Summer Parking Permits for Currituck County beaches (Corolla / Carova)

Starting in 2018, parking on Carova beach requires a permit from the Friday before Memorial Day until 11:59pm on Labor Day. Parking permit information can be found here. Driving on Carova beach does NOT require a permit. Visitors only need the permit to park.

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.

Wild horses on the beach in Carova, NC

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.

4x4 beach access and wild horses in Carova, NC

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.

The neighborhood of Carova

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 suburb

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.

Wild Spanish Mustangs in Carova, NC

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.

A wild horse grazes next to a rental home in Carova, NC

Frequently Asked Questions

Where is Carova, NC?

Carova, NC is the northernmost community on the Outer Banks and is part of Currituck County. The term “Carova” is often used to refer to all of the neighborhoods in the 4WD area of the northern Outer Banks, including Swan Beach, North Swan Beach, Carova Beach and Ocean Beach.

What is there to do in Carova, NC?

Carova is known for its pristine and undeveloped beaches which extend for 12 miles from the northern border of Corolla to the North Carolina / Virginia state Line. As such, it is a popular destination for fishing, beachcombing, surfing, swimming, and enjoying the isolated shorelines. The area is also popular for its famed wild horses, and its two nature reserves: the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge and the Currituck Banks Reserve.

Are there any paved roads in Carova?

There are no paved roads in Carova, or any of the 4WD communities north of Corolla.

Where are the beach accesses in Carova, NC?

Visitors can access any of the beaches in Carova with a 4WD vehicle, as all beaches are open to the public. Beach driving permits are not required in Corolla/Carova.

What are the attractions in Carova, NC?

Carova is most famous for the herds of wild horses who freely roam the beaches, and who are believed to be descendants of Spanish Mustangs that were shipwrecked in the 1500s. The area is also home to the Currituck Banks North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve and the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge.

Are there grocery stores in Carova, NC?

There are no grocery stores in Carova and the 4WD areas of the Currituck Banks. However, a number of grocery stores can be found in the neighboring town of Corolla.

Are there shops and restaurants in Carova, NC?

There are no shops or restaurants in the 4WD area of Carova. Visitors can head south to the town of Corolla for ample shopping and dining options.

Where do you stay in Carova, NC?

Visitors in Carova and the 4WD area can stay in weekly vacation rental homes that can range from 2 bedroom cottages to 20 bedroom or more estates. There are no hotels or motels in Carova, however there are a wide variety of accommodations in the neighboring town of Corolla.

What can you do on a rainy day in Carova, NC?

Visitors can head south on a rainy day to explore the various attractions in Corolla and Duck. Popular destinations in these areas include the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, the Whalehead Club, and a wide array of shops and restaurants.

Are pets allowed on the beach in Carova, NC?

Pets are allowed on the beaches and Carova and the 4WD areas, but should be kept on a leash due to vehicular traffic along the shoreline. 

Can I drive on the beach in Carova, NC?

Carova is only accessible by a 4WD vehicle, and visitors can drive all along the 12 miles of beaches north or Corolla. The speed limit throughout the area is 20 mph unless otherwise posted.

Do you need a permit to drive on the Carova beaches?

Visitors do not need a permit to drive on the Carova beaches, however they must have a 4WD vehicle to avoid getting stuck.

How do you get to Carova without a 4WD vehicle?

Visitors can rent a 4WD vehicle from several businesses in the neighboring town of Corolla. In addition, there are a number of tours that access the shorelines of Carova and the northern Outer Banks.

What are the wild horses of Carova?

The wild horses of Carova are thought to be descendants of Spanish Mustangs that were shipwrecked in the northern Outer Banks in the 16th century. The wild horses freely roam the beaches, and can often be spotted along the dunes and neighborhoods of Carova.

How do you see the wild horses of Carova?

Visitors can drive along the beach or rent a vacation home in Carova to see the wild horses, which frequent the shoreline, dunes, and the area’s wooded neighborhoods. In addition, there are a number of 4WD tours available that launch from the adjacent town of Corolla.

Are there shells in Carova, NC?

