Driving on the beaches of Carova &
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Dare County home to Cap Hatteras National Seashore, Beach driving permit included in rental
Outer Banks beach driving
On the beach, the speed limit is 35 mph.
Driving within 300 feet of any person, the speed limit is 15 mph.
The entire beach, including parking areas, becomes a driving area after dark. At the end of each day, visitors please remove all personal items (beach chairs, nets, poles, ropes, etc.) and level all sand structures (sandcastles, holes, etc.) to ensure the safety of those driving on the beach at night.
Driving a vehicle in a repeated circular motion (doing “donuts”) or driving in the surf are examples of careless and reckless driving.
All vehicles to be driven on the beach and roads behind the dunes must be registered, properly licensed, and insured.
Share the road, and watch for pedestrians, horses, and other wildlife.
Gas tanks should be full – there are NO gas stations on 4-wheel drive areas.
Use 4-wheel drive onto the ramp and maintain a slow, steady speed.
The use of off-road vehicles (ORVs) is a long-standing way for visitors to enjoy the Seashore’s ocean beaches and sound-side waters. To provide for both 4x4 enjoyment and the protection of park resources, please observe the following regulations and recommendations when using ORVs at the Seashore. For more information, please visit National Park Service . Beach driving is allowed year round on Carova Beach (home to the wild horses) & Hatteras Island.
October 1-April 30 in Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills.
An Off road vehicle use permit (ORV permit) is required by The National Park Service and is included in your Jeep rental.
Driving on the beach is the one place where if you get it wrong, it can go very badly. So why do we do it? Because it’s fun, it takes you to awesome places, and there’s nothing quite like the feeling of cruising up a beach with your windows down and the wind in your hair.
Unless you’re driving on wet sand after the run-out tide, or indeed after heavy rain, sand is soft. So when you plonk a two-tonne four-wheel drive on it, it has the tendency to want to sink. We stop that sinking or bogging sensation by lowering the tire pressure. This increases the length of the tread pattern on your tire, dispersing its weight over a larger area.
The accepted normal tire pressure on the sand is 18 to 20psi. However, this can be altered by around 20% depending on how heavily (or lightly) your vehicle is laden. As with all rules, though, it’s made to be broken.
If you are badly bogged – or you have found some incredibly soft powdery sand – lower your tire pressure until you get traction. I’d go as low as 8psi. It’s important to note that whenever you lower your tire pressure, your 4X4’s handling ability will be adversely affected. Hence, any cornering needs to be done with absolute caution, not only to keep your vehicle upright but to keep your tires on their rims.
Tires can pop off their rims while pressure is low from sand-spraying yeehaw's
And when the ground gets firm again, don’t forget to reinflate your tires immediately. Low pressures and high speeds are a dangerous concoction and can lead to tire blowouts and vehicle rollovers.
While correct tire pressures are great, they’re not a cure-all for sand. For that, you need a good driving technique. Sand naturally saps the power of your vehicle, and without power, you can lose momentum and get bogged. So, the key is to keep your momentum up and stop only when it’s safe to do so. It’s good practice to park on downhill slopes to give your 4X4 less of a chance of bogging.
Many beaches can get busy over the summer months, and with no lane markers, it can get a little tricky. This is especially the case at high tide when some beaches get extremely skinny. Whenever oncoming traffic approaches, always indicate which side of the vehicle you wish to pass on.
Some of the beaches you will drive on will seem perfectly flat and devoid of people, so the temptation is to drive at highway speeds. Yet these speeds don’t take into account the fact that you are not driving in a man-made environment. There may be fresh creeks cut across the sand, driftwood, or an unexpected jump-up, which could cause you all sorts of problems. So, stick to the speed limit, and if there isn’t one, drive at a speed that allows you to stop in a hurry.
The other problem with high speeds and beaches is when people are enjoying some time on the beach. Kids, for example, will naturally run straight from the water up to their beach towels without even looking, and if you’re speeding along the beach, there is no way you can stop in time.
On some beaches, the outgoing waves create dips in the sand, and often you’ll find people sunbaking here. Although very rare, at times these sunbathers have actually been run over by 4X4s that couldn’t see them in the dips until it was too late.
Minimize sharp turns
Stay off vegetated areas
Be gentle on your brakes
Don’t turn on dunes
Pause at the top of sand dunes
Keep speeds down, but maintain momentum in soft sand
Drive above the high-tide mark, except during a run-out tide
Use your indicators to show your intentions to oncoming vehicles
Re-inflate your tires before getting back to highway speeds.
