Off Road…On the Beach
Whether you are looking for solitude and exploration on a remote section of beach, creating family memories with beach day trips, or fishing in world renowned waters, beach driving is a way to have a unique recreational experience on the Outer Banks.
The use of off-road vehicles (ORVs) is a long-standing way for visitors to enjoy the ocean beaches and soundside waters. To provide for both visitor enjoyment and the protection of park resources, please observe the following regulations and recommendations when using ORVs on the beach.
- Corolla – No permit required. 4×4 vehicles can access the beach at the Northern end of NC 12 where the paved road ends. 4×4 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.
- Carova – No permit required. 4×4 vehicles can access the beach at the Northern end of NC 12 where the paved road ends. 4×4 access North of this point is permitted year round. From there, visitors can enjoy miles of beach driving, scenic ocean views, and if they’re lucky, a glimpse of the wild horses, the area’s first and most treasured local residents.
- Duck – No public 4×4 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 – No permit required. 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.
- Nags Head – Permit required. Driving on the beach is permitted October 1 – April 30. A permit is required, and may be purchased at the Nags Head town hall, Jennette’s Pier and many local tackle shops during business hours.
- Cape Hatteras National Seashore – (Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco, Hatteras, and Ocracoke) – Permits 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.
- Proceed with due caution and consideration for other beach users. Pedestrians always have the right of way. Please be especially cautious of children and pets who may dart into traffic. Watch for fishing lines.
- Drive slowly and be alert for people lying, standing or walking on the beach.
- Use of a Four Wheel Drive (4WD) vehicle to drive on the beach is highly recommended. Getting towed off the beach is extremely expensive.
- Lower the pressure on all tires. The softer the sand the lower the pressure needed. Generally drive with 20-25 lbs. pressure in the tires. When you return to paved roads, inflate the tires to normal as soon as possible.
- When possible, drive on the portion of the beach located just below the high tide mark. Avoid getting too close to the water. Before driving through any water, determine the depth and firmness of the underlying surface.
- Drive at a slow and steady speed. Speed limited on park beaches is 15 mph, unless otherwise posted. If the tires start to spin, back up in your tire tracks for several car lengths. Accelerate slowly as you move forward. Additional tire deflation may be necessary.
- Salt water spray is highly corrosive. It is recommended that you wash the vehicle after each outing, both sheet metal and undercarriage.
- Park Rangers may assist you, but they are not permitted to pull or tow other vehicles. Commercial towing services are available.
- Do not litter. Please deposit all trash in trash containers wherever available or by bagging and removing it from the beach. Please avoid littering the beach with dead bait, carcasses or other dead fish of any kind.
- Avoid overcrowding any one area and displacing others from their previously chosen spots.
- When parked on the beach, leave room for two-way traffic to pass safely. Park along the shoreline in a single row of vehicles no more than one vehicle deep.
- Refill holes and remove any boards or other aids after being stuck, leaving the beach passable for others.
- Tow strap
- Quality tire pressure gauge
- First aid kit
- Full sized spare tire
- Litter bags or container
- Fire extinguisher
- Flashlight if night driving
- A small shovel
- Tire jack and jack support
- Low pressure tire gauge
- Vechicle must be registered, licensed and insured for highway use
- Drive Only On Marked ORV Routes And Comply With Posted Restrictions. Do not drive on or between the dunes. Driving or parking on vegetation is prohibited.
- Observe Posted Speed Limits. The speed limit on park beaches is 15 mph unless otherwise posted.
- Any Law Applicable To Vehicle Use on a paved road in the State of North Carolina also applies to ORV use.
- A current driver’s license, valid vehicle registration, insurance and license plate are required for all vehicles – including ATVs. • Reckless Driving (ie: cutting circles or defacing the beach) is prohibited.
- Avoid driving or parking on the wrack line. The wrack line is a line of stranded natural debris on the beach left by a previous high tide that can be an important food source for birds.
- Pedestrians ALWAYS have the right-of-way.
- Open containers of any type of alcoholic beverage are prohibited in vehicles. Public consumption of spirituous liquors or fortified wines is prohibited.
- he use of seatbelts is required.
- Do not hang out of moving vehicles or sit on the tailgate or roof. Those in truck beds must be seated on the floor with the tailgate closed. Children in truck beds must be accompanied by an adult. Check the weather forecast and tide tables before starting your trip.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore Permits Obtaining an ORV permit is an easy process that takes only minutes from start to finish. You can choose to visit an ORV office at Cape Hatteras National Seashore in person or you can visit the Cape Hatteras ORV Permit page at Recreation.gov. If you request a permit using the Recreation.gov website, you can choose to pick up the permit at an ORV office or have it mailed directly to you.
