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

Lost Colony Brewery

Lost Colony Brewery

Streetscape Dining at the Coolest Brew Pub on the OBX!

Situated in the quaint, waterfront town of Manteo, this café  offers gastro-pub dining with great OBX eats in a casual, street-scape setting.  The menu is varied and eclectic with fresh Outer Banks seafood, Angus steaks, great burgers, Baked Brie, homemade Quiche, outstanding soups, flavor-packed sandwiches, Low country Shrimp and Grits, Fish and Chips (the best on the beach),  many vegetarian selections and a kids menu. Great Brew! Great Chew!

Outer Banks Camping

Outer Banks Camping

Vacationers with a love of the great outdoors and a sense of adventure will truly appreciate Outer Banks camping. From expansive camping complexes with community pools and tennis courts to rustic oceanfront campsites with sea oats and sand, campers can choose how much "roughing it" their Outer Banks camping experience entails.

Rooster's Southern Kitchen

Rooster's Southern Kitchen

Rooster’s Southern Kitchen is the culmination of lifelong experiences of Sue and John Woolard, a couple born and raised in Eastern North Carolina. Growing up in a rural culture, Sue and John believe in the value of opening their doors to friends and neighbors, and they also believe in that good food comes straight from the field to the table. After twenty-five years operating a franchise restaurant, they were ready for a change. Their desire was to create a place where locals and visitors alike could gather to enjoy incredible food, drink, and conversation—either as a party of two or for a big reunion. Sue and John have teamed up with executive Chef Ray Fiorello and General Manager Michelle Parrish to bring you hand crafted Southern food that you will talk about for days.

Rooster’s Southern Kitchen’s infectious atmosphere centers around a dynamic kitchen that works hard to bring you the very best in local cuisine—every time. Each space in the restaurant is stylishly appointed to reflect the culture and energy of both the South and the Outer Banks. If it’s not food you want, come join us for craft cocktails and regional brews from our twenty-tap bar. Your toes will groove with the rhythm of local musicians who visit us nightly.

Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse

Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse

The Roanoke Marshes lighthouse is often one of the most overlooked of the Outer Banks lighthouses, simply because of its small stature, limited visibility and remote location tucked away at the quiet east end of the Manteo waterfront.

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.

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 Milepost System

Outer Banks Milepost System

Many newcomers to the Outer Banks who are browsing the local restaurants, shops and area attractions online or in the local guide books notice an interesting addition to the standard address. Besides the typical business name, street name, street number and town, many local businesses also include a Milepost number. This may initially appear to be an odd notation to include, but on the Outer Banks, this is incredibly helpful to new visitors on the lookout for a specific restaurant or shop.

The Paper Canoe

The Paper Canoe

The owners and staff of The Paper Canoe work hard to “make your vacation taste better.” This charming restaurant near Sanderling is best known for its stunning waterfront setting, its always evolving menu and its fresh ingredients, including local-caught seafood and home-grown vegetables from the chef’s own backyard. This dedication to its dishes, “prepared simply and with passion,” is coupled with PC’s commitment to your dining experience, “from the time you walk in the door.” Featured are their handmade pastas, wood-fired pizzas and other rustic wood oven specialties along with “an ever-changing chalkboard of daily selections.”

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.

Dream Builders Construction and Development

Dream Builders Construction and Development

The reasons to build new on the Outer Banks are endless! The obvious reward is choosing the perfect home design for your family with selections that reflect your lifestyle, but the benefits go well beyond the "lipstick."  There is tremendous peace of mind in knowing your personalized home has been built to the most stringent coastal building codes.

The company is spearheaded by licensed North Carolina building contractor and real estate broker Ali Amini, who has been building custom designed homes on the Outer Banks since 2006. Since the company’s inception, Ali and his crew have managed the building of Outer Banks vacation rental homes, affordable housing and primary homes, townhome complexes, and a diverse variety of residences, which has totaled more than 150 different properties built. Ali and his team bring this deep expertise to every new project, as well as an understanding of what an owner envisions, to ensure that every potential dream home building project can turn into a stunning and a beautiful reality.

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.

Sound Feet Shoes

Sound Feet Shoes

Sound Feet Shoes is family owned and operated.  Sound Feet has been in the retail shoe business for over 60 years, opening their first store in 1954. They provide the best customer service and are the only Outer Banks’ area full service shoe store since 1987. Now, the family owned business boasts eight stores in the region, including two outlets.  Their shoe specialists can help you find the right fit and comfort for your family’s needs.

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