Things to do in Portsmouth North Carolina may not be the typical list you’d expect when planning a visit to the coast, but this unique and eerie ghost town has plenty to offer for history buffs and adventure seekers alike. Most people who visit the coast of North Carolina don’t realize there’s a modern-day ghost town on one of the state’s barrier islands. Abandoned in 1971, Portsmouth was a community located on Portsmouth Island.
Today, this North Carolina ghost town is accessible by way of boat and visitors can freely explore the island.
Established in 1753, the tiny town of Portsmouth was instrumental in Colonial shipping and served as a fishing hub as well.
By 1840, the town had been granted its own post office. And by 1860 the population peaked at 685 residents. But the peak would not last.
Hurricanes are partially to blame for Portsmouth’s residents moving off the island for better shelter on the mainland. And when the post office closed in 1959 it dealt a blow to the residents.
Another blow occurred even earlier when in 1937, the U.S. Life Saving Station (circa 1894) was decommissioned.
Over the last 60 or 70 years the remaining residents either passed away or moved off Portsmouth Island. The final two residents to leave did so in 1971, effectively turning this old shipping and fishing village into a modern-day ghost town.
Today, Portsmouth and Portsmouth Island are part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore, which maintains the island and the 21 buildings still standing.
One of them, the old Salter House, has been turned into a Visitor Center. It’s open to visitors during the summer. Also open all summer long are the old post office and general store, church, one-room school, the Henry Pigott house, and the Life Saving Station. Visitors are encouraged to explore all of the open buildings and are even allowed to camp overnight on the beach (but not in the village).
Of note: we did mention the only way to get here is by boat. So if you see some vehicles over on the beach, just know they drove through water to get here.
The road leading to Portsmouth Island is now almost always covered by a foot of water. Driving here, even in a high-clearance vehicle, is not recommended.
It’s about a 30-minute boat ride from Okracoke to Portsmouth Island.
If you’d like to take a boat tour from Okracoke over to Portsmouth Island, Visit North Carolina recommends using this tour company. You can also learn more about visiting Portsmouth Island and Portsmouth Village by visiting the National Park Service on the web.
Have you ever visited this modern-day North Carolina ghost town? What did you think? Do you have a favorite place you would like to share?