Guideline Sections:

The Outer Banks has its fair share of attractions for vacationers, including the Wright Brothers Memorial, 4 famous North Carolina lighthouses, the NC Aquarium, the Lost Colony, and enough shopping and dining to keep any family entertained for a week-long vacation. But the biggest attraction that draws seasoned Outer Banks vacationers back every year are the miles and miles of pristine beaches.

Corolla's Wild Horses

Unpopulated, unspoiled, and always open, the Outer Banks beaches have popped up on a number of National "Best Beaches" lists, including Coastal Living Magazine's list, and world renowned beach expert "Dr. Beach's" annual round-up of best American beaches.

So when planning your next Outer Banks vacation, be sure and reserve your largest blocks of time for beaching. With endless ocean views and large patches of sand just waiting for vacationers to stretch out, you'll quickly discover why the beach is the Outer Banks' best and most treasured attraction.

Outer Banks Beaches General Guidelines

  • Across all Outer Banks beaches, remember these important "rules of the beach".
  • Red flags = no swimming. When you see red flags flying, dangerous conditions are present and swimming is prohibited.
  • No Swimming or surfing within 300 feet of a fishing pier. It is dangerous and police can write citations to offenders.
  • Don't Swim alone. We recommend swimming at a beach that offers lifeguard service.
  • Learn about rip currents. Don't panic! Teach kids what to do if caught in a rip current.
  • Watch out for fishing lines. Surf fishing is popular in the Outer Banks.
  • Stay off the dunes. Keep off the dunes and stay on designated pathways to and from the beach to maintain the dunes' structural integrity. It is illegal to walk over dunes in many locations, and it is also illegal to pick live sea oats growing on the beaches.
  • Fill in any holes you dig. Holes in the sand can be a hazard. Digging large holes or mounding sand is illegal in some towns.
  • Don't feed the wildlife. Feeding or interfereing with wildlife is dangerous to humans and animals.
  • Be mindful of Noise. Most communities consider a violation of the noise ordinance to be any sound that can be heard from inside a nearby residence, and any load noise after approximately 11:00 p.m.
  • Pick up your trash. Be sure and pick up any trash that's left behind. Littering is illegal on all Outer Banks beaches. Most beach communities have trash receptacles right on the beach, or nearby on the beach access walkways and public parking areas.
  • No glass on the beach. Be mindful of glass bottles. Alcohol is allowed on all beaches, but if at all possible, stick to cans and plastic to save future beach-goers from any bare foot injuries.
  • No nudity. There are no nude beaches on the Outer Banks.
  • Camping is not allowed on any Outer Banks beaches except in designated campgrounds. There are a couple Oceanside (behind the dune line) campgrounds maintained by the National Park Service (NPS): One in Frisco near the Frisco Air Strip and one on Ocracoke Island. Please visit their website for camping information or call for reservations.
  • Pets are allowed on most all Outer Banks beaches, provided they are on a leash. As a courtesy, please pick up after your pet.
  • All beaches are open to the public. While there may not be public parking or ramps available, anyone can go to any beach on the Outer Banks.
  • Take your equipment with you. While it is not generally illegal in most Outer Banks communities to leave up canopies and umbrellas overnight, please refrain from doing so out of courtesy to your beach neighbors, as well as to protect your beach equipment from theft or wind damage.
  • Surf fishing is allowed on all Outer Banks beaches, with the exception of occasional seasonal closures by the NPS on Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands. You can visit the NPS website for current maps of beaches that are open to both pedestrians and vehicles. A fishing license is required in North Carolina and can be obtained before your vacation via the NC Marine Fisheries and Wildlife website, or a fishing license can be purchased at most any tackle shop on the Outer Banks.
  • New Nags Head canopies and tents rules: Leaving equipment on the beach unattended from 8 pm-7 am each day is prohibited. Canopies and tents must be placed no closer than 10 feet apart. Tents and canopies cannot be larger than 12x12 and stand no higher than 9 feet above the sand when erected. Beach equipment cannot obstruct the line of sight of a lifeguard to the sand and cannot obstruct the passage of public works or emergency vehicles.

