Ocracoke Island Detour

When we planned or trip to the Outer Banks, it seemed so simple. We’d camp in Cape Hatteras for a few days and then continue south via the ferry to Ocracoke Island then take a second ferry to the mainland. Well, when we checked into the campground they informed us we could only go to Ocracoke if we had four-wheel drive–with nothing in tow.

“Why?” I asked.

Route 12, the only road, was under repair–seven bridges torn up, I was told, and the several-mile detour route around the construction area was on the beach! Well we had heard so much about the wonderful island and we were determined not to miss it. Thus, today was Ocracoke day.

So, we met the very-small noon ferry in Cape Hatteras, named Frisco, drove on board with a couple of dump trucks with the road crew and couple of “civilians” like us. The 40 minute trip was very pleasant, sun shining with minimal wind. We had several discussions with other passengers about the correct tire pressure and the state of the tide.


Upon landing on Ocracoke, we followed the parade about five miles along Route 12. Then the road ended with a barrier and a small arrow, saying ‘detour’–no instruction, no nut’in–really grateful for the conversations on the ferry. After stopping to let about one half of the air out of all four tires and putting it in four-wheel, we held our breath and drove along a narrow access road onto the beach.


Well, the tide was on its way out, a good thing, and the sand on the upper part of the beach was dry and deep and rutted, not so good. A good grip, bordering on white knuckle, a steady accelerator, much slipping and sliding side to side, a sharp right turn, and not stopping for anything, got us down onto the hard, smooth, freshly drained part of the beach still being licked by receding waves.


Slowly we got into it, into the thrill of zipping along the beach at 30 mph, then hitting a soft patch, slowing considerably and sliding side to side, which felt quite natural by now, then off once again on the smooth sand, shells, and whatever. This went on for several miles, my holding on tight, Léna photographing the event, and Sprocket oblivious. Eventually we came to a couple of orange arrows indicating the end of the detour. A hard turn to the right up the beach through the same deep rutted sand, but this time uphill. We slipped our way up the beach to a narrow passage through the dune–one vehicle wide. There was a truck entering, but he got one look at me and my white knuckles and decided to back off and let us pass. What a relief the bumpy, wretched road over the dune was–we’d made it. Back in two wheel again, we were back on Route 12 headed for Ocracoke with very soft tires. More small signs, “Free Air at the Airport”, which sounded logical, but we drove right by the “airport” had to ask directions and eventually found the free air.


Our short tour of the island was very short. Everything was closed for the season but the National Park Service Visitors Center in the middle of “downtown”. It’s a very charming, relatively unspoiled place I would enjoy revisiting. We had our picnic lunch at the dock, and then repeated our on-the-beach adventure all over again. But, this time we were seasoned veterans and the beach run was much more fun–plus the tide was further out leaving more hard, smooth sand for us. I don’t know how they do it at high tide. We made it to the ferry just in time and enjoyed a quiet float back to Hatteras.


It was a fun adventure, and we didn’t have to suffer the embarrassment of getting stuck. Construction is due to be completed in about two weeks. Do we wait, or take the long way around?

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2 Comments on “Ocracoke Island Detour”

  1. Emma (Zeek) Aronow Says:

    I have always wanted to go there after reading several of Nicholas Sparks books set in the outer banks and I have never been. Although i lived in Wilmington once upon a time but never ventured further north then Jacksonville…I am a bit envious but thankful that you have given me a window to look through at how beautiful it really is there anytime of the year despite the beachy drive! Have fun on your continuous journey!


  2. Cara Says:

    This is my sort of fun adventure!!! What fun!!!!!

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