The Outer Banks, with its spectacular natural beauty, offers visitors opportunities to enjoy pleasures that are far from commonplace. Here, you can drive your four-wheel-drive vehicle along the many miles of accessible off-roading area on the beach as you search for that perfect fishing spot, or sit around a bonfire with the backdrop of the ocean waves. All of this can be enjoyed, but there are a few regulations that must be followed.
Please make sure that you are comfortable with beach driving, and have the proper vehicle, before you make the trek off the paved road. Many inexperienced drivers get stuck, and it is very expensive to get a tow. It’s also a very good idea to know when high tide is rolling in because there are times when it can directly affect access. Visitors should take note of low-pressure systems forming offshore.
Driving an off-road vehicle (ORV)
Driving an off-road vehicle (ORV) on the beach can be fun where beach driving is permitted. Please observe the following rules:
- The speed limit is 15 mph unless otherwise posted
- Enter and leave the beach only at designated, open ramps (never between or on the dunes)
- Drive only on the portion of the beach that lies between the foot of the dunes and the ocean
- Proceed with caution and consideration for other beach visitors — pedestrians always have the right-of-way
- All vehicles must have a valid vehicle registration, insurance, and license plate
- The operator of the vehicle must have a current driver’s license
Beach driving in Corolla takes place year-round at the northern end of NC12 where the pavement ends. In order to park while driving on the beach in Corolla between the last Saturday of April through the first Saturday in October, you must secure a Beach Parking Permit from Currituck County. The permits can be purchased through Currituck County’s website and are limited to 300 per week. For more information, contact the town’s administrative office at 252-453-9612 or visit ParkingOnTheBeach.com.
The paved section of NC12 ends about a mile and a half north of Currituck Heritage Park, but for off-road vehicles, the 11 miles to the Virginia state line is still accessible. Although there are a number of subdivisions in this part of the Currituck Banks, collectively it is referred to as Carova–which is a small town at the northern end.
The name Carova is a truncated version of Carolina (Caro) and Virginia (VA). At one time, it was possible to drive into Virginia from the Outer Banks, entering Virginia Beach at Sandbridge. However, because the Virginia side of the border is occupied by False Cape State Park and Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, vehicular access is now restricted.
The Carova beach in NC is patrolled by Currituck County police, and they do enforce traffic laws.
Please be extra careful when driving north of where the pavement ends, because this is where wild Spanish mustangs roam free. One of the best ways to view the mustangs is to take a guided tour. Although the horses are the high point of any trek to the Carova area, there is much more to see, and a tour is a great way to discover what the northernmost reach of the Outer Banks has to offer. The most unsafe way to see the mustangs is to approach a horse or a herd on the beach. These are truly wild animals. Mares do not like strangers approaching their colts and stallions are proprietary of their herd. It is illegal to feed or come within 50 feet of these wild animals. This video from the Corolla Wild Horse Fund provides more information.
Duck and Kitty Hawk
RV’s are permitted on the Outer Banks beaches between October 1st and April 30th. No permit is required. For more information on beach driving, contact the respective town’s administrative office.
Kitty Hawk: 252-261-3552
Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head
Beach driving on the off-roading area of the Outer Banks is only allowed between October 1st and April 30th. In order to operate an ORV on the beach in Nags Head, visitors must apply for and receive a permit from the Nags Head Town Hall. Permits will be granted only with accompanying proof of state registration. Kill Devil Hills does not require a permit. For more information contact the respective town’s administrative office.
Kill Devil Hills: 252-449-5300
Nags Head: 252-441-5508
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Use of ORVs on the Outer Banks beaches of Cape Hatteras National Seashore is permitted year-round with limitations. Oceanfront beaches located in the Outer Banks towns of Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras are closed to vehicles from May to September every year. Driving on beaches at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge is strictly prohibited. ORV accesses to beaches are open to vehicles by designated ramps only. For current information on ORV areas, contact National Park Service Headquarters at 252-473-2111 or visit any visitor center located throughout the park.
No motorized vehicles are allowed on the beaches of Southern Shores.
Information provided by the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau