Located at the widest part of Hatteras Island, Buxton’s home to the Island’s most iconic sight: the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. As with the other villages on Hatteras Island, Buxton has gone by other names. A 1788 deed saw the sale of “Indian Town” from a Native American woman to a member of the Midgette family, but when the Post Office arrived in 1873, Buxton was renamed “The Cape.” In 1882 it changed one final time, named in honor of Judge Ralph P. Buxton, and this time the name stuck.
Buxton sits at the “elbow” of Hatteras Island where the Island takes a Westward turn. It’s here that established maritime forests and a slightly higher elevation – around 10 feet above sea level – make for one of the more protected places on the island and Buxton finds itself slightly more protected than some neighboring villages. Near the point of the elbow the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse stands nearly 200’ tall, protecting passing ships from Diamond Shoals, a series of underwater sandbars that helped earn this part of the coast the name “The Graveyard of the Atlantic” as hundreds of ships have wrecked here and nearby over the centuries.
The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the focal point of Buxton and more than a million visitors come here each year to see and climb the lighthouse. A pair of National Parks Service campgrounds – one just a short drive from the Lighthouse and situated near the Cape point; the second is near Frisco and accessible via the “Inside Road,” a 4x4 road connecting the campgrounds – give overnight visitors the option to stay in the shadow of the lighthouse.
Day visitors to the Lighthouse come to visit the museum, admire the lighthouse, and climb to the top, but some day visitors keep their focus on the water and they come to surf and to fish. Surfers tend to congregate around Cape Point, the true westward turn of Hatteras Island. There they can catch waves as they break on East- or South-facing beaches. Anglers dot the shoreline with their tall surfcasting rods. Some walk on or pull beach trolleys from parking areas or even the campgrounds, but most take advantage of ORV (off road vehicle) ramps and drive out onto the sand for an added adventure.
It’s not just surfers and anglers you’ll spot around Buxton and the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Immediately north of town the Haulover Day Use Area (so called because the Island is narrow here and it’s relatively easy to haul a boat over the dunes from the Sound to the ocean and vice versa) sees a lot of kitesurfing traffic. On a good day you’ll see dozens of kiteboarders here, skimming along the Sound as the steady wind fills their parachute-like kites overhead. Access to the Pamlico Sound is easy here, and occasionally you find kayakers, windsurfers or standup paddleboarders heading to the water here too.
The pair of National Park Campgrounds are only one type of place to stay in Buxton. An RV park gives options to those with a large fifth-wheel or a jumbo-sized camper. Several mom-and-pop hotels and motels offer accommodations in classic beach motel style. And The Inn on Pamlico Sound, an inn and restaurant not far from the entrance to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, offers a more luxurious stay than some other places. Add these to the oceanfront and soundside rental homes and you’ll see Buxton has a full array of accommodations on hand.
Buxton has one of the few family run grocery stores on the Island and Conner’s Supermarket – with its green siding and crisp white lettering – is a landmark. Another landmark is Buxton Books, a charming little bookstore with a great selection of local interest (history, cooking, even fiction set on the Outer Banks), general fiction, and nonfiction books on hand. And another is Orange Blossom Bakery where you’ll find a pre-dawn crowd of anglers grabbing breakfast sandwiches, biscuits, and the local delicacy: Apple Uglies.
Throughout Buxton there are gift shops, souvenir stores and tackle shops, so you can get your fix of tee shirts and fudge, but also advice on fishing and setting up your rig to handle the waves and currents when surfcasting. Several restaurants dish up breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and options range from biscuit sandwiches and Apple Uglies to pizza and subs to casual pub grub and fine dining. There are also seafood markets selling fresh fish, oysters, clams and more, so you can feast on seafood regardless of your skills as an angler.