Beaches You Can Drive On in NC: A Complete Guide (2024)

Posted by Annick Lenoir-Peek | Updated on Jun 9, 2024 | Published on Mar 12, 2024 | Coastal Plains, North Carolina, Travel Blog | 0

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A first-time visitor to North Carolina’s beaches may be greeted by an unexpected sight – cars on the beach! Yes, there are beaches you can drive on in NC!

If you’re planning a weekend camping trip or just want to go off-roading or drive on the beach, check out the following beaches! I’ll also share everything you need to know for a great experience. No one needs to end a beach trip getting towed or with a traffic ticket!

The most important thing to know is that even the beaches you can drive on in NC, most prohibit doing so during the summer months. In other words, many beaches only permit driving from October 1st to April 30th. This summertime restriction does not apply to Corolla, Hatteras Island, and Ocraco*ke Island beaches.

Beaches You Can Drive On in NC: A Complete Guide (1)

Contents hide

1 Beaches You Can Drive On in NC

1.1 Carolina Beach – Freeman Park

1.2 Cape Hatteras National Seashore

1.3 Cape Lookout National Seashore

1.4 Currituck County Beaches

1.5 Emerald Isle Beach

1.6 Fort Fisher State Recreation Area

1.7 Indian Beach

1.8 Kill Devil Hills

1.9 Nags Head

3 Getting Your Vehicle Ready to Drive on the Beach

3.1 Tire Pressure Gauge

3.2 Air Pump

3.3 Tow Rope

3.4 First Aid Kit

3.5 Shovel

3.6 Spare Tire

3.8 Extra Boards

4 General Rules About Driving on the Beach in NC

4.1 Pedestrians Have the Right of Way

4.2 Obey the Speed Limit

4.3 Use a 4-Wheel Drive Vehicle

4.4 Avoid Driving at Night

4.5 Don’t Drink and Drive

4.6 Park Above the High Tide Line

4.7 Don’t Drive on the Dune Line

4.9 Download the Phone Number for Commercial Towing Services

4.10 Bring Documentation

4.11 Watch Out for Sea Turtles and Fishing Lines

4.12 Leave No Trace

5 Final Thoughts on Beaches You Can Drive On in NC

5.1 Save this “Beaches You Can Drive On in NC” for later – save it, pin it, share it!

5.2 Related

Beaches You Can Drive On in NC

Carolina Beach – Freeman Park

The most popular beach you can drive on in NC is probably Carolina Beach’s Freeman Park. This beach is a haven for campers, people who like to fish, and beachgoers. Carolina Beach is one of the few beaches you can drive on in NC year-round.

Purchase daily and annual passes online. Print your daily pass and place it on the windshield. Annual pass receipts must be traded for stickers at the Town Hall or Beach Parking office.

Find more rules for driving on the beach at Carolina Beach.

Beaches You Can Drive On in NC: A Complete Guide (2)

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Home to so many lighthouses and gorgeous beaches, Cape Hatteras National Seashore is popular with both locals and visitors.

Visitors to the Outer Banks can drive on the Atlantic Ocean beaches on Bodie, Hatteras, and Ocraco*ke Islands. To access the beach, look for off-road ramps and follow instructions indicated by the National Park Service. Some beaches are available year-round, while others only allow driving seasonally.

Frequently found on the list of Top 10 Beaches in the US, Ocraco*ke Island permits driving on the beach. Just make sure you have a permit and a 4X4! The same is true for the beaches on Hatteras Island.

PRO TIP: Apply for an ORV (Off-Road Vehicle) permit online – choose between annual or a 10-day pass. You’ll need to print it and display it in the vehicle.

If you get stuck here, call a towing company, as the National Park Service will not tow stranded motorists.

Cape Lookout National Seashore

There are no paved roads on the beaches along Cape Lookout National Seashore, so you need a 4×4 vehicle. While night driving is not prohibited here, it is not recommended.

When applying for your ORV permit, you’re required to affirm that you’ve watched a short informational video.

Driving on the beach is permitted on North Core Banks and South Core Banks. You’ll need to take the Island Express Ferry to reach each of these areas.

