Carova is the northernmost Outer Banks community, and is only accessible by the unpaved beach. Although we call Carova a "town", a better description is that it is a few neighborhoods North of NC 12 in Corolla, accessable only by 4x4 vehicles.

Arguably the Outer Banks' last frontier, Carova is renowned for its miles of privacy, including clean white beaches, a scattering of rental homes, and wild mustangs that roam freely from the ocean to Carova's small residential neighborhoods. Carova's seclusion is easy to explain, as there are no paved roads leading to this vacation spot, just miles of sand tracks that border the Atlantic Ocean. Vacationers who love the beach and don't need all the extra fuss flock to the area in small crowds, soaking up private stretches of beaches, and enjoying the peace and quiet.

Carova from the air

Where to Stay in Carova

There are no hotels or motels in Carova. Visitors to Carova stay at vacation rental homes (4x4 access only, mind you). Homes are generally rented on a weekly basis, with last minute partials sometimes accepted, and are offered by a number of Outer Banks vacation rental management companies.

Carova vacation homes range from affordable 2-3 bedroom cottages with the basics, to huge mansions and 24-bedroom event homes perfect for weddings and family reunions. The latter properties are sprawling beach homes with private pools, hot tubs, game rooms, deluxe home theater rooms, and multiple dining areas, allowing everyone in a large group to find a little off-the-beach entertainment.

Because the number of properties in Carova is limited, and because Carova's reputation of being one of the last true deserted beach vacation destinations is one of the Outer Banks' worst kept secrets, vacation homes can go fast. It's generally recommended that you reserve your beach vacation home a few months to a year in advance to be sure you have your pick of the best selection.

Rental homes are occasionally visited by wild horses

Things to Do in Carova

Anyone up for a day at the beach? With 11 miles of secluded shoreline, it's safe to assume that a lot of your vacation time will be spent seaside.

Popular Carova beach activities include:

  • Lounge under an umbrella or canopy, catch up with friends and family
  • Sip a beverage and watch the kids play
  • Throw frisbees, play bocce ball
  • Wade, swim, surf and body board
  • Surf fish
  • Pick up seashells
  • Take a relaxing walk along the shore
  • Spot and photograph wild horses

The ocean temperature stays consistently warm throughout the summer months and into the fall season, so body boarding, surfing, stand up paddle boarding, and ocean kayaking are certainly worth a try during your beach vacation. Many vacationers keep their camera ready for wild horse sightings, and the Carova wild mustangs can often be seen wandering along the oceanfront. Take plenty of pictures, but be sure and keep your distance - these wild horses may look and act docile, but they are feral and can be spooked by approaching humans.

4x4 beach access to Carova's neighborhoods

On cloudy days, vacationers can easily take an excursion a few miles off the sand to Corolla and Duck and enjoy an afternoon of shopping, sightseeing at the Currituck Lighthouse and Whalehead in Historic Corolla, and an evening of dining and drinks before heading back home to Carova.

For Carova day-trippers without 4WD access, guided tours are available seasonally to ride along the beaches and look for wild mustangs. Seasonal Jeep tours and rentals are also available.

The Landscape

When NC Highway 12 ends, a ramp to the beach begins which runs parallel to the ocean and accesses the communities of Seagull, Penny's Hill, Swan Beach, North Swan Beach and Carova. The 11 mile stretch of shoreline is virtually deserted, except for passing 4WD trucks and families camped out on the shoreline.

Just past the high tide line, you'll start to see a scattering of oceanfront sandcastles peaking over the dune line adjacent to simple, sandy roads leading from the beach to small residential communities. Down these sandy lanes, you'll find a range of modern beach homes and sturdy beach boxes tucked in between dense clusters of Live Oaks, Pampas Grass and Cedars. This is the area's only form of civilization, as there are no grocery stores, shopping centers, gas stations, or commercial businesses of any kind - just small clusters of vacation homes.

