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5 Tips For Driving on Outer Banks Beaches

10 Oct 2019
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When you think of visiting the Outer Banks, you may think of taking a trip to see the wild horses in Carova, going down to Hatteras and driving to the point, or just parking on the beach and having a good time with your friends and family without having to lug everything back to the car in the parking lot. No matter where you're going, here are 5 helpful tips for driving on Outer Banks beaches!

Search Our Homes in the 4x4 Carova Beaches

1. 4-Wheel Drive is A MUST

You can't just drive on the beach with any ole' vehicle. Your vehicle MUST have four-wheel drive. SUVs with all-wheel drive or 'intelligent 4WD' are not equipt to drive on the soft sand. There are likely to be plenty of bumps and grooves left from other vehicles that an AWD vehicle may not be able to drive through. If you get stuck, you have to get towed out, which can be very expensive, not to mention the damage you may cause to your vehicle. 

2. Lower Your Tire Pressure

It's the law that you must air down your tires before getting on the beach. Not doing so can cause extreme damage to your vehicle. They recommend 20 PSI for SUV's and 1/2 ton 4x4 and 35 PSI for 3/4 4x4. If you're going to Carova you can air down your tires at the Corolla Village Road public access facility, located on the east side of HWY 12. To air back up you can go to Historic Corolla Park. Enter the main entrance and turn right into the parking lot. The stations are located at the end of the lot near the pavilion. 

3. Driving on Outer Banks Beaches

General Tips

The beach is a state road. The speed limit is 35 mph. Within 300 feet of any person, the speed limit is 15 mph. Watch out for pedestrians, especially children. Be alert for wildlife and lane shifts. Follow the tire tracks that you see along the high tide line. This sand will be packed down and easier to drive on. Don't pass cars unless completely necessary, as that sand will be softer and easier to get stuck in.

It is recommended that you bring a shovel, tow strap, and a tire pressure gauge along with you. Some other helpful items like traction mats, jack, air compressor, first aid kit, and fire extinguisher may come in handy!

Please fill up your tank before you head out on the beach.  The last thing you would want to do is run out of gas on the beach! There are no gas stations in the 4x4 Carova beaches. You may want to stop to use the restroom as well. Use 4-wheel drive onto the ramp and maintain a slow, steady speed. 

A general rule of thumb is to travel during low tide. Traveling during high tide is dangerous because there may not be much room for driving on the beach and you don't want to run your vehicle with the saltwater, or worse, get washed out into the ocean! Driving during high tide at night is especially dangerous. Keep track of high tide and low tide here. Make sure to plan your arrival time and check out time accordingly!

After you get off of the beach make sure to wash your vehicle soon after, especially if ocean water has splashed on your undercarriage. Saltwater can ruin your vehicle! 

Where can I drive on the beach?

  • Corolla -Driving in Carova where the paved road ends is permitted year-round. Driving on the beach south of that point is allowed between October 1st and April 30th. 
  • Duck - No public access. Private access allows vehicles on the beach between October 1st and April 30th.
  • Southern Shores - Driving on the beach is prohibited.
  • Kitty Hawk - Driving on the beach is prohibited.
  • Kill Devil Hills - Permitted from October 1st through April 30th with a permit. With a permit you can drive in KDH or Nags Head. Learn more here.
  • Nags Head - Permitted from October 1st through April 30th with a permit. With a permit you can drive in KDH or Nags Head.  Learn more here.
  • South of Oregon Inlet - These are managed by the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Permits are required. Learn more about purchasing those here. You can purchase a 10 day or annual permit. They do not allow ATV's. 

Driving in Carova, Outer Banks

If you are driving in Carova, the off-road area North of Corolla, then you may see some wild horses. Please stay well away from the horses when driving and walking on the beach.  Dominant males can be protective of their harem and females of their foals. While beautiful, these animals are wild and can be dangerous. Also, do NOT feed the horses. They are used to a diet of vegetation, so foods like apples and carrots can be deadly for them.

The Carova Beach Fire Department sells t-shirts, hats, ice cream, 8lb bags of ice, drinks, and snacks! This is helpful since there are no stores up there. They are located at: 2169 Ocean Pearl Rd Corolla, NC 27927 Hours: In-season Hours: (Memorial Day to Labor Day) Open daily from 10:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. Off-Season Hours: (Labor Day to Memorial Day) 12:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.

Summer Driving Pattern Change

In Carova, vehicles are required to use driving lanes adjacent to the dune line between Milepost 14.5 and Milepost 17 from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. on the Friday before Memorial Day through 11:59 p.m. Labor Day. Driving is not permitted at the shoreline within this area during this time of day and time of year. Driving is always permitted along the dune line throughout the 4×4 beach driving area. All other times of the year, you can use driving lanes adjacent to the dune line or at the shoreline.


What happens if I get stuck?

This is where a shovel comes in pretty handy! If your tires are starting to spin don't continue to accelerate quickly, as spinning will dig you deeper into the sand. Get out of the vehicle and dig behind or in front of the tires that are the deepest in the sand. Create an uphill path and try to move the vehicle again. If that doesn't work you can also lay down 2' x 4's or traction mats. 

Many people are willing to help you if you are unable to get out. Hopefully, you have that tow strap or some rope! Make sure the vehicle towing you out is of equal or greater size or weight, as it could cause damage to their vehicle or they may get stuck as well. If that doesn't work there are also towing companies that are able to help, but these services come at a higher cost!

4. Parking on Outer Banks Beaches

Parking permits are required for parking in Carova at all times on the Friday before Memorial Day through 11:59 PM Labor Day.

Don't stop in the ramp area. In Carova, you are unable to park on the beach until you reach milepost 14.5.  Please park in the middle of the beach strand, where you won't obstruct the traffic lane. Vehicles must be parked in the area east of the dune line and west of the hard-packed sand strip, adjacent to the water’s edge. 

Types of Parking Permits:
  1. Seasonal – This permit is assigned to a specific vehicle and is good for the entire vacation season.   Seasonal permits are available to purchase for $150.
  2. 10-Day – This permit is available for purchase ($50) by individuals who want to park on the four-wheel-drive beach but are not Currituck County residents or property owners.  This permit is assigned to a specific vehicle and is valid for a consecutive, 10-day term.
  3. Resident/Owner – This seasonal permit is available at no fee to Currituck County residents and property owners.

Learn More About Purchasing Carova Beach Parking Permits

5. Driving at Night

It is best to avoid driving on the beach at night. There are no streetlights on the beach. Driving at night is a hazard as there are many stumps that are difficult to see, and wildlife (including sometimes the horses) use the beach and roads at night as well as during the day.