North Carolina : Safety by City
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Cape Hatteras, located on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, beckons travelers with its unique blend of history, natural beauty, and coastal charm.
This coastal region is famously known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” a moniker earned due to its treacherous coastline that has witnessed countless shipwrecks over the centuries.
Standing tall and iconic against the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is a symbol of resilience.
It has a rich history, having been moved inland in 1999 to protect it from encroaching seas.
Visitors can climb to the top for awe-inspiring panoramic views of the coastline and the Pamlico Sound.
Cape Hatteras is also home to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, a haven for nature enthusiasts.
Miles of pristine sandy shores invite beachcombing, kite flying, and relaxation.
Buxton Woods Coastal Reserve gives another view of saltwater amenities through a unique maritime forest and wetlands.
Those who aren’t comfortable with the risks of the ocean can simply go to the other side of the barrier island and enjoy activities on Pamlico Sound.
Hatteras also has ferries to the Ocracoke section of the Outer Banks and a long road that goes all the way north to the beaches of Corolla, where the famous banker wild horses run.
It all sounds too good to be true, but is it safe?
Let’s dive in!
Warnings & Dangers in Hatteras
OVERALL RISK: LOW
There's a low risk in Hatteras with so many things to do, yet so little to do if you just want to relax on wide expanses of beach.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
No public transportation is available on OBX, so you'll ideally bring your own vehicle or rental car. Even shuttle service can be pricey if you want to see more of the island. Ferry service is available to Ocracoke.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW
Assuming you don't leave your purse or wallet unattended or leave your bags at the beach while you're in the water, the risk is low. There's a greater chance of your car being broken into if you leave it unlocked or with personal items in plain view.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: LOW
Hurricanes and coastal storms are the biggest risk here and should be taken very seriously. Even a coastal flooding advisory can cause dangerous conditions. Hurricane season runs from June through November, with a heightened season from August through October. Flash flooding and dangerous lightning can accompany these storms. You should study hurricane safety before you arrive.
MUGGING RISK: LOW
This is another low risk. It's equally important to lock the doors and windows on your rental home when you aren't there or as you sleep. Don't leave valuables outside, either. I've seen things as simple as drink coolers being stolen in several police reports across OBX.
TERRORISM RISK: LOW
As much as Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is a landmark, there's a low risk of international or domestic terrorism here. You do want to keep your eyes peeled for suspicious activity. Everyone doing their part helps keep the risk low.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
Use a rental company or a verified rental company website to book homes here. A few notes - you won't find an insanely low-priced deal for a huge home. That's the first red flag. Second, any person renting a home will be happy to show proof of a rental permit and talk to you on the phone. Finally, nobody who is legitimate will ask for a wire transfer before you arrive. Keep the risk low by avoiding Craigslist and other suspicious website listings for rentals. Many of the homes here will only rent by the week.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW
This is another low-risk, but you'll need all the safety training and education we'll discuss in this guide. Even something as simple as knowing how to swim out of a rip tide can be the difference between safety and an emergency.
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
The 2022 Water Quality Report shows full compliance that meets or exceeds the required standards. However, flooding and tropical weather can impact water quality. You should sign up for alerts to stay informed of any water quality impacts. The risk is low, and these issues can be common. It's smart to keep a case of water with you just in case.
Safest Places to Visit in Hatteras
Outerbanks.org is the tourism website for the region, and you’ll find a whole Hatteras section to review.
Keep in mind that the name Hatteras is assigned to the town, island, National Seashore, and lighthouse.
It can be confusing if you don’t know the different name designations.
For example, the town of Hatteras is 12 miles from the Cape Hatteras lighthouse.
One of the top things that draws people to this section of OBX is the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, where you can explore artifacts and stories from the numerous shipwrecks that dot the coast.
Delve into the mysteries of the deep blue sea with exhibits on sunken treasures and heroic rescues.
For those seeking natural beauty, Hatteras Island is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.
The Cape Hatteras National Seashore stretches for miles, inviting visitors to stroll along pristine sandy shores, go beachcombing, or try their hand at kite flying.
No visit to Hatteras is complete without experiencing the iconic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
Climb its historic 257 steps to the top for breathtaking panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean and Pamlico Sound.
It’s not just a lighthouse; it’s a symbol of the Outer Banks.
Nearby, Buxton Woods Coastal Reserve beckons with its unique blend of maritime forest and wetlands, providing excellent hiking trails and a chance to observe diverse bird species in their natural habitat.
The Frisco Native American Museum & Natural History Center offers a fascinating glimpse into the rich heritage of Native American cultures, featuring a diverse collection of artifacts, artwork, and interactive exhibits.
The charming village of Hatteras also offers a glimpse into the local culture.
Explore the local art scene at the Red Drum Pottery and discover handcrafted pottery, jewelry, and artworks by talented local artisans.
Stroll through the marina area, where you can watch fishing boats unload their catches or embark on a fishing charter yourself.
For a taste of local flavors, indulge in fresh seafood at one of the town’s seafood shacks or restaurants.
Don’t miss the chance to savor the renowned Hatteras-style clam chowder, a regional specialty.
Places to Avoid in Hatteras
You won’t find dangerous parts of town or crime-ridden neighborhoods here, but you should respect any area that is private property.
There’s plenty of beach access to the public.
You don’t need to cut through someone’s backyard.
