Banks

The Outer Banks is becoming my favorite place to camp.  It is very laid-back compared to most other places on the Atlantic Coast.

Go south past Nags Head into the Hatteras area for the best experience – Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon Frisco, Hatteras, and especially Ocracoke via the free ferry.  One can also get to Ocracoke from the south using a private ferry.

Beach Waves Outer Banks

Permits to drive on any of the Outer Banks beaches are available for a fee, but my current camper is a little heavy, so I didn’t.

I visited the town library in Outer Banks and spoke to the librarian.  He showed me a thick book of all libraries in the nation.  At the time, the Ocracoke library was a small one room hut; the smallest library in the nation.  He said he came to Ocracoke from the National Library of Congress in Washington to get away from the fast life.  That library later merged with the school library and is open to the public at 3:00pm after the school day ends.

On Ocracoke, I recommend Teeter’s campground which is just a couple of blocks from the heart of everything.  There are a couple of pubs and legitimately good restaurants.

The campground proprietor is the son of the original campground developer and is a really great and laid-back sort of guy.  He walks barefoot with you to your campsite, locates a power and water connection somewhere, takes your $25 fee (no credit cards, no paperwork) and wishes you well.

Lighthouse Outer Banks

Above:  The Ocracoke Lighthouse built in 1823

On the way to Ocracoke, there are mom and pop campgrounds in most of the small towns enroute including two directly across the street from KOA Hatteras for less than half the price.  There are also two National Park Service campgrounds with showers but no hookups.

Camping in the Outer Banks reminds me a little of growing up in the south in the 1960s.

Tom Overholt
2017 Ford F350
2007 Palomino 8801

South of the Outer Banks, just below Wilmington, is Carolina Beach.  If you have four-wheel drive, you can drive onto the beach and camp.  When we camped there we were one of four truck campers that night.

Truck Camping Carolina Beach

Freeman Park is at Carolina Beach.  There are no facilities except portable toilets.  It’s fairly close to the Outer Banks as the crow flies but, there is no direct road.  I would assume it’s about a three hour drive.

This is a regular campground with two or three dozen campsites laid out in a row.  I believe it cost us $30 at the gate because we were going to camp and drive on the beach.  They require four-wheel drive to drive onto the beach.  Other people had to hike in and tent camp because they didn’t have four-wheel drive vehicles.

I didn’t get stuck, but I was nervous.  Another truck camper said to lower our tire pressure to 30 PSI so that I would not have to worry about getting stuck.  There were three other truck campers there as well, and lots of tents.

This same person said, if the wind comes out of the west, you will get bugs.  I didn’t think to much of it that evening.  But, the next morning there were thousands of bugs on my camper.  They were no-see-ums.  So, you will want to have some type of spray to keep the bugs at bay.

It was a little hard to sleep because we were only about 75-feet from the water and the waves were quite noisy.  I woke up many times because of the waves.

We often camp in the Wilmington area because our son lives there.  We mostly camp at Carolina Beach State Park.  It is a beautiful place right in the middle of everything that you could want in a coastal town.  Although we haven’t been back to the beach campground, I would like to try it again sometime.

David Carvalho
2006 Dodge Ram 3500
2013 Alaskan

Lake Hatteras Light Station Outer Banks

Ocracoke has a few businesses running during winter; a sports bar, restaurant, general store, and the ferry.  The Outer Banks has wild horses, light houses, and beaches.

Outer Banks Ferry Line Sunrise

We dry camped at the ferry terminal overnight.

Glenda Dwyer
1997 Ford F-250
1998 Lance 11.3’

It’s very difficult to narrow down our suggestions and advice because we saw everything in the area, took the ferries, and more.  As Coloradans, anything near the ocean is exciting.

Since we are history buffs, I suppose Wright Brothers National Memorial would be our favorite.  There is a very complete museum and lots to see and do on the grounds including a layout of the launch site with granite stones marking the locations of the first four landings.  The ranger referred to the exact replica of the plane as a $1 million dollar plane.

A ways up the road is a monument representing a Century of Flight.  It’s quite clever and beautiful.  It sort of reminded me of Stonehenge, but constructed of steel and granite.

We enjoyed the lighthouses including Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and Bodie Island Lighthouse.  Both offer lots of information about how and why they were built.  I never did get a satisfactory answer on how they painted the spiral design on Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.

A hurricane had come through the Outer Banks the previous year so every campground we stayed at was in need of repair.  The Refuge on Roanoke Island had done a good job of getting things back in order.  The shower house part of the building is on the second floor with a back a forth ramp that made access easy (FEMA regulations).

We have pretty much seen all of the United States and Canada during the last 20 years of traveling in our Lance but, since we just bought a new Arctic Fox 990, we are looking forward to starting all over again.

William Roe
2016 GMC 2500HD
2006 Lance 861

I visited in Labor Day weekend and went to the beach, seafood restaurants, lighthouses, and piers.  You should also drove down to Cape Hatteras.

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