The red roofed building, far left center in this composite aerial photo, marks the Coast Guard Station and ferry dock by the entrance channel to Silver Lake. The channel is known as "the ditch".
The island of Ocracoke sits between Hatteras Inlet, which separates it from Hatteras Island, and Ocracoke Inlet, which separates it from Core Banks. It can be reached only by small airplane, private boat, or by ferry. A look at the Coastal Guide Map will orient you.

The island is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, with only one town, also called Ocracoke. The village is focused around the scenic little harbor of Silver Lake, as seen in this composite of aerial photos from NOAA at right (top is north). Here you will find the Coast Guard Station, and ferry docks for the Cedar Island and Swan Quarter ferrys which connect the south end of the island to the mainland. The Hatteras ferry dock is on the north end of the island, and connects it to Hatteras Island and the rest of the Outer Banks north.

Ocracoke is the end of the line when driving south on the Outer Banks. From here you either head inland with your car on the Cedar Island or Swan Quarter ferry, or turn back north. But once you get to Ocracoke you realize "the end of the line" is actually more like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Perhaps too many people have found this out, for in the summer this small village swells beyond its comfort zone. But in the fall it returns to its quiet small town feel, and keeps that peaceful, almost meditative state of being through spring.

The "off-season" visitors have found out the secret of enjoying the true appeal of Ocracoke. In fact, it is a recorded historical fact that Ocracoke has been a popular fall vacation spot for over two hundred years. Even though tourists come practically year round, the off-season is far less crowded, and let's the real atmosphere of Ocracoke come through.
". . .once you get to Ocracoke you realize "the end of the line"
is more like the pot of gold at
the end of the rainbow."

Silver Lake by day, or by night, is as charming and appealing as any small harbor that can be found. Prior to the 1950's it was a shallow natural harbor known as Cockle Creek. During World War II the Navy dredged it so larger vessels could use it. Long time residents still refer to the harbor as "the creek".

Top right: A ferry arrives after sunset, its lights streaking in this long exposure image as it navigates the "ditch" into the harbor.

Center & bottom right: Porch lights and house lights sparkle in the cool blue of Silver Lake after dark.

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You won't find curb and gutter here. The streets are narrow, and you have to drive slowly and coexist with pedestrians and bicycles, which is by far the most practical way around the village proper. The most original area of town is Howard Street, in the historic district. The street is still not paved, and only wide enough for one-way traffic. It gives a hint of what the village was like two hundred years ago. Simple homes with neighboring family grave plots, and deep shade from ancient live oaks brings the past alive. If you want to see and experience much of the great natural beauty of this place you'll want bring along your 4WD and head up and down the beach. The southernmost end of the island requires a 4WD to access (or a long long walk).

You won't find amusement rides or glitzy touristy entertainment here. Come prepared to make your own fun. Gift and novelty shops will fulfill the urge to bring home a souvenir, but not one "chain store" or "franchise" food establishment exists here. Everything is "mom and pop", locally owned and operated. There simply isn't much other way to make a living here, except perhaps for the local fishermen who still supplement their income harvesting from the waters. But that's the way it's always been for the "Ocracokers". Their independence and self-sufficient spirit has always been their mainstay.

The handful of restaurants and eateries run the gamut, so you can probably find the sort of thing you want to eat, from burgers to truffles. And while you're here, get used to living on "island time". Being in a rush simply won't do you much good while on Ocracoke. To paraphrase a saying the locals use to explain how things are here, you must understand that "If the world came to an end, it could be several days before you find out about it on Ocracoke". That's not to say there isn't television and radio and internet here. It's just that it doesn't take long for Ocracoke to work its magic. Before you know it, it no longer seems to matter that much whether you keep up with those things or not.
"If the world came to an end,
it could be several days
before you found out about it
on Ocracoke."

Ocracoke village is a close little community. There simply isn't much other way it could be. The coffee shop is something of a social center, where many come to catch up on news, and to meet friends and neighbors over their favorite brew of caffeine (or decaf). Their pets often come to visit and play with each other as well.

As in any small community, the school, firehouse, community center and churches serve to connect everyone in common projects. Holidays like Halloween, Christmas and the Fourth of July bring out the community to support special functions, usually tailored specially for the children of the town. For example, on Halloween, old historic Howard Street is transformed into a spooky lane where the children can go to trick or treat. With the ancient crooked live oaks, old picket fences, even older houses, and no traffic, pavement or sidewalks, it doesn't take much to let your imagination run away with you while walking along old Howard Street on a night like Halloween. Howard Street is truly a place out of the past, with the look and feel to go with it.

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Related Links -

Ocracoke Lighthouse

Ocracoke Civic & Business Association
official web site

Beach Ramp access
map and information

NOTICE: Follow the ramp access link above for Important 4x4 access news

Copyright © 2003 Fred Hurteau           * Copyright information and image use policy *

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