Avoid trying to “ride out” any hurricane or tropical storm if you haven’t experienced that kind of weather before.
I would also avoid staying anywhere that doesn’t have a generator and hurricane protection in the windows and walls.
Before you book a trip, ask about refunds for hurricane evacuations or cancelations due to an incoming storm.
You want to make sure you get your deposit back.
Some locations might offer additional insurance against such rarities, and it’s smart to spend the extra money.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Hatteras
- Hatteras does not have its own police department. Law enforcement comes from the Dare County Sheriff’s Office. District C covers Hatteras, Rodanthe, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, and Frisco. You can call that office at (252)475-9350 or follow them on Facebook @darecountysheriff.
- Sign up for OBX Alerts through the Dare County Sheriff’s website. You’ll be able to get emergency alerts right to your phone about incoming weather, road closures, and other safety hazards.
- Cape Hatteras National Seashore doesn’t have a fee to get in, but if you want to climb a lighthouse, camp, or right an OHV on the beach, you’ll have to pay for tickets or permits. Please review the safety rules on the NPS website for the seashore as federal laws prevail on the National Seashore.
- If you’ll be using the ferry to explore the Outer Banks sections that aren’t connected by land, you’ll want to sign up for FINS alerts. That’s the Ferry Information Notification System. The North Carolina Department of Transportation operates the ferries, and schedules can change based on the weather.
- You can take a vehicle on several ferries that access Hatteras, but you’ll pay a little bit more than just the passenger ferry price. Check the full list of options. You’ll find flexible schedules from 4:30 a.m. through midnight on most ferry rides to Hatteras.
- Anglers need a coastal fishing license from the state of North Carolina. You can learn more about the pricing and options, plus purchase the pass, on the Go Outdoors North Carolina website.
- If driving on the beach is one of your bucket list goals, be sure you get a rental car that is considered an Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV). The beach roads are nothing more than compacted sand, and you need certain tools and skill sets to enjoy the ride. Check the NPS website for rules, restrictions, and seasons.
- Know the tide schedules in Hatteras and research what is impacted by them. For example, parking on the beach is not ideal as the tide is coming in, but high tide is great for fishing. Low tide is when rip tides are most likely, but low tide also offers the best beachcombing.
- Hatteras is at the end of the barrier island, so any escape route in case of a hurricane or evacuation would be a long drive north through a lot of traffic. Keep this in mind if you’re visiting during the hurricane season.
- Even if you’ve never had issues with sea sickness before, it’s smart to take Dramamine with you and take it an hour before you get on any boat. The rough seas can trigger vertigo in people who’ve never experienced it before. It wasn’t until my first cruise trip (after dozens of boat trips) that I lost an entire day to seasickness. By the time I found Dramamine at a store, it was so overpriced that it also made me a little nauseous. Bring it with you, just in case.
So... How Safe Is Hatteras Really?
Hatteras is a safe town with the weather being more dangerous than the people.
It’s a community where a violent crime impacts the entire population, as many people have grown up together through generations of hard work and long weekends.
As with any community that brings this many tourists, you want to avoid presenting a crime of opportunity.
Don’t leave your luggage and valuables in the car at the beach.
Don’t leave your purse at a restaurant table when you use the restroom.
Common sense prevails here.
Hatteras and the surrounding area has been two death related to beach cave-ins, which is why it’s imperative not to dig holes in the sand.
If you do, always fill it in before you leave.
Parents should keep a close eye on kids – as two beach deaths were children trapped in the sand.
There’s also the safety measures that you control.
Will you ignore rip tide warnings and go into the water?
Will you try to surf with no experience?
Do you think you are tougher than a hurricane?
Sure, the people who live on the Outer Banks are experienced in tropical weather and hurricanes.
Just because they might opt to stay doesn’t mean you should.
Hatteras is poised to give you the time of your life and stories you’ll tell your grandchildren.
Just be smart and safe while you’re there.
How Does Hatteras Compare?
|New York City||67|
|Phnom Penh (Cambodia)||61|
|Niagara Falls (Canada)||87|
|Buenos Aires (Argentina)||60|
All international visitors should start their trip planning at the U.S. State Department website. There, you'll find the types of visa options and eligibility criteria for the visa waiver program. A passport is also required, and it can't be within six months of expiring.
The U.S. Dollar will be the only currency accepted anywhere in this country. Most places will accept credit cards, which offer easy currency conversion and ideal fraud protection. If you do want cash, please don't wait to get here to exchange it. Your bank should have the lowest fees, and those flying into Norfolk will find Travelex at the airport.
You'll want beach casual attire with warm layers, especially in early and late summer. Winters can be cold, and the beach winds can bring a sting, but there are also mild stretches of weather. It's important to look at the forecast before you arrive. Bring sunscreen and bug spray. You'll also want clothing that won't blow around in the wind.
You can use the smaller Coastal Carolina Regional Airport, which will require boat rides to take the shortest route. It's worth it to fly into a larger airport, like Norfolk or Raleigh-Durham, but you'll spend about four hours on the road. However, the scenic drive is beautiful.
When weather could disrupt the travel experience, purchasing protection is prudent. Seek coverage for medical expenses if uninsured abroad too. Ensure rental car insurance safeguards you in the event of any accidents.
Hatteras Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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North Carolina - Safety by City
|Kill Devil Hills||77|