Visits can also drive on the beach in Portsmouth Island. To get there, take a ferry from the Morris Marina Ferry in Atlantic Beach.

PRO TIP: Ferries have limited vehicle capabilities. To avoid disappointment, plan ahead and book your ferry tickets online.

Currituck County Beaches

To drive on Currituck beaches, vehicles must have a county-issued beach parking permit. These are valid from the last Saturday of April through the first Saturday in October.

County residents and non-resident property owners can use their Currituck County Access Permit instead of a beach parking permit. Property owners receive two free permits every two years.

The beaches you can drive on in Currituck sometimes have driving lanes close to the dune line or shoreline. During the summer, from the Friday before Memorial Day through Labor Day, between Milepost 14.5 and 17, from 9 am until 5 pm, use the driving lanes by the dune line.

Emerald Isle Beach

A favorite with North Carolina residents, Emerald Isle Beach permits driving. A beach driving permit can be purchased from the Town of Emerald Isle Police Department.

This beach is open to driving from September 15 – April 30, with approximately ten days covering Easter when it is closed.

Beaches You Can Drive On in NC: A Complete Guide (3)

Fort Fisher State Recreation Area

Visitors to Kure Beach can drive their four-wheel drive onto the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area beach. Vehicles must be registered and have a valid park-issued permit. Seasonal and daily permits are also available.

Annual Four-Wheel-Drive Beach Access passes ($150) must be purchased in person at the park office. However, this pass also allows access to all state parks. Drivers can purchase a $20 to $30 per visit pass from the office.

Indian Beach

Driving on the beach in the town of Indian Beach is allowed from after Labor Day to before Memorial Day. The dates change annually, so check the Police Department website for current dates.

What makes driving on Indian Beach unique is that after Easter, beach driving is only permitted during the week.

Kill Devil Hills

Yes, you can drive on the beach at Kill Devil Hills from October 1 through April 30 but will need a permit issued by the town of Kill Devil Hills. The town makes it easy to purchase permits by making them available online or at various outlets.

Generally speaking, driving on the beach is permitted a ½ hour before sunset to ½ hour after sunset. For convenience, there are 14 road access points.

Nags Head

To drive on the beach in Nags Head, visitors must have four-wheel drive and a permit issued by the town of Nags Head.

Passes are available for non-residents from October 1 through April 30. Print passes purchased online. Passes can also be bought in person at the Nags Head Town Hall. Residents can obtain half-price seasonal passes, but they must be purchased in person with proof of residency.

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Beaches You Cannot Drive On in NC

Here are the most frequently searched beaches that people assume you can drive on but can’t:

  • Kitty Hawk
  • Southern Shores
  • Shackleford Banks
  • Core – Sound side beaches
  • Atlantic Beach
  • Pine Knoll Shores
Beaches You Can Drive On in NC: A Complete Guide (5)

Getting Your Vehicle Ready to Drive on the Beach

Even if you have the perfect four-wheel drive vehicle, make sure it is prepared for the adventure you’re about to embark on.

Tire Pressure Gauge

Tire pressure should be reduced to 20 to 25 pounds before you drive on the sand. This means checking your pressure as you enter and exit the sand. The softer the sand, the lower the tire pressure for the best traction. Don’t forget to refill your tires to the appropriate tire pressure as you return to a paved road.

Air Pump

Having your own air pump will help you keep your tires at a decent pressure until you can get to a gas station or other place to have them inflated to the recommended pressure.

Tow Rope

Bring a rope or tow strap with a load strength of 20,000 pounds and at least 14 feet long. If you get stuck (or someone else gets stuck), you’ll be happy to have a towing option!

First Aid Kit

Every car should have a small first aid kit, and if you’re planning on driving on the beach in NC, you’ll want to keep yours up-to-date and stocked.

Shovel

If you get stuck, you’ll want a shovel to dig out or place a board under your tire for better traction.

Spare Tire

The beach is not where you want to get a flat tire (like there was such a place!). Make sure you have a spare tire ready to go.

Fire Extinguisher & Extra Water

Vehicles can overheat quickly when driving through sand. Just in case, you’ll want extra water on hand and a fire extinguisher.

