Camping at Oregon Inlet- Cape Hatteras National Seashore, OBX

In July 2012, I traveled to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It was kindof a last minute trip, and we had no reservations lined up at all. We thought we might find a small motel for the first night, but passed by the Oregon Inlet Campground and decided to check it out. Campsites at Oregon Inlet can’t be reserved ahead of time (except for group sites) and before the trip, I tried to find out the likelihood of finding an open spot during high season on the Outer Banks but couldn’t get a definitive answer. I tried calling the park service, and eventually navigated the phone tree through, but was prompted to leave a message, which I declined to do. I even posted a question to the OBX forum on TripAdvisor, but got no answer. Anyway, it turned out that there were plenty of open campsites available, and the campground was quite nice.

We arrived at around 5:30 on a Saturday afternoon in July, and found that less than 1/4 of the spots were taken. We rode through, found a spot that was at least somewhat sheltered from the wind by some large dunes, and decided to stay the night for $20 instead of $150 at a dumpy motel. Setting up the tent was a challenge, because the tent is quite large, and it was quite windy, and very hot. Fortunately, I had two great helpers to help me set it up. We then went to dinner in the town of Salvo, which is about 15-20 minutes away. We found a decent restaurant with a second story where we could watch the kiteboarders in the sound.

When we got back to the campground, more people had arrived, and probably a third of the campsites were taken. It was quite dark by this time, so we went to sleep. The wind was still very strong, and whipped the tent constantly all night, making it difficult to sleep due to the noise. The breeze did give some respite from the heat. If it wasn’t for the breeze, it would have been very hot and quite uncomfortable for sleeping.

In the morning, we walked across the dunes to the beach. It was beautiful. One thing that is a bit strange is that there is no designated trail to the beach, so you just have to find one and follow it. However, to get to the trails, you usually have to walk through or very close to someone else’s campsite. The trails are beautiful themselves, as small winding paths through the dunes. It’s very different from walking down a traditional wooden boardwalk over the dunes. On the trails, you never know what is around the next bend, and they dip down and up and through the dunes.

Once through the dunes, we were greeted by an empty beach, with only three other people on it as far as we could see. Not bad for a Sunday morning in July.

Be sure to use serious tent stakes. We saw more than one tent that had blown over on their side, and one of them looked like it had blown across the site and come to rest against the dunes. I didn’t have large tent stakes, so I found some sticks and filled a couple empty water bottles with sand, and tied the guy lines to these and buried them about a foot deep in the sand. Fortunately, I had brought a small garden shovel for digging at the beach.

About Oregon Inlet campground:

  • Near Oregon Inlet marina and fishing station.
  • Cost is $20 per night
  • The NPS website says that mosquitos can be bad, but weren’t while we were there.
  • Cold showers.
  • Decent, clean bathrooms. (No soap or hand towels)
  • Walk through the dunes to get to beach. May have to walk through someone else’s site to get to trail.
  • Many sandspurs, so be careful.
  • Have to use large tent stakes, or use tent guy lines tied to a stick and buried in the sand.
  • No trees.
  • Some grassy areas, and some mostly sand.
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