The Ghost Town of the Outer Banks -- Before the Civil War, Portsmouth was a thriving little community of some 700 souls. It proudly boasted the first maritime hospital and the first lifesaving station. But when Jefferson Davis ordered that Confederate troops be stationed here during the Civil War, Portsmouth's fate was sealed. Union forces bombarded the island, and most residents fled elsewhere. After the war, the shoaling in of Portsmouth inlet and the coming of the steamboat drove away its final business -- the island's harbor was too small for steamboats.
Today the National Park Service maintains the quaint buildings still standing, including a church, a general store, and a lifesaving station, but it's a ghost town. From Ocracoke village you can take two daily guided tours on all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) offered by Portsmouth Island ATV Excursions (tel. 252/928-4484; www.portsmouthislandatvs.com), costing $85 per person, six-person maximum per trip (reservations are recommended). Service is from April 1 until the end of November. Do-it-yourselfers can go less expensively by taking one of the Portsmouth Island boat tours (tel. 252/928-4361), costing $25 for a half-day for adults and $13 for children 6 to 12. Reservations must be made 1 day in advance. Once at Portsmouth, swimming, fishing, shelling, and bird-watching are diversions.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.