Canopies and Day Tents

  • Corolla - Canopies, umbrellas, and tents cannot be left on the beach overnight. These items can obstruct pedestrian or traffic movement during the day. Unattended items that have been removed will not be returned.
  • Duck - Canopies, umbrellas, and tents cannot be left on the beach overnight, and must be removed by 7pm. Tent and canopy size is limited to 12 by 12 feet. Tents and canopies aren’t allowed to be tied together.
  • Southern Shores - Canopies, umbrellas, and tents cannot be left unattended on the beach between 5pm and 7am. Unattended items that have been removed will not be returned. It is illegal to place tents, canopies or umbrellas in a way that disrupts the sightlines or passage of emergency vehicles and personnel.
  • Kitty Hawk - Canopies, umbrellas, and tents cannot be left on the beach overnight.
  • Kill Devil Hills - Canopies, umbrellas, and tents cannot be left on the beach overnight. It is illegal to place tents, canopies or umbrellas in a way that disrupts the sightlines or passage of emergency vehicles and personnel.
  • Nags Head - Canopies, umbrellas, and tents cannot be left on the beach overnight (specifically 8pm to 7am). Maximum size is 12' x 12'. Tents and canopies must be spaced out by 10'. Nags Head employees and resuce personnel may ask or have tents/canopies moved or removed for safety reasons.
  • Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco, Hatteras, and Ocracoke - The beaches of Hatteras Island and Ocracoke Island are managed by the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Canopies, umbrellas, tents and any other equipment cannot be left on the beach unattended between sunset and sunrise. Unattended items that have been removed will not be returned.


Cape Hatteras National Seashore beaches

Beach Driving

Driving on the beach is a favorite Outer Banks activity. During the Summer, there are two main areas that allow driving on the beach. The first is Corolla and Carova, where route 12 ends and 4x4 access begins (headed North to the Virginia state line). The other area is Cape Hatteras National Seashore, which has many access points from Nags Head, South to Ocracoke Island. A permit is required to access National Park beaches by 4x4. Below are some general rules and regulations to follow during your off-road adventure. Permits are required on Corolla/Carova beaches only if you intend to park. Permit information is available here.

General Beach Driving Rules

  • 4x4 access and beaches often refer to the acronym "ORV", which stands for "Off Road Vehicle".
  • Unless otherwise marked, speed limits are 25mph and 15mph or slower near others/pets/wild animals.
  • Watch for fishing lines and children playing.
  • Stay at least 50 feet away from wild horses.
  • Never drive on dunes or vegetation.
  • Obey all posted signs.
  • Park perpendicular to the water in the middle of the beach.
  • Traffic flows near the shoreline and dunes, with parked cars sitting between.
  • Tow straps, shovel, spare tire, jack and jack board are recommended, and sometimes required to be in the vehicle.
  • Open containers of alcohol are prohibited in vehicles
  • Drivers need to have a current, valid driver's license
  • Avoid driving or parking on the wrack line. The wrack line is a line of accumulated natural debris left by a previous high tide. Wrack lines are an important food source for birds.
  • Pedestrians always have right-of-way on the beach

Town-Specific Beach Driving Rules and Permit Information

  • Corolla - 4x4 vehicles can access the beach at the Northern end of NC 12 where the paved road ends. 4x4 access North of this point is permitted year round. 4x4 access South of this point is permitted between October 1 and April 30. Driving at night is allowed. Overnight parking is allowed if the occupant is actively fishing. ATV's allowed for residents with permit. Vehicles MUST have a county-issued Beach Parking Permit properly displayed to park on the beach from the last Saturday of April through the first Saturday in October. Visitors renting in the 4-wheel drive area north of where the paved road ends should contact their rental company or property owner with any questions. Two parking permits should be provided to you. Visitors NOT renting in the 4-wheel drive area may purchase a weekly Beach Parking Permit online through the Currituck County website. Parking permits are limited to 300 per week and cost $50 each. Once purchased, the permits can then be picked up at the Currituck Outer Banks Visitor Center in Corolla (500 Hunt Club Drive, Corolla).
  • Duck - No public 4x4 access. Private access allows vehicles vehicles on the beach between October 1 - April 30.
  • Southern Shores - Driving on the beach is prohibited.
  • Kitty Hawk - Driving on the beach is prohibited.
  • Kill Devil Hills - Driving on the beach is permitted October 1 - April 30 through designated access points. Vehicles must have current safety inspection, registration, insurance and license plate. Obtain a beach driving permit either from the Town of Kill Devil Hills or the Town of Nags Head. Through a reciprocal program, each town recognizes the beach driving permit issued by the other.
  • Nags Head - Driving on the beach is permitted October 1 - April 30. Obtain a beach driving permit either from the Town of Kill Devil Hills or the Town of Nags Head. Through a reciprocal program, each town recognizes the beach driving permit issued by the other.
  • Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco, Hatteras, and Ocracoke - The beaches of Hatteras Island and Ocracoke Island are managed by the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Permits are required, and can be purchased online and sent via mail, or in person at one of the following locations: Coquina Beach office, Cape Hatteras Light Station, and the Ocracoke Visitor Center. Each vehicle must have its own permit. Vehicles must be registered, licensed, insured, and have a current safety inspection if required in home state/country. Vehicles must have low-pressure tire gauge, shovel, jack and jack support board. A spare tire, first-aid kit, fire extinguisher, trash bags, flashlight and tow straps are recommended. ATV's are not permitted. Night driving is generally allowed from November 16 through April 30. See current access ramps and beach closings by visiting this page and clicking on the "daily beach access map". Obey all posted signs.

