Getting to Ocracoke Island requires definite predetermination. You can’t just hop in your car and drive. The only way to get to Ocracoke is by boat (or small plane). Free ferries from Hatteras Island run continuously throughout the summer season to Ocracoke Island; wait times may average one to two hours. During the off-season, the ferry Hatteras ferry runs on the hour. The trip takes about 40 minutes. Reservations must be made for both the Cedar Island and Swan Quarter ferries (see the schedules below), which travel from the south and west, respectively, and arrive at Silver Lake Harbor in the middle of the village. These ferry rides take close to a bit more than two hours.
Ocracoke Island is only 16 miles long and anywhere from 3 miles to less than a half-mile wide. The north end of the island is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and is undeveloped. When you get off the ferry from Hatteras, you drive past 13 miles of open dunes, maritime forest and marshland before you see the village. This is why you need a car on Ocracoke. Note that N.C. Highway 12, which is the road you’ll be on when you come off the ferry, becomes Irvin Garrish Highway once you’re in the village.
Getting Around Ocracoke
Once you arrive in Ocracoke Village, you should park the car and let it stay that way for most your visit. Set out on foot; rent a bicycle or golf cart, or for the romantic, try the Round Creek Rickshaw pedal cab. The village is so small that you can pedal entirely around it in about an hour, but it will take you much longer because you won’t be able to resist exploring all the back roads and popping into shops, galleries, eateries and attractions. Ocracoke Village is an explorer’s heaven. You don’t need a map because you can’t get lost. Just go out exploring and you’ll be delighted with what you find.
Ocracoke Ferry Schedules
The North Carolina Ferry System has six Twitter feeds that deliver up-to-date information for the Ocracoke Island ferry. These real-time, route-specific details provide public updates on conditions, schedule delays and cancellations. Not sure how heavy winds or tempestuous tides may affect the ferry you're planning to catch? These Twitter feeds keep you knowledgeable on any possible delays or obstacles that have arisen for each route. You can even set your Smart phone or device to receive notifications of Twitter updates. The feeds for each ferry are:
Currituck-Knotts Island: @NCFerryCTuck
Cedar Island-Ocracoke & Swan Quarter-Ocracoke: @NCFerryPamSound
Cherry Brach-Minnesott Beach: @NCFerryCHBranch
Southport-Fort Fisher: @NCFerrySPort
For more ferry information or to make a reservation, call (800) BY-FERRY or visit www.ncdot.gov.
Hatteras-Ocracoke Free Ferry
This ferry service links Hatteras and Ocracoke islands with a relaxing 70-minute trip. During the summer the wait can be long. Reservations are not accepted. When getting in line for this ferry, make sure you're not in the locals' lane ... usually the shortest line.
The ferries' departure times change seasonally. You can find each year's specific schedule on the NCDOT Ferry Schedule.
Soundside to Island Ferry Schedules
Ferry Cedar Island/Swan Quarter Toll Ferries
These ferries carry passengers between Ocracoke and the mainland towns of Cedar Island and Swan Quarter. The Cedar Island Ferry is 2¼ hours long and the Swan Quarter is 2½ hours long. Reservations are recommended and absolutely required in the summer; make them by calling 800-BY-FERRY [(800)293-3779], or you can go online at www.ncdot.gov. You must claim your reservation 30 minutes prior to your departure time. Cost is $1 for pedestrians, $3 for bicycles, $10 for motorcycles, $15 for vehicles and/or combinations less than 20 feet, $30 for vehicles/combinations 20 to 40 feet and $45 for vehicles/combinations up to 65 feet.