A sunrise view where NC 12 ends and beach access begins

The population is generally seasonal, with a handful of hardy year-round residents thrown in, so it's not unusual to have a quiet neighborhood all to yourself during an off-season stay. Visitors who stay a week or more often spot a few wild horses during their stay, wandering through the neighborhood towards the beach, or grazing in their backyard. Most all communities are within walking distance to the beach, and with no busy roads to cross - just the sandy tracks for 4WD vehicles - accessing the beach is a breeze.

Not your typical suburban street

What to Know Before you Go

Because Carova is literally off the beaten path, it's important to stock up on your beach essentials before you check into your vacation home. Neighboring Corolla features several chain grocery stores for food and beach supplies, and there are even several grocery delivery services that cater to the 4WD areas for vacationers who want to truly relax.

You must have a 4WD vehicle to access Carova. There are no taxi services available. Before getting on the beach ramp, be sure to air down your tires to around 20 psi for optimal beach driving, and while driving stay on the "road," or the sand tracks that lead down the beach above the tide line. It's generally a good idea to bring along a shovel and several boards in case you get stuck, however there are several local towing companies that service the area and can assist in case of an emergency.

While it may seem that a Carova vacation is literally being stranded on a dessert island, remember that many of the modern vacation homes offer a world of amenities to keep vacationers in touch with civilization. Cable, Wi-Fi and internet access, heated pools, game rooms, and theater rooms are all available in a number of rental homes, and many vacation rental websites offer detailed searches so it's easy to find a rental home that fits your criteria.

Whether you decide to take a day trip for exploration purposes, or spend a week or two soaking in the quiet privacy, Carova is a vacation haven for die-hard beach lovers. Folks who truly want to get away from it all, and care more about soaking up the sun than the busier off-the-beach attractions of the Northern Outer Banks will consider Carova a paradise, complete with cool ocean breezes, good shelling, uncrowded beaches, and quiet, star-filled night skies. With so much privacy, it's no wonder that the Outer Banks wild mustangs have hung around these parts for hundreds of years.

A Little History

Currituck County, as well as the barrier island communities of Duck, Corolla and Carova that border the mainland, we all discovered and settled around the late 1660s. A very small community of local settlers and Spanish mustangs, supposed descendants of shipwrecks, laid claim to the area and lived in solitude for a couple of centuries. As the population gradually grew after the initial settlement, and borders became necessary, the people of Currituck and Virginia began a heated debate on where to draw the North Carolina / Virginia state line. In 1728, they settled on a veritable line in the sand just north of Carova, and the state border has remained ever since.

A pony grazes in a Carova neighborhood

Over the decades, the Currituck beach population grew at a snail's pace, with very few new residents moving to the area, but lifesaving stations at Wash Woods, Penny's Hill, Whale Head, Poyner Hill, and Seagull were developed to assist passing sailors. The famous Currituck Beach Lighthouse was also constructed in Corolla in 1875, further assisting ships off the Carolina coastline.

By the 1960s and 1970s, tourism was starting to heat up on the southern Outer Banks towns of Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills and Kitty Hawk, and developers began to realize that it wouldn't be long before family vacationers discovered the Currituck beaches as well. Up until that point, the only folks who traveled to these desolate beaches were the occasional adventurous fishermen or duck hunter, or members of the prestigious Whalehead in Historic Corolla in Corolla. With its Virginia border, it was assumed that eventually Carova and the northern beaches would be a vacation hot spot for Virginia and DC area city folks, and the population and development would explode.

More horses in Carova's neighborhoods

But by the time NC Highway 12 was completed all the way to Corolla in 1984, the government as well as private investors had already laid claim to much of the undeveloped land, forming refuges, parks and reserves, and a paved road through the area became impossible. A few homes were built, and continue to be developed for beach lovers, but it seems that Carova will always enjoy the distinction of being separate from the paved and popular southern towns of Corolla, Duck and Southern Shores, and worlds away from the traditional vacation.