Because of Carova’s isolation, the area is a great destination for shelling. Visitors can expect to find an array of North Carolina shells, including whelks, augers, wentletraps, scallops, olive shells, and rare Scotch Bonnets.

Are beach bonfires allowed in Carova?

Beach bonfires are not permitted in Carova or any of the 4WD area beaches.

When is the best time to visit Carova?

The summertime is the most popular season for visitors, due to the warm weather and warm ocean temperatures. Fall and spring are also good times to visit, especially for fishermen and surfers.

What are the average air temperatures each month in Carova?

January - high: 52°, low: 32°F 

February - high: 56°, low: 33°F 

March - high: 63°, low: 39°F 

April - high: 72°, low: 48°F 

May - high: 79°, low: 56°F 

June - high: 86°, low: 66°F 

July - high: 89°, low: 70°F 

August - high: 88°, low: 69°F 

September - high: 83°, low: 63°F 

October - high: 74°, low: 52°F 

November - high: 65°, low: 42°F 

December - high: 56°, low: 34°F 

Wild horses roam the 4x4 roads in Carova, NC

A 4x4 vehicle drives along the beach in Carova, NC

Sunrise on the beach in Carova, NC

An oceanfront home in Carova, NC

 

Sundogs
Ben Franklin

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.”

Surf Fishing Guide
Duck Corolla Parasail
Currituck Banks Coastal Estuarine Reserve
Big Buck's Homemade Ice Cream

Big Buck's Homemade Ice Cream

Serving our customers on the Outer Banks since 1994, Big Buck's ice Cream is dedicated serving you “The Best.” We offer a full line of super-premium ice cream products, smoothies, chocolates, and custom-made ice cream cakes! 2 locations are open all year: Kitty Hawk, at Buccaneer's Walk Shopping Center and Manteo, at The Waterfront Shops.

 

We offer a full line of Espresso Drinks from Hot Vanilla Cappuccinos and Hot Chocolate to Iced Caramel Lattes & Frozen Mochas, all made to order. Big Buck’s fresh fruit smoothies are lactose-free and made to order. Also offering lactose-free sorbets made from the best fruits available. Old time favorites are sure to please! Choose from a delicious collection of milkshakes, sundaes and banana splits.

 

Savor the moment with our Homemade Chocolate! Chocolates are made daily in each location. We offer a large selection from Dark to Milk to White. Milk Chocolate Oreos & Almond Toffee, Dark Chocolate Berries and Cherries Clusters & Hand-dipped Peppermint Patties with a Drizzle of White Chocolate, Extra-Dark Sea Salt Caramels & our famous homemade caramel chocolate pretzels oh & don’t forget the ever-popular caramel pecan turtle, just to name a few treats!

 

Belinda Pleva grew up serving ice cream out of her parent’s shop. She loved being part of what she calls “a happy business.” “I love it when people come into the shop and you hand them something, and it makes them smile,” Pleva says. “That moment when you hand an ice cream cone over to a little kid and their eyes just light up. That’s what I love about the ice cream business.”

 

In 1994, Pleva opened up her own ice cream and chocolate shop, Big Buck’s Ice Cream, in the brand-new Timbuk II Shopping Center in Corolla. Business was good, but something was missing.

 

“I was never satisfied with the ingredients in the ice creams and chocolates you could purchase back then. I wanted to serve my customers delicious flavors with ingredients they could actually pronounce,” Pleva says.

 

Pleva took a trip to Italy to study the gelaterias. She fell in love with the incredible flavors, and when she returned home to the Outer Banks, she began working tirelessly to perfect the flavors in her own ice cream.

 

Big Buck’s homemade ice cream combined the flavors of the Italian gelaterias and the richness of American ice cream. It quickly became a tourist favorite. After having the same unsatisfactory experience with the readymade chocolates she was selling, she also took a trip to Brussels to learn more about making handmade chocolates. Pleva brought the chocolate-making experience right back with her, and the result was the finest quality of chocolates on the Outer Banks.

 

After her huge success in the Corolla shop, Pleva was able to open up three more shops—one in Kitty Hawk, one in Manteo and one in Duck.

(More Locations)
Buxton Woods
Outer Banks Nature Spots
Nags Head Dolphin Watch