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Hatteras Island is well known as the naturally family-friendly destination on the Outer Banks, and for good reason. The sprawling collection of museums, shops, and miles of outdoor terrain makes this barrier island a kids' paradise.
Both on and off the beach, active children will find plenty to do to keep their sandy hands busy.
Educational Sites and Attractions
Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station - The Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station is a 10 acre complex of two original lifesaving stations and five original outbuildings. At this site, kids can watch the US Coast Guard perform regular apparatus and lifesaving drills in the summertime, peruse a number of books and games at the gift shop, and learn about the island's history of deadly shipwrecks and daring rescues.
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge - Nature-loving kids will love exploring the miles of small trails that wind through the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. The Visitors Center is a good place to start, and features an informational kiosk, public restrooms, and the trailheads to two of the refuge's most popular hiking trails.
Little Kinnakeet Station - Dive into the island's almost-forgotten history with a quick visit to the Little Kinnakeet Lifesaving Station. Located on the soundside about 3-4 miles north of Avon, this ancient and abandoned station is currently being remodeled by the National Park Service, but is still worth a visit for its incredible, and historic, stature. There's also a small trail nearby that leads west to a pristine, sandy soundside beach.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse - No Hatteras Island visit is complete without a visit to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, and older kids will have a blast making the steep trek up the 257 steps to the top of the 208' ft. tall tower. Climbing is generally available from April until October, and the National Park Service also offers special, nighttime Full Moon climbs, which offer an eerie but awe-worthy new way to experience the historic lighthouse.
Buxton Woods - Young kids will have fun exploring the .75 mile long, and very easy to traverse, Buxton Woods hiking trail that's located across from the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. For older and adventurous kids, head about 1/2 mile east to the British Cemetery, where a much longer 7+ mile hiking trail can be found.
Frisco Native American Museum - The Frisco Native American Museum features a far-reaching realm of exhibits in addition to a well-stocked gift store and a series of nature trails that wind through the local maritime forest. The museum also features regular educational programs for patrons of all ages, in addition to an annual Powwow in April that's bursting with Native American crafts, music, and dance.
Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum - Kids will love learning about the stories behind some of the island's most treacherous shipwrecks, and checking out the giant Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Fresnel Light, at Hatteras Village's Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. The museum features regular programs for kids, including storytelling and special demonstrations, or multi-media programs.
Ocracoke Island - Take the family on a free ferry ride to neighboring Ocracoke Island, which is the historical home of a band of notorious pirates, including Edward Teach, or Blackbeard the Pirate. The roughly 1 hour ferry crossing across Hatteras Inlet is an entertaining cruise for passengers of all ages, and the ferry departs from the Hatteras Ferry Docks almost every 30 minutes in the prime summertime months.
Kayaking - The Pamlico Sound is ideal for kayaking, and many local watersports companies, like Kitty Hawk Kites in Hatteras, Avon, and Waves, offer guided nature or sunset tours through the miles of open waters. Visitors can also pick up kayaks for a day or for a week at local rental companies like Ocean Atlantic Rentals or Moneysworth Rentals.
Kiteboarding / Windsurfing - Hatteras Island is the perfect spot for young boarders to get their feet wet in the region's famed wind-based watersports, and a number of local watersports companies, like Real Kiteboarding or Kitty Hawk Kites, offer lessons, clinics, and even week-long camps for boarders of all ages and skill levels. Best of all, the Pamlico Sound serves as the perfect training grounds for newcomers, especially on a lightly breezy day.
Stand Up Paddle Boarding - Stand up paddle boarding (or SUP) is accessible for all ages, easy to pick up, and abundant on Hatteras Island. Young boarders can score equipment rentals and lessons at local watersports companies like Hatteras Island Boardsports in Avon, or Kitty Hawk Kites, and can start training in the gentle and shallow Pamlico Sound waters, or along the soundfront canals that wind through Hatteras Island's soundside vacation rental communities.
Surfing - Surfing is big on Hatteras Island, and newcomers can get started with lessons and equipment from local surf shops like Hatteras Island Boardsports in Avon, or Fox Watersports and In the Eye Surfboards in Buxton. Popular surfing spots on the island include "The Jetties" in Buxton, next to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, and the "S-Curves," which is located directly south of Rodanthe.
Swimming - The Pamlico Sound is perfect for very young swimmers, thanks to its relatively lake-like waters and miles of shallow terrain. Visitors can head to Canadian Hole, which is located in between Avon and Buxton, or to a 4WD accessible soundside beach ramp in between Avon and Salvo to reach a sandy, shallow beach. Many local property management companies and area subdivisions also feature their own outdoor community pools for vacation rental guests.
Fishing - Anglers can cast off from two different fishing piers on Hatteras Island, which are located in the towns of Avon and Rodanthe. The Atlantic shoreline is also ideal for surf fishing, while the calmer sound waters are perfect for cast-netting, crabbing and even clamming - (which are all kid-friendly fishing adventures.) Anglers under the age of 16 do not require a fishing license to fish in the saltwater regions of North Carolina.
Shelling - Grab a bag and head to the beach for some of the best shelling on the Outer Banks. The best time to go is after a low tide, or at local "hot spots" like South Beach in Buxton, (located just south of Cape Point), or along Hatteras Inlet. Kids can often find coquinas, scallops, clams, moon snails, and even big conch-like whelks.
Ghost Crab Hunting - After hours, head to the beach with a flashlight in hand and start searching for the thousands of ghost crabs that freely roam the beaches at night. The best time to "catch" these critters is in the summer months, when they are in abundance along the beach, below the high tide line.
Beach Club - The new Spa Koru Beach Club in Avon hosts a full summer season of activities, including special afternoon and morning programs designed just for kids. Kids will also love the Beach Club's regular family-friendly evening entertainment, which includes a seasonal line-up of local, regional, and even national bands.
Hatteras Waterfront Docks - Head to the Hatteras Marinas' waterfront at about 4:00 p.m. to take a gander at what the dozens of charter and commercial fishermen have reeled in from the Gulf Stream. This daily show is open to the public, and young anglers will love seeing the huge groupers, tunas, and marlins being loaded onto shore.
Mini Golf - Hatteras Island is home to a number of mini golf courses, including Avon Pier's Mini Golf Course in Avon, Uncle Eddy's Frozen Custard and Mini Golf in Buxton, and the Frisco Mini Golf and Go Karts in Frisco. All of these courses are seasonally open, generally from late spring until mid-fall, and offer 18-holes of outdoor entertainment.
Go-Karts - Frisco's go kart track, the Frisco Mini Golf and Go Karts center, is seasonally open for daring racers of all ages. The entertaining center is also home to a mini golf course, an ice cream and snack bar, and a small arcade.
Arts and Crafts - Head to Studio 12 in Avon for a paint-your-own-pottery experience, or check out some of the region's local bead stores, which are found in both Avon and Rodanthe, to craft a unique piece of sea-inspired jewelry. Kids will love an afternoon of crafting, while adults will love the selection of gourmet coffees that these establishments typically provide.
Beach Reading - Take a family trip to the Buxton Village Book Store, which offers a wide selection of local and nationally beloved Children's Books, or head to the Hatteras Library in Hatteras Village for a summertime story hour.
Shopping - There are plenty of beach gear stores, surf shops, and cool boutiques on Hatteras Island, which are sure to entertain kids of all ages. A toy store is located in Buxton, close to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, and visitors can also head to larger shopping centers, like the Hatteras Landing Shopping Center near the Hatteras / Ocracoke ferry docks, for a broader shopping experience.