Mike Dianna's Grill Room

Mike Dianna's Grill Room

Mike Dianna’s is a family-owned and operated restaurant built on the love of food and entertaining. They invite diners from the beachy casual to formally dressed to enjoy a host of delectable favorites including lunch, dinner and kid’s menu choices. This includes seafood such as crab cakes, local tuna, wahoo with a nightly changing menu that is based on the freshest local ingredients available.

Outer Banks Birding

Outer Banks Birding

For bird lovers, the Outer Banks is hard to beat. This delicate chain of barrier islands is not only home to dozens of different native shorebirds, but also thousands of migrating birds who make a rest stop on the Outer Banks every year. Add to this the fact that the islands have hundreds of miles of deserted beaches, maritime forest, and marshlands for species to quietly flourish, and it's clear that the Outer Banks is literally for the birds.

OBX Biplanes

OBX Biplanes

OBX Biplanes offers open cockpit air tours of the Outer Banks and boasts one of the area's "most exciting things to do." The company describes the biplane tour as like a trip back in time - much like an “Out of Africa” flying experience of feeling “the wind in your hair, the sun on your face and joy in your heart."

Bodie Island Lighthouse

Bodie Island Lighthouse

The Bodie Island Lighthouse, (pronounced "Body") is located just south of the town of Nags Head and Whalebone Junction, where Highway 158, Highway 64, and NC Highway 12 intersect. Visitors travelling towards Hatteras Island can't help but notice the black and white horizontal striped structure, peaking out over a line of dense cedar trees on the soundside.

Outer Banks Pets Guide

Outer Banks Pets Guide

Most vacationers consider their pet to be a part of their family, and as a result, thousands of Outer Banks visitors bring their furry family members in tow year after year. While planning a vacation that includes everyone in the family, including a beloved dog or other pet, can initially seem a little daunting, on the Outer Banks, it's actually an easy affair.

Harris Teeter

Harris Teeter

Harris Teeter is a large supermarket with all the groceries you’ll need for your stay in the Outer Banks. Harris Teeter has meat, seafood, produce, deli and bakery, beer and wine, pharmacy, baby care, pet care and gift center departments. Harris Teeter is a popular spot for locals to pick up made-to-order sub sandwiches. If you need a lunch to pack for the beach, the sandwiches and sushi available at the deli/bakery section are the perfect choice.

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Kite Point

Kite Point

Ask any crowd of visiting kiteboarders about Kite Point, and they'll readily give you exact directions to this unmarked but internationally renowned soundside beach. Located in between Avon and Buxton villages abutting the Pamlico Sound, Kite Point literally went from deserted strip of sandy soundfront to world-class kiteboarding Mecca within the span of a decade.

Coastal Helicopters

Coastal Helicopters

Coastal Helicopters offers charter flights and scenic air tours of the spectacular Outer Banks coastline. With a reputation for high performance and reliability, Coastal’s Robinson 44 Raven II helicopter can accommodate three passengers with a smooth, safe and air-conditioned ride. Soaring over the ocean, you’ll get a bird’s eye view of its divergent sea life, often spotting schools of  dolphins, sea turtles and even whales. You’ll also be able to spot ruins of a few of the many historic shipwrecks that occurred along these once hard-to-navigate barrier islands.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Visitors to Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands will simultaneously be visiting the gorgeous Cape Hatteras National Seashore. One of the largest preserved parcels of the Outer Banks, the National Seashore stretches across 70 miles of shoreline, encompassing seven villages on Hatteras Island, and providing visitors with miles of undisturbed, scenic beaches as well as some of the prettiest natural drives on the East Coast.

The Christmas Shop

The Christmas Shop

It would take a set of Britannicas to say all there is to say about the Island Gallery and Christmas Shop. Experiencing a Renaissance, the original shopkeepers retired briefly to open the doors again in 2008. They worked hard to bring the grand dame back to her glory. A true wonderland, and locals' favorite, the 15 plus rooms and meandering halls are filled with Christmas décor, jewelry, art, crafts, linens, toys, books and antiques. Every room is decorated with antique furniture to create a one-of-a-kind ambiance.