Cape Hatteras National Seashore is one of the most popular sites in the Outer Banks for weddings and vow renewal ceremonies, as its scenic beaches and iconic lighthouses provide beautiful settings for these special moments. We recently asked Carmen Pantaleo, Special Park Uses Coordinator for our Outer Banks national parks, about what couples should know if they are considering hosting a ceremony at the Seashore.
Where may couples get married or renew their vows at Cape Hatteras National Seashore?
Couples may get married or renew their vows around the Bodie Island, Hatteras Island and Ocracoke Island lighthouses, as well as on Seashore beaches! These beaches include Coquina Beach on Bodie Island, Old Lighthouse and Frisco Beaches on Hatteras Island and Ocracoke Day Use and Pony Pen Beaches on Ocracoke Island.
Bodie Island Lighthouse: Situated approximately eight miles south of Nags Head, North Carolina, this is perhaps the most accessible of the Seashore’s lighthouses for most visitors. The site includes a nice expansive grassy area, parking facilities for up to 50 cars and restroom facilities, making it ideally suited for larger wedding parties. From April 15, 2022, until October 10, 2022, permits will only be issued for weddings occurring before 9:00 a.m. or after 6:00 p.m. daily. No chair, table and/or arch set-ups are permitted at this location.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse: The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is located in Buxton, North Carolina. It is perhaps the most famous of all lighthouses on the Atlantic Coast, and it is the tallest. Thousands of visitors visit this lighthouse daily during the summer. Ceremonies cannot be performed within the lighthouse itself or on its steps and paths. Parking and restroom facilities are readily available, and this area is more suitable for weddings of up to 25 people. However, the area is less intimate given the great number of people visiting the lighthouse each day. From April 15, 2022, until October 10, 2022, permits will only be issued for weddings occurring before 9:00 a.m. or after 6:00 p.m. daily. No chair, table and/or arch set-ups are permitted at this location. Larger weddings can be more easily accommodated at the beach area just beyond the lighthouse.
Ocracoke Island Lighthouse: Ocracoke Island is located immediately south of Hatteras Island and can only be reached by the ferry operated by the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Travel time by car and ferry averages about two hours from Nags Head, depending on the time of day. Parking is extremely limited at the lighthouse. Because the area is adjacent to wetlands and fragile grasses, this site is limited to very small and intimate wedding ceremonies of no more than 12 people. From April 15, 2022, until October 10, 2022, permits will only be issued for weddings occurring before 9:00 a.m. or after 6:00 p.m. daily. No chair, table and/or arch set-ups are permitted at this location.
Coquina Beach: Immediately east of the Bodie Island Lighthouse is the Coquina Beach Access with parking spaces for 115 cars. The beach is very popular with visitors to the Seashore. Restroom facilities are available during the summer and fall months. No chair, table and/or arch set-ups are allowed during lifeguard season at Coquina Beach (Memorial Day Weekend – Labor Day, annually). After Labor Day and before Memorial Day Weekend, chairs, tables and/or arches are permitted.
Old Lighthouse Beach & Frisco Beach: Adjacent to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse are several beach areas ideally suited for weddings. Entering the park and across from the visitors’ parking lot is a beach access that leads to a picturesque and large expanse of beach suitable for larger weddings. Most days there is adequate parking for larger numbers of people, and immediately nearby is our new restroom facility. Above that site are the stones marking the original site of the lighthouse. This area and the adjacent beach are also picturesque sites for a wedding. Past the ranger’s station, follow the park road leading to the Point and a smaller parking area for approximately 15 cars. This is a beautiful and usually less populous section of beach. Most beach locations provide an excellent view of the lighthouse for special photo opportunities. No chair, table and/or arch set-ups are allowed during lifeguard season at Old Lighthouse Beach or Frisco Beach (Memorial Day Weekend – Labor Day, annually). After Labor Day and before Memorial Day Weekend, chairs, tables and/or arches are permitted.