The online permit process is as simple as:
- Going to the Cape Hatteras ORV Permit page on Recreation.gov
- Filling out the online application
- Choosing whether you will pick up the permit in person or have it mailed to you
The in-person permit process has six easy steps:
- Go to one of our three ORV Permit Offices
- Show the required documentation to the ORV Permit Office staff member
- Fill out the ORV permit
- Watch the 7-minute video (you can skip this step if you bring last year’s permit)
- Pay for your permit
- Place the permit in your vehicle’s glove box and affix the proof-of-permit to your vehicle’s windshield
That’s all there is to it. You’ll be off enjoying the beaches of Cape Hatteras National Seashore before you know it. In preparation for getting your permit, be sure you have your driver’s license, your vehicle registration, form of payment (charge card or cash),
and last year’s permit (if available, for the in-person process).
With these items you can apply for your permit online or at any of the three ORV Permit Offices.
The offices are located at:
- Coquina Beach (8101 NC 12 Highway, Nags Head, NC)
- Cape Hatteras Light Station (46368 Lighthouse Road, Buxton, NC)
- Ocracoke Visitor Center (40 Irvin Garrish Highway, Ocracoke, NC)
These offices are open seven days a week, year-round (except Christmas Day) from 8 am to 4:30 pm. Refer to the Designated Off-Road Vehicle Routes map to see the location of the permit offices, ramps, and other park amenities.
Two types of permits are available for purchase. They are:
- 7-day Permit ($50, valid for 7 consecutive days)
- Annual Permit ($120, valid for the calendar year)
Remember to keep the permit in the glove box of your permitted vehicle and the proof-of-permit sticker clearly visible on your windshield.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore Regulations You Need To Know & Observe
- ORV permits required. See above CHNS ORV permit information.
- Observe posted closures. Violators are subjected to a fine of up to $5,000 and/or imprisonment up to 6 months.
- Night Driving – During the sea turtle nesting season, from May 1 to November 15, driving on the Seashore’s beaches is prohibited from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. Some portions of designated ORV routes may reopen to night driving on September 15 if there are no turtle nests in the area. Contact the park or check the website for permit information. November 16 to April 30 night driving is allowed.
- Pets/Leash Laws – See our Leash Law page.
- Beach Bonfires – See our Beach Bonfires page.
- Remove ANY trash or litter from the beach, including bait, fish parts or dead fish. Trash attracts predators.
- Feeding wildlife (Including Gulls) is prohibited. Human food is unhealthy for wildlife and may create a harmful dependence on humans for survival. Feeding may artificially inflate animal populations, create aggressive behavior and force other species out of habitat.
- Kite flying and frisbee tossing are prohibited within or above any bird closure. Kites and frisbees can scare birds off their nests, leaving eggs and chicks exposed to predators and deadly heat.
- Fireworks and metal detectors are not permitted.
- Jet Skis and other motorized personal watercraft are not allowed.
- Return all fish not being kept back to the water alive, including skates and sharks.
- Camp ONLY in designated campgrounds, not on the beaches.
- Do not dump wastewater or graywater on the beach. Please use park dump stations for this purpose.
Yes, getting stuck is always a risk when it comes to beach driving, but drivers on the Outer Banks find the risk is most certainly worth the reward. Even the most seasoned local beach driver can get stuck on the sand from time to time, and with a few extra precautions ahead of time, getting stuck on the beach can easily turn into a funny vacation story, instead of a frustrating vacation headache.
- Before you hit the sand, make sure you have a shovel, two 2′ x 4’s (about 4-6′ ft. in length), and a tow rope, which can be purchased at virtually any hardware store.
- If you feel yourself getting stuck in the sand, do NOT try to force your way out. Spinning your tires will only drag you deeper down into the soft sandy ruts.
- Start digging behind or in front of your tires, depending on where your tires are lodged the deepest, and where the easiest route off the patch of sand is. Once an uphill path is created, you can try to move the vehicle again, or you can lay down the 2′ x 4’s, giving your vehicle some stable ground to drive on.
- Still stuck? Chances are, if there is a vehicle passing by or parked up the beach, they will probably pause and assist you in getting out of the sand. This is where the tow rope comes in handy. Just be sure that the vehicle that is pulling you out is an equal size and weight or more, or else you very well might both get stuck in the process.
- As a last resort, there are a number of towing companies that are stationed throughout the beaches. Always on call, a local towing company can assist you year-round, and can have your vehicle out of the sand in no time.