The best day and time for a trip to Ocracoke? Now there’s a heat map to tell you

The stacking lanes full of travelers waiting for the ferries to Ocracoke on June 9, 2021. [NCDOT image]

If you’re thinking about taking a day trip to Ocracoke, new data confirms when its the best time to travel across Hatteras Inlet.

Researchers at N.C. State University’s Institute for Transportation Research and Education have developed a “heat map” showing the lowest and highest average wait times at the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry docks.

The chart was developed for travelers to “better plan their trip between Hatteras and Ocracoke and encourage them to either arrive earlier or wait until after the peak departure time to reduce their anticipated wait time,” according to Hyde County officials.

Heading to Ocracoke, the longest waits are on Mondays from noon to 2 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Friday from noon to 4 p.m.

Coming back to Hatteras, it’s from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, Saturday 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and Sunday 8 a.m. to noon.

Another alternative is the Ocracoke Express passenger ferry, once it is up and running.

Funding for operations of a boat to take passengers all the way to the Silver Lake docks in Ocracoke village it this summer is pending Governor Roy Cooper signing a bill approved last week by the N.C. General Assembly.

Plans are for the N.C. Ferry Division to lease a vessel from a New Jersey company for a third straight season.

Passengers can park their vehicles at the Hatteras terminal and catch a ride on the Ocracoke Express which operated multiple round trips in summer 2019 and 2020.

It allows visitors to avoid the extended wait for the vehicle ferry, and a free open-air tram is provided to travel around Ocracoke village. The tram does not run to locations where you can walk to the Ocracoke beaches, however.

A long-delayed steel-hulled catamaran that will be owned by the state is reportedly undergoing sea trials now, according to The Ocracoke Observer.

There is always another alternative, and that is to drive over to Swan Quarter on the Hyde County mainland or way down to Cedar Island east of Morehead City to catch the toll ferry that requires reservations.

Those ferries are popular with folks traveling from inland locations, especially the Triangle and Charlotte. From the Outer Banks, the drive alone is between two and four hours, and then its another two to three hours to cross the Pamlico Sound.