Get Outdoors · Nature Study

Kayaking in Cape Hatteras


I grew up on Hatteras Island, North Carolina, part of the Outer Banks. When I was a kid, all the locals surfed and the French Canadian tourists windsurfed. I can’t remember seeing many kayaks. Windsurfing has been replaced by kite boarding, and kayaking has gotten huge. My parents live on an inland waterway and every day they wave at the tourists paddling by.

Heading out past the skeleton of an old dock.

It’s funny that I grew up next to all that water and never kayaked, but back then it was all about surfing. I started kayaking in lakes when I moved to Georgia and now when I go back to Hatteras to visit, I love to do some saltwater kayaking. So far I’ve stayed on the calmer sound side, but someday I’d like to try ocean kayaking.

All that blue is good for the soul.

We rented kayaks from A.S. Austin in Hatteras Village. I highly recommended them. They have everything from life jackets to golf carts and they can hook you up. They also do kayak nature tours. We rented two Perception Tribes on our trip. Our rental house was on the sound side and had a dock, so we were able to launch right from our yard. If you’re staying somewhere without direct access, don’t worry. Much of the island is a National Seashore, which means it’s available to everyone, not just some lucky property owners.

Launching from the bulkhead at my mom’s house.

Two easy places to launch are at the Slash Bridge in Hatteras Village and the parking turnout just north of the village. The Slash Bridge crosses an inland waterway that all the locals call the Slash because it cuts right through the heart of the village. Hatteras is so tiny that you can’t miss it. If you’re going south on Highway 12, you’ll cross over it right before the medical center and the Methodist church in the center of the village. There’s a well trafficked launch spot that puts you in right by the bridge. You can park on the edge of the road.

It just doesn’t get any better than this.

The parking turnout just north of the village is a great spot too. It was windsurfing central when I was a kid, and now the kite boarders all go there, but there’s ample parking with very easy access to the water.

The best thing about kayaking Hatteras Village is getting to see the island from a different perspective. There is a labyrinth of waterways winding through the salt marshes into the interior of the island and emptying into the Pamlico Sound. There are plenty of spots to explore without ever venturing onto private property.


The sound is very shallow in many places, so it’s easy to hop out of your kayak and get your feet wet.


My favorite thing to do any time I kayak is paddle out and catch the sunset. This one did not disappoint!


Wildlife abounds as well. We have kicked up flounder while wading around, felt around with our toes for clams, seen innumerable birds and fish, watched pelicans catch fish tossed off the commercial boats, watched raccoons forage on the edge of the marsh, and even seen sting rays swim past.


Depending on where you put in and how far you paddle, you can float past the dock where the commercial fishermen unload their catches and the marina where the charter boats are docked. Obviously, be careful around the big boats, but enjoy seeing a piece of the culture of the North Carolina watermen.

My dad’s commercial boat
The charter boats at Hatteras Harbor Marina.

My daughter and I have a favorite spot that she named Crab Island, even though it’s a peninsula, because the shallow water there is covered in hermit crabs. It’s not accessible on foot, only by boat because it’s hemmed in by salt marsh. I’m not going to tell you how to get there but, if you find it, you’ll know. You have a sweeping view of the sound and the sunset, and you feel like you’ve paddled to the edge of the world.



If you’re heading to Hatteras Island, consider taking it all in from a kayak. You’ll be glad you did.


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