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.

Wild Spanish Mustangs on the beach in Carova

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.

 

4x4 beach in Hatteras, part of Cape Hatteras National Seashore

 

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.

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.
  • 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 Memorial Day and Labor Day 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

  • 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

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. Free concert series every Wednesday night at 10pm.

Shelling

Shelling

If you know where to look, the Outer Banks can be a beachcomber's paradise. With miles of shoreline to explore, hidden beaches that are relatively untouched, and literally piles of shells washing up on the beaches after a storm, shelling on the OBX beaches is simply a matter of timing and area expertise.

Jimmy's Seafood Buffet

Jimmy's Seafood Buffet

Jimmy’s Seafood Buffet is a great stop for an all you can eat affordable dinner extravaganza. The buffet offers over 100 different items. It even serves Jumbo Alaskan crab legs and Jumbo steamed shrimp, something you will not find on any other buffet in the OBX. The buffet offers a variety of seafood and non seafood options. Try some of Jimmy’s seafood options and load your plate with blackened tuna, Louisiana crawfish, steamed scallops and mussels, fried oysters and deviled crabs. Not in the mood for seafood? Fill your plate with carved and sliced turkey with gravy, steak, cheese pizza and fettuccini alfredo. The buffet also offers a kid section. Let you kids load their plates with chicken tenders, hot dogs, broccoli, curly fries and tacos. Don’t forget dessert! The buffet also offers soft serve ice cream, and a plethora of baked goods. 

Scenic Spots on the Outer Banks

Scenic Spots on the Outer Banks

There's a reason why so many aspiring and professional photographers flock to the Outer Banks. Ocean sunrises, sound sunsets, and miles of quiet wildlife in between create some breathtaking landscapes, ideal for photographers, painters, or plain-old vacationers who love an astounding view.

Salt Water Grill

Salt Water Grill

We are Salt Water Grill and we proudly offer fresh made contemporary coastal favorites utilizing locally sourced seafood and produce, all natural pork, beef and chicken. We feature an excellent craft beer selection and a well rounded wine list to compliment our passion to provide consistently high quality real food for real people.

Outer Banks Tours

Outer Banks Tours

Many newcomers to the Outer Banks find the best way to delve into the local history, scenery and culture is via a tour, and luckily the Outer Banks has a world of different tours available. Vacationers can take to the sea, skies, or the land for an in-depth view of the Outer Banks, and can choose from quick one-hour excursions to overnight trips that explore the region's little known hidden treasures.

For an introduction to everything the Outer Banks has to offer, or to experience the North Carolina Coast from an entirely new perspective, hop on board a boat, kayak, bus or plane, and begin a guided adventure that will surely leave your family completely fascinated with the rich landscape of the Outer Banks.

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.

Whalehead in Historic Corolla

Whalehead in Historic Corolla

The prestigious Whalehead in Historic Corolla has been a dominant attraction to Corolla visitors since it was renovated and opened to the public in 2002. As part of the Historic Corolla Park, the Whalehead in Historic Corolla serves as a northern Outer Banks icon, and a living testament to Corolla and Duck's heyday as a secluded oceanfront retreat for the country's wealthy hunters and conservationists.

Outer Beaches Realty

Outer Beaches Realty

Spend less time planning and more time vacationing when you stay with Outer Beaches Realty. With nearly 450 homes and all your wish-list amenities, we have options to fit every style and budget. Guests love our all-inclusive pricing with NO booking fees, LayAway Vacations, E-Z Pay options and more, so much so they’ve rated us higher than all other vacation rental companies on the Island on Yelp, Google, and Facebook! And with some of the friendliest staff around, a stay with Outer Beaches means you’ll become part of our family before you even arrive. Book your reservation with us and let the fun begin today.

Ocracoke Island Lighthouse

Ocracoke Island Lighthouse

The Ocracoke Island Lighthouse may not be the most imposing of the Outer Banks lighthouses, but as North Carolina's oldest lighthouse in operation, (and the second oldest in the United States), it is certainly one of the most beloved. At just 65' ft. tall, it is by far the smallest lighthouse on the Outer Banks, but it still towers over the 4 square miles of Ocracoke Village, and its beacon can be spotted up to 14 miles into the Pamlico Sound and the Atlantic Ocean.

Black Pelican

Black Pelican

Black Pelican oceanfront restaurant is one of the Outer Banks’ premier restaurants serving lunch and dinner daily. Black Pelican is where you can enjoy fresh seafood, steaks, vegetarian dishes, sandwiches and some of the barrier island’s best wood-fired pizzas complete with a beautiful ocean view from the dining rooms and outdoor deck. The restaurant is big enough to handle large parties, but the setting is intimate enough for a cozy date.

Ocean Atlantic Rentals

Ocean Atlantic Rentals

Keep your vacation stress free!  Pack your casual beach clothes & essentials, and let Ocean Atlantic Rentals deliver the rest!

JUST RENT IT! Since 1979, OAR has been serving families with quality gear for their beach vacation fun, their baby needs, or the even the beach cottage, all at reasonable daily & weekly rental rates.  Reservations before your arrival are strongly encouraged, and can be made at www.OceanAtlanticRentals.com or toll-free at (800)-635-9559 every day of the week!

Everything can be delivered to your door; from bikes to surf boards, kayaks and paddleboards, OAR stocks the fun stuff to enjoy in the water, or on land.  Back at your beach home, OAR has you covered with gas grill rentals, rollaway beds, beach towels, and even dog crates!  Bike rentals for the entire family are just a call away at Ocean Atlantic Rentals, or get around town on a Golf Cart LSV.  These street legal golf carts are a great way to explore the villages, or get your family and gear to the beach everyday if your vacation home is some distance from the Atlantic ocean.

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