MISTAKES YOU SHOULDN’T MAKE
Parking your 4X4 under the high-tide mark. You go to take off, but get bogged. Up comes the tide, and the OBX claims another fool.
Guessing tire pressures – I’ve never met anyone who can accurately estimate tire pressure by eye.
Not bringing a tow rope, tire gauge, and a shovel.
Tow Straps are a must for OBX beach driving
Stuck below the high tide line about to get taken by the Atlantic Ocean. Nobody with half a heart is going to leave him there. Unless that is, he doesn’t have a suitable recovery point for a tow rope and you value your life … in that case, the kindest thing to do is grab a shovel and help him dig.
Tow straps/snatch straps work by the use of kinetic energy – think of it like stretching a rubber band and then letting go of one end, in essence, a slingshot effect – and can stretch under load by around 3 feet or so. This may not sound like much, but the energy stored is enough to recover most vehicles out of bogging situations.
Their stretching properties can be dangerous when not used in the correct manner, and it is also for this reason they should NEVER be connected to a non-rated recovery point and especially never a tow ball. The power in a rebounding snatch strap can tear off a tow ball and launch it at high speed … and right in through the windshield like a missile. People have been killed or seriously injured this way.
Before you do any recovery with a snatch strap, ensure both vehicles have rated recovery points. If one vehicle doesn’t then you are safer trying to dig it out, road-build, it’s not worth the danger of shackles whizzing through the air.
Prior to reaching for the strap, conduct a visual inspection of the bogging. Look at what is stopping the vehicle (it will be either traction or ground clearance). If ground clearance is the issue (i.e. the vehicle is ‘bottoming out’), grab a long-handled shovel and move away the sand. Likewise, it’s a good idea to clear a track ahead of the wheels to make forward (or rearward) progress easier. All of this preparation ensures that less stress will be placed on the recovery points and on the snatch strap, making for a far safer recovery.
Unroll the snatch strap between the two vehicles to ensure there is enough length. If it’s too short, reverse the recovery vehicle back closer. You are looking at 6-9 feet of slack with the vehicles as in line as possible. Do a final check to ensure there are no twists in the snatch strap.
Attach the strap to the two vehicles by using a rated bow-shackle through the eyelets at either end. The bow of the shackle should be against the recovery point, with the strap eyelet lying against the pin.
All bystanders should be well out of the way.
Ensure that both vehicles involved in the recovery are able to communicate – timing is crucial in this type of recovery.
If a third person is able to coordinate, have them also in radio contact but standing well out of the way and off to the side.
The recovery vehicle drives slowly forward until the second vehicle can advise that all the slack has been taken up in the strap. Do NOT step over a snatch strap that is under tension.
Before any recovery is done, both drivers need to ensure – and this goes without saying – that they are both wearing their seatbelts. The force of the rebound can throw an unsuspecting driver into the steering wheel if they aren’t strapped in.
The stuck vehicle should be in first gear low range (in idle) and ready to drive out.
The recovery vehicle will move forward in low-range second gear at the ‘all ready, go’ signal of the driver in the bogged vehicle, via radio or hand signal. Excessive speed is dangerous, go as slow as you can but fast enough to give the snatch strap a chance to rebound.
The driver of the stuck vehicle should drive forward when they feel the jerk of the snatch strap pulling them. The vehicle will literally ‘pop’ out of the bogging.
Once the vehicle is free and able to drive forward, both vehicles can stop and be disconnected from the snatch strap.
If the vehicle does not come out after the first attempt, do not simply attempt another recovery at a higher speed. Instead, re-evaluate the stuck vehicle, and attempt to remove the obstacles that may be in its way. Also, consider lowering tire pressures on the stuck vehicle to give it more traction. Faster recoveries merely increase the ‘shock load’ on the recovery points. It’s this momentary spike in the load that causes the most damage.
Corolla Wild Horses Descended from the Spanish Mustangs brought to the Outer Banks by early explorers, the Corolla Wild Horses have roamed across the Currituck Outer Banks for approximately 400 years. These horses are such a significant cultural and historic resource to our area that the Spanish Mustang was designated as the official state horse of North Carolina in 2010.
These wild horses roam freely in Corolla and are most commonly found in the four-wheel-drive areas of the beach. It is illegal to intentionally come within 50 feet of the horses, so that means no petting or feeding.