Extra Boards

These can be helpful if you need extra traction and your wheels start spinning in the soft sand. The boards should be thin, like plywood, or anything else you have around.

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General Rules About Driving on the Beach in NC

Pedestrians Have the Right of Way

You’re sharing the beach with people, so you must watch for them. Between beachgoers and people fishing, people will be walking back and forth. Always yield to them.

Obey the Speed Limit

The speed limit is generally set at 15 MPH, but it is usually posted at the beach entrance. Beach drivers should maintain a steady speed.

Use a 4-Wheel Drive Vehicle

As tempting as it may be to take my Toyota Camry on the beach, the best vehicle for driving there is a four-wheel-drive or off-road vehicle, like an ATV (all-terrain vehicle).

Avoid Driving at Night

The beaches you can drive on in NC generally prohibit night driving. Even if it isn’t prohibited on your particular beach, you should avoid driving at night. With no street lights, it is easy to miss dangers like holes, turtle nests, etc.

Don’t Drink and Drive

There are lots of risks while driving on the beach – from avoiding people to sand holes to turtle nests. Be safe and don’t drink and drive when visiting one of the beaches you can drive on in NC.

Park Above the High Tide Line

One of the biggest mistakes you can make while driving on the beach is parking too close to the tide line. Avoid any problems by parking above the high tide line. You’ll avoid sinking wet sand, and you won’t risk getting stuck as the water approaches and engulfs your vehicle.

Beaches You Can Drive On in NC: A Complete Guide (7)

Don’t Drive on the Dune Line

The dunes protect our coastline and are home to plants and animals. Except where trails are marked, driving on dunes is prohibited in North Carolina. Don’t risk a ticket or getting stranded by driving too near the dunes.

Check Weather and Stay Updated

You’ve likely heard the expression, “If you wait five minutes, the weather will change.” And while that’s not a problem if you’re in town, it could be a big problem if you’re driving on the beach in NC.

Whether the sand gets wet or a big storm blows in, the driving conditions on the beach will be more dangerous. Don’t just check the weather before you go; keep a weather app with notifications nearby.

Download the Phone Number for Commercial Towing Services

Park rangers, police departments, and park service people are not responsible for getting you out of the sand if you’re stuck. Some commercial tow companies list their numbers near the sign for beach access. Prepare for an emergency by saving the number for a commercial towing company in the area.

Bring Documentation

Every driver driving on the beach in NC must have a valid driver’s license. Each car should also have up-to-date registration and a valid license plate. Every beach you can drive on in NC requires beach parking permits.

Watch Out for Sea Turtles and Fishing Lines

North Carolina beaches are popular with sea turtles. This means that while driving on the beach, look for both turtle nests (often marked by volunteers) and sea turtles going back and forth between the nest and the ocean.

Leave No Trace

This means picking up all of your trash and filling in any holes that may have been dug during your stay. The beach is shared by all of us and should be left either in the same condition or better than you found it.

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Final Thoughts on Beaches You Can Drive On in NC

The North Carolina coast is home to incredible beaches. Being able to drive on the beach means getting to spots that are further away so you can find your perfect site. Especially if you want to enjoy a weekend at the beach, you’ll enjoy these beaches you can drive on in NC.

Check out these related posts:

  • Top Things to Do in Carolina Beach
  • A Tour of North Carolina’s Lighthouses
  • A Tour of Carolina Beach Murals

Happy travels,
Annick, The Common Traveler

Beaches You Can Drive On in NC: A Complete Guide (9)

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Beaches You Can Drive On in NC: A Complete Guide (2024)

FAQs

Which beach in NC can you drive on? ›

Residents and visitors have long enjoyed the beach area now known as Freeman Park. In fact, the area has become one of Carolina Beach's major attractions as it is one of the only beaches in NC that you can drive your 4X4 vehicle on.

What beaches can you drive on in Outer Banks? ›

The Outer Banks has several areas where you can drive on the beach, including Carova, Nags Head, Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, Hatteras Island, and Ocraco*ke. However, the rules and regulations vary depending on where you go.

