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

Super Wings

Super Wings

Best Store on the beach! Everything you need for your vacation. The newest ladies' and girls swimsuits, 20% off every day! Largest selection of beach supplies and the best deals on T-shirts, sweatshirts and mens, ladies, and kids, apparel, swimwear and resort wear. Get all your souvenirs, suntan lotions, beach towels, floats, kites, and more. The only 1 stop shop on the beach.

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Ocracoke Wild Horses

Ocracoke Wild Horses

Seasoned visitors to Ocracoke Island love to soak in its rich heritage and culture which dates back to the 1500s, and features some legendary and longstanding residents. Some of the most popular Ocracoke locals are the Wild Ponies, which are protected in a secluded 180 acre area enclosure on the soundside of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, but can still be enjoyed by anyone passing through the island on NC Highway 12.

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.  

Currituck Banks Coastal Estuarine Reserve

Currituck Banks Coastal Estuarine Reserve

Vacationers adore the Outer Banks for its unspoiled stretches of undeveloped shoreline, and some may not initially realize that this sporadic lack of development is completely intentional, and is the result of decades of careful environmental planning. While tourism flourished on the beaches, for generations, locals and visitors alike made inquiries and partnerships with government branches to ensure that certain areas of the Outer Banks would always remain pristine, unspoiled, and open to everyone.

Timbuck II

Timbuck II

Timbuck II is a Corolla shopping destination featuring a wide variety of retail and restaurant experiences. Visitors will wander through a massive complex featuring over 60 venues ranging from art galleries and clothing stores to gift shops, realty companies and a video rental shop.

Buxton Woods

Buxton Woods

Perhaps the reason that this area of maritime forest goes unnoticed, (an area which in fact comprises the majority of Frisco Village), is simply because the oceanfront beaches just yards away are too alluring to ignore, and garner the lion's share of vacationers' interest. This is understandable, as when most folks think of an Outer Banks vacation, they envision miles of unspoiled beaches, refreshing ocean waves, and plenty of room to spread out a beach blanket, and Frisco's beaches have all of these attributes in spades.

Outer Banks Brewing Station

Outer Banks Brewing Station

The Outer Banks Brewing Station, established in 2001, is the first wind powered brewpub in the U.S. and an icon on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Look for the 92 foot wind turbine in the backyard beer garden. A pub by the classic European style of a ‘public house’, the Brewing Station considers itself an important member of the community and is family friendly during lunch and dinner hours. Families can enjoy live music, beer and food inside and out, while the little ones play on the pirate ship and the older ones play a friendly game of corn hole. It’s also a great place to wait for your table during the busy summer season.

Educational Activities

Educational Activities

On the Outer Banks, it's easy to throw in a little education in with a vacation filled with fun, adventures, and new explorations.

Fuji Japanese Steakhouse

Fuji Japanese Steakhouse

Fuji Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar serves up delicious hibachi and sushi making it a favorite Asian cuisine restaurant in the Outer Banks. The large, steel grill hibachi tables make for an entertaining communal dining experience. Watch and smell your food prepared by talented chefs who will wow you with unique chopping talents and flaming tricks. Expect highly skilled maneuvers with razor-sharp knives, the striking sounds of salt and pepper shakers clanking together and flying shrimp you can attempt to catch in your mouth. It’s all about good food and fun, great for a family meal or an outing with a group of friends. Hibachi dinner selections are served with soup, salad, hibachi vegetables and fried rice and include chicken, New York strip, shrimp, scallop, filet mignon, vegetable or teriyaki chicken options as well as various combinations.

Darrell's 2 Restaurant Nags Head

Darrell's 2 Restaurant Nags Head

Darrell's is a family-style seafood restaurant that's been a favorite on Roanoke Island since 1960. Seafood is the definite specialty; the fried oysters are widely touted as the best anywhere, served with the traditional fixings of cole slaw, french fries and hush puppies. Locals know that Darrell's does seafood right. Land food, children's fare and light eaters' dishes are also available. Helpings are heaping and desserts are delicious, if you have room.

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.

The Lost Colony

The Lost Colony

In July of 1587, 117 English men, women, and children came ashore on Roanoke Island with a commission from Elizabeth I to establish a permanent English settlement in the New World. Just three years later in 1590, when English ships returned to bring supplies to the settlement, they found the island deserted with no sign of the colonists except the single word, “CROATOAN,” carved into the surface of an abandoned structure and the letters, “CRO,” scratched into the bark of a tree. After nearly 450 years, the mystery of what happened to the colonists remains unsolved.

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