Tips for Driving on the Beach

  • We recommend lowering tire pressure to between 20-25PSI, possibly lower in deep, soft sand.
  • It's usually best to follow previously-made ruts, as the sand is already packed.
  • Park above the high tide line
  • If tires spin, try decreasing tire pressure or digging sand out from around the tires.

Angus on the beach

Pets on the Beach

Thousands of Outer Banks visitors bring their furry family members in tow year after year. Dogs are allowed on most beaches, with some restrictions. Please note that owners must collect all pet waste immediately and dispose of it properly.

  • Carova and Corolla - Dogs are allowed on Currituck County beaches all year. They must remain on a leash. There is no leash length requirement.
  • Duck - Dogs are allowed on the beach year-round, unleashed. Owners must keep their dogs under control at all times.
  • Southern Shores - Between May 15 and September 15, dogs are allowed on the beach before 9am and after 6pm. Between September 16 and May 14, dogs are allowed on the beach all day. All dogs must be on a 10ft or less leash.
  • Kitty Hawk - Dogs are allowed on the beach year-round. From the Friday before Memorial Day until the day after Labor Day, they must be on a (maximum) 6ft leash between 10am and 6pm. All other times of the year, dogs must be on a (maximum) 12ft leash. Dogs may be taken off the leash during the off-season only if they are controlled by their owners and do not disturb others. Owners must be within 30feet of an unleashed dog, and have a leash with them at all times.
  • Kill Devil Hills - Dogs are not permitted on the beach between May 15 and September 15, from 9am to 6pm unless they are a service animal. Dogs are otherwise permitted on the beach, controlled by a handler with a leash.
  • Nags Head - Dogs are allowed on the beach year-round. They must remain on a leash 10ft or shorter.
  • Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco, Hatteras, and Ocracoke - Pets are allowed on a leash no longer than 6ft, year-round. Pets are prohibited on designated swimming beaches. Service animals are allowed at all times.

Beach Bonfire

Bonfires on the Beach


  • Fireworks are not permitted in the Outer Banks.

Alcohol on the Beach

  • Beer is allowed on Outer Banks beaches.
  • Glass containers are not allowed.
  • Open containers in vehicles are not allowed.
  • Wine and liquor are not officially allowed on the beach.
  • Use common sense and you'll likely be just fine.
  • Don't drink and drive.

Metal Detectors in the Outer Banks

Digging Holes

Please don't dig holes on the beach. They are a danger to the persons digging, vehicles, emergrncy response staff, and other visitors. If you choose to ignore the first sentence, fill your hole before leaving the beach! Don't leave hazards for others!

TRiO Restaurant & Market
Island Smoothie Cafe
Corolla Wild Horse Fund
Ben Franklin

Stop by Nags Head's Ben Franklin at Mile Post 10 on the Bypass where you will find everything you need for the beach! From Clothing, T-shirts and Swimwear to Boards, Chairs, Umbrellas and Tackle. You'll find it all…and of course, we have the best selection of Souvenirs anywhere on the Outer Banks. Enjoy your vacation! Independently owned by a member of one of the Outer Banks’ oldest families, the Ben Franklin store is stocked with just about everything a visitor would need to go to the beach.


Ben Franklin stores were once part of a five-and-dime retail empire, with about 2,500 locations across the country in its heyday. As decades passed and the times and customers began to change, many closed their doors, leading to fewer than 150 of these nostalgic shops. Nags Head Ben Franklin, however, has withstood the test of time and adapted to the needs of its customers to provide a memorable shopping experience on the Outer Banks.


Debbie Terry Tolson, manager of the Ben Franklin location in Nags Head, recalls working with former owner Tommie Daniels. Daniels’ father, Moncie Daniels, started the business in downtown Manteo in the early 1900s. The Daniels family has been a longstanding fixture in the Outer Banks business community—Moncie even sold gas to the Wright brothers in 1903.


Tommie, with an excellent business mind, saw the opportunity the new Bypass presented and, in 1977, he opened the Nags Head location of Ben Franklin. He was one of the first businesses on the Bypass,” Tolson says.In addition to a new location, the Ben Franklin store saw a new group of customers.


“People would come from all around because Tommie had a little bit of everything—it was more like a five and 10 then,” Tolson explains. “As he went to the beach, he began to get more tourists, so he started catering more and more to visitors.”


Today, the 21,000-square-foot souvenir shop quickly catches the attention of anyone driving by thanks to the ocean-themed mural that decorates the façade of the building, painted by local artist Rob Snyder. This Ben Franklin location has become the must-stop shop for both first-time visitors to the area and generations of families who escape to the Outer Banks annually.


Tolson credits the great prices and friendly customer service to the success of the location, which keeps families returning.“People come in all the time and tell me, ‘my grandmother or my grandfather used to bring me here and now I’m bringing my children,’” she shares. “One of my favorite parts about working here is seeing the people come back year after year.”

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge
Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
Joe Lamb Jr. & Associates