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.

Nags Head Dolphin Watch

Nags Head Dolphin Watch

Scientists run these dolphin tours as part of their research on these beloved aquatic animals, so you know this will be an interesting trip. Passengers will be able to see how researchers with the Outer Banks Center for Dolphin Research, a nonprofit organization,  conduct their research and hear about some of the discoveries from more than a decade of studies and monitoring. Some of the hundreds of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins in the area show up so frequently they’ve even been given names, like “Rake,” “Scarlet,” and “Onion.”  

(More Locations)
Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum

Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum

More than 2,000 shipwrecks sunk off the Coast of North Carolina in what’s called the Graveyard of the Atlantic. With all that history floating around, it was only natural to build a museum to honor and preserve the maritime culture of the Outer Banks. A state-of-the-art structure, the year round museum houses and displays artifacts, and presents a variety of exhibits and interprets the rich maritime culture that includes war, piracy, ghost ships and more. Artifacts include thoseex from the USS Monitor, which sank 16 miles off the Hatteras coast. The lobby features the stunning and original, 1854, First Order Lens from the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Current hibits include those on piracy and the Civil War on Hatteras Island.

Maxs Pizza Company

Maxs Pizza Company

If you are looking for authentic cuisine and the area’s best New York style stone oven pizza made from scratch, you will love Max’s Pizza Company.  Max’s Pizza is conveniently located in Ocean Plaza at milepost 4.5 in Kitty Hawk and owners Grant and Natalya Sharp are all about good natural food and customers can taste that goodness in every bite.  

Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station

Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station

The Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station is one of Rodanthe's greatest treasures. This historical lifesaving station has been a popular attraction for Hatteras Island visitors for decades, and stands on the very edge of the small town of Rodanthe. Over the years, this station has been battered by hurricanes, ocean and soundside flooding, and ferocious gusts of winds, and yet it is still standing, and serves as a proud reminder of Hatteras Island and the Outer Banks' rich lifesaving history.

Sun Fish Grill

Sun Fish Grill

Sun Fish Grill is a great stop for fresh local seafood and a variety of delicious specialties. The menu has a good balance whether desiring sea fare, vegetarian choices, chicken or steak for lunch and dinner. You can make up a meal with appetizers, soups and salads or order wraps, rolls, burgers, baskets, plates and platters. Enjoy traditional mussels with a wine and garlic sauce, crab bites, Ahi tuna, veggies and wings for starters. Dive into She-Crab Bisque, Award Winning New England Clam Chowder and a variety of salads including the Sea-Breeze Tropical that features baby greens, mango, Mandarin oranges, green apples, nuts. Wraps and rolls include lobster, crab, tuna, chicken and veggie choices. Choose from chef specialties: fresh tuna, sirloin filet cut, pasta dishes, grilled chicken breast, classic crabcakes and our signature nachos. Our Fisherman’s Platter, a house specialty includes haddock, shrimp, oysters, and scallops. We offer a full bar and can cater to large parties all in a clean coastal atmosphere.  Being the largest restaurant in Corolla , we are perfect for dinner for two in our lounge or a large family gathering in the main dining room. 

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.

Southern Shores Realty

Southern Shores Realty

Southern Shores Realty offers over 700 Outer Banks rentals from Corolla to S. Nags Head.  We've been an Outer Banks tradition since 1947, providing families just like yours with memories that last a lifetime.  Take a moment to search through our extensive selection of Outer Banks rentals, choose your favorite, and book online today!

Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education

Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education

Corolla, North Carolina is a must see nautical village scented with the spray of the salty sea. It's located on NC Highway 12 along a thin strip of land bordered on the east by the tempestuous Atlantic Ocean, and on the west by the inland waterway of Currituck Sound. Corolla is home to the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, whose beacon first beckoned to sailors at sea in 1875, and to art noveau Whalehead in Historic Corolla, a turn of the century hunt club for sportsmen. The quaint village is also home to one of North Carolina's natural history gems called the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education. The center, which opened in 2006, is an impressive and marvelous 22,000 square foot interpretive center for young and old alike to explore the history and vast diversity of North Carolina's wildlife.

TRiO

TRiO

Wine, beer and cheese lovers will love TRiO, an exciting retail and tasting destination in Kitty Hawk. Both a gourmet retail wine, beer and cheese shop as well as a bistro with a wine bar and tap house, TRiO offers the best of the worlds of wine, beer and cheese for your enjoyment on premise or in the comfort of your home. TRiO's bistro is elegant and comfortable, with a large bar and two-story dining and bar area. The gourmet bistro menu of appetizers, and light fare such as cheese and charcuterie, paninis and salads make TRiO a wonderful lunch and dinner restaurant. Unique and high-tech self service WineStations are available in the downstairs bar area, where you can sample full, half and tastes of wines of all regions at varying price ranges. If you prefer beer, you can select from 24 beers on tap or try a TRiO Flight and sample a taste of four beers. In the upstairs mezzanine, which is part of the bistro, you'll find comfortable lounge seating and a free pool table. TRiO also has live music from local and visiting artist 4-5 nights a week all year long.