Ocracoke Beach & Pony Pen Beach: Just north (approximately 4 miles) of the Village of Ocracoke is the Ocracoke Beach access with parking spaces for 35 cars. During the summer season, it is also a lifeguarded beach. Approximately one mile north of the day use beach is the campground with parking spaces for 50 cars. And approximately 3 miles north of that is the Pony Pen Beach access. Both of these locations provide spectacular views of the ocean No chair, table and/or arch set-ups are allowed during lifeguard season at Ocracoke Beach access (Memorial Day Weekend – Labor Day, annually). After Labor Day and before Memorial Day Weekend, chairs, tables and/or arches are permitted.
When are wedding or vow renewal ceremonies permitted at the Seashore?
Couples may hold ceremonies at any time along the Seashore, although this depends on the location of the ceremonies. During the summer “on” season (Memorial Day Weekend – Labor Day), ceremonies are not permitted at lifeguarded beaches at the Seashore. There are also some restrictions around the lighthouses during climbing season. Ceremonies can begin after 6 p.m. or before 9 a.m. Additionally, ceremonies are generally limited to two hours.
What do couples need to do to hold a wedding or vow renewal ceremony at the Seashore?
First, they must submit a wedding or vow renewal permit application at least 30 days before the requested ceremony date. The application must include the location, date, time and if they are going to have any equipment set up like chairs, arches and/or tables.
The couple can set up their own equipment; however, if they want to have it set up by a professional company, then they must use one of the companies that have a Commercial Use Authorization (CUA) to do business in the park. Currently there are three local companies that provide this service: I Do OBX Weddings & Events, Nordstrom Events and Ocean Atlantic Event Rentals. The park does not restrict it to only these companies; any business can apply for a CUA.
Additionally, ceremony photographers and videographers must hold a CUA with the park. Locally, these include Brooke Mayo Photographers, Daniel Pullen Photography, Epic Shutter Photography, Gray Area Photography, Shooters at the Beach and Wes Snyder Photography. Again, any photographer or videographer can apply for a CUA.
How much does it cost to hold a wedding or vow renewal ceremony at the Seashore?
The permit for a small ceremony of less than 49 participants is $100. For a wedding of more than 49 participants, or any wedding that has chairs, arches and/or tables, the permit is $200. All payments are made online through Pay.gov. Please do not send cash or checks.
Can couples host wedding or vow renewal receptions at the Seashore?
Wedding or vow renewal receptions are not permitted in the park.
Are decorations allowed at wedding or vow renewal ceremonies at the Seashore?
To help preserve the beauty and nature of our national seashore, couples are not permitted to release balloons, birds or butterflies or throw rice, birdseed, flower petals or other natural or artificial materials to include confetti and confetti cannons. No decorations, chairs, arches or tables are allowed at the lighthouses. Chairs are permitted for those guests who are elderly or have a disability.
How many guests can attend wedding or vow renewal ceremonies at the Seashore?
There is no limit except at the Ocracoke Island lighthouse, where we limit the number of attendees to no more than 12 because of space and environmental considerations.
Are service dogs and pets permitted at wedding or vow renewal ceremonies at the Seashore?
Yes, service dogs are permitted in the park, and pets are welcome as well. All pets must be kept on a leash of six feet or shorter at all times and may not be left unattended. Please clean up after your pets!
What advice would you offer to couples who are considering getting married or renewing their vows at the Seashore?
If possible, explore the area first so you know where you would like to have your wedding. If not, couples can go to our web page for weddings. The information there will answer most additional questions. If the couple has more questions, they may contact me at email@example.com or (252) 475-9034, and I will be more than happy to answer their questions. Some days I feel like a wedding planner! ?
If you would like to give a gift to Cape Hatteras National Seashore in honor of your special day or in honor of your loved ones, consider making a donation to Outer Banks Forever, the official nonprofit partner of our Outer Banks national parks. Your support helps protect and enhance the Seashore now and forever, leaving a legacy for future generations.