The Outer Banks are important nesting habitat for several rare and endangered bird species. To protect those species, the beaches may be closed seasonally in spots. The scope and distance of these closings, and whether they are for hikers or only vehicles, vary. We recommend checking this National Park Service website for information about beach closings.
Camping on the beach is prohibited throughout this segment of the MST. Please camp only in legal campgrounds.
Hunting is allowed on Ocracoke Island; however, hunting on the beach is extremely rare. Otherwise, the trail is not on any land that is open for hunting in this segment.
As of 2018, the one-way ferry fare between Cedar Island and Ocracoke Island is $15.00 for cars, $3.00 for bicycles and $1.00 for hikers. The Ocracoke-Hatteras ferry is free. Reservations are highly recommended in the summer. Ferry schedules and reservations are available online or by phone (1-800-By-Ferry), and schedules are posted at the terminals.
Dogs are prohibited in Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge west of NC 12. Elsewhere on this segment, dogs are allowed but must be on a leash no longer than 6 feet. In addition, even dogs on leashes can disturb shorebirds, so please do not take dogs on the beach when birds are present.
This hike covers Segment 18 of North Carolina's 1,175-mile Mountains-to-Sea Trail. From the secluded beaches of Ocracoke Island to the tourist bustle of Nags Head, it captures the many aspects of North Carolina's easternmost parts. These barrier islands, or "banks," are rich with history, wildlife and scenery. They are also the site of some of the most extreme weather in the country. Situated as it is—far out in the ocean, where two major ocean currents collide—the region has earned its nickname, "The Graveyard of the Atlantic."
Ocracoke Village, a quaint and quiet town at the western end of the segment
Cape Hatteras National Seashore, encompassing the beaches for nearly the entire segment
The Ocracoke pony pens, which hold the descendants of a horse herd that once roamed on the island
The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, which tells the story of the over 2,000 shipwrecks off the coast of North Carolina
The Open Ponds Trail, a sandy track through maritime forest near Buxton Woods
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, at 208 feet the tallest brick lighthouse in North America and the most recognized symbol of the Outer Banks; it is open for climbing in the summer
The historic Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station, the original site of the forerunners to the U.S. Coast Guard, which is now a museum
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, a renowned haven for waterfowl, especially in the winter
The historic Oregon Inlet Life-Saving Station
Jennette's Pier in Nags Head, a 1,000-foot fishing pier that is now part of the North Carolina Aquarium
Jockey's Ridge State Park, the largest and highest dune complex in the eastern United States
The western end of this segment is at the Cedar Island Ferry Terminal and the eastern end is at the highest point on the dunes at Jockey's Ridge State Park. The segment includes 82.2 miles of trail plus two ferry rides; the listed mileage includes the ferry rides and thus is greater than the actual hiking mileage.
There are MST blazes—a 3-inch white circle—on the trail in Jockey's Ridge State Park and a few places in the Buxton Woods area. In addition, there are a few blazes along the beach portions of the trail, mainly at the dune line where the trail leaves the beach; however, these are often destroyed by storms, so they should not be relied upon. Finally, there are mileposts on the Open Ponds Trail in the Buxton Woods area and every 0.5 mile on the beach on Ocracoke Island.
For more information, including camping, lodging, parking, shuttles and resupply information, as well as detailed, turn-by-turn directions, download a trail guide from the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
Flora & Fauna
This segment passes through several well-known and important birding areas, including National Wildlife Refuges and National Seashores. The area is home, especially in winter, to numerous species of waterfowl, including large concentrations of snow geese and tundra swans.