What east coast beaches can you drive on? ›

Driving on the beach is a long-standing tradition in many areas of the United States, including Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts, portions of the New Jersey shore, North Carolina's Outer Banks, Georgia's islands, certain areas in Florida, North and South Padre Islands and other areas in Texas, and several ...

What South Carolina beaches can you drive on? ›

Sands Beach

You can even drive onto the beach and picnic out of your car. The Sands Beach is on Battery Creek, not the Atlantic Ocean, and has minimal wave action. This makes it a great spot for family excursions.

How much does it cost to drive on the beach in North Carolina? ›

The cost of an annual ORV permit (valid for one year from date of purchase) is $120. The cost for a 10-day ORV permit is $50. You must bring your driver's license and vehicle registration with you. A short educational video is required viewing.

What is the prettiest beach in the Outer Banks NC? ›

10 Best Beaches in Outer Banks
  • Rodanthe Beach.
  • Kitty Hawk.
  • Nags Head.
  • Kill Devil Hills.
  • Ocraco*ke Island.
  • Hatteras Island.
  • Duck Beach.
  • Cape Point Beach.

Can you drive on the beach in Topsail, NC? ›

Pleasure riding on the beach is not allowed. Anyone caught driving on the beach without a permit will be ticketed and escorted off the beach. When: Monday - Friday from the Topsail Beach Police Department 8:00am - 3:00pm; Saturday and Sunday at Fire Department.

Where is the 4x4 beach in Outer Banks? ›

Carova Beach Outer Banks, NC is four wheel drive only, best known as the home of the Outer Banks wild horses. Just north of the popular Outer Banks town of Corolla, Carova Beach offers secluded, private vacation rentals directly on the beach or tucked away in the sand dunes.

Can you drive on Atlantic Beach, NC? ›

When are vehicles allowed on the beach? Beach driving is allowed from October 1st through March 15. Annual beach permits are now available for purchase for $50 (AB residents), $100 (Carteret County residents), and $125 (Outside of Carteret County residents) at Town Hall during regular business hours or online here.

What states have beaches you can drive on? ›

States like North Carolina, Florida, Texas and Oregon all rely on vehicular access to beaches in some areas, and must balance this access with conservation and awareness of the negative impacts to nesting birds, dunes, burrowing invertebrates, and sea turtles. California may not have to grapple with access issues, but ...

Can you drive on Indian Beach, NC? ›

Driving is permitted on the beach from September through May. A Permit must be obtained from the Police Department for $30.00 and renewed each year. A special 3 day Beach Driving Permit can be purchased for $10.00 with driving only permitted from September through May.

What NC beach can you drive on? ›

Beach driving is allowed north of the paved NC Highway 12 in the Carova area year round. Beach driving may also be allowed south of the ramp in the northern Corolla beaches from October through April.

Can you drive on the beach in Wilmington, NC? ›

Can I drive on the beach? Driving on the beach is allowed at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area. Registered vehicles with valid park-issued permits are allowed in the four-wheel-drive access area. Seasonal and daily permits are available.

Can you drive on Corolla beach NC? ›

The Beach is a Public Vehicular Access Area:

Share the road. Watch for pedestrians, horses, and other wildlife. All vehicles driven on the beach and roads behind the dunes must be registered, properly licensed, and insured.

Can you drive on Wrightsville Beach NC? ›

Driving on the beach is not allowed within the Town of Wrightsville Beach. Visitors with a 4WD vehicle who want to drive on the beach can head south to Freeman Park in Carolina Beach, which is roughly a 35-40 minute drive away.

Can you drive on Topsail Beach NC? ›

Pleasure riding on the beach is not allowed. Anyone caught driving on the beach without a permit will be ticketed and escorted off the beach. When: Monday - Friday from the Topsail Beach Police Department 8:00am - 3:00pm; Saturday and Sunday at Fire Department.

Can you drive on the beach in Ocean Isle NC? ›

No motor vehicles, battery-powered or wind-powered vehicles on the dunes or strand. NO BICYCLES ON STRAND from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Do you need a permit to drive on Atlantic Beach NC? ›

Annual beach permits are available for purchase for $50 (AB residents), $100 (Carteret County residents), and $125 (Outside of Carteret County residents) from September through March at Town Hall during regular business hours or online here.

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