Outer Banks Beach Driving Tips
Please Note: an ORV Special Use Permit is required to drive on the beaches of Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Ocracoke Island.
The special regulation requires visitors to have an ORV special use permit to operate a vehicle on the designated ORV routes at the seashore. ORV permits can be obtained beginning February 15th at any of the three NPS permit offices located at Coquina Beach, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Visitor Center (Buxton), and the Ocracoke Visitor Center. These offices will be open year-round, seven days a week (except Christmas Day), from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with expanded hours on weekends and holidays during the summer season. The cost of an annual ORV permit (valid for the calendar year) is $120. The cost for a 7-day ORV permit (valid from the date issued) is $50.
Driving an off-road vehicle (ORV) on the beach can be fun and adventurous, but where beach driving is permitted, there are general rules to follow:
- The Standard speed limit is 25mph;
- enter and leave the beach only at designated, open ramps - never between or on the dunes;
- drive only on that portion of the beach which lies between the foot of the dunes and the ocean;
- DO NOT Drive through the salt water -- it will cause damage to your vehicle
- heed all park service signs and notices of restricted areas
- proceed with caution and consideration for other beach users;
- DO NOT attempt to feed or get close to wild horses on the beach
- open containers of alcohol are prohibited in vehicles;
- your vehicle must have a state road registration and valid license plate;
- the operator must have a current driver's license.
Tips for Beach Driving
When pulling into the access ramp you should decrease the air pressure in your tires to 20-25 pounds. In softer sand you may need to go lower. When you lower the air pressure it gives the tire a wider, softer foot print which causes the vehicle to ride higher on top of the sand instead of digging down into it. This also helps to reduce the amount of strain on the engine since you're rolling on top of the sand and not plowing through it. Be sure to inflate your tires when returning to the roadway. Driving with underinflated tires can be dangerous.
Drive at a slow, even pace. The maximun speed limit on all beaches is 25 MPH. Trying to take off too fast will cause loss of traction and bury you to the axle. If this happens, it's time to break out the jack and shovel.
Try to stay in the grooves made by other vehicles unless they are deep enough to let you bottom out. The sand in these grooves is more compact than other sand.
Avoid pea gravel beds (small stones usually orange in color.) These are the Outer Banks version of quick sand to vehicles.
Avoid areas of the beach that may be impassable at times of high tide unless you plan to stay at the spot until the next low tide.
Park above the high tide line if possible, but be cautious not to block other vehicles.
In the event that you do lose traction, DO NOT spin your wheels to try to dig out of it. It only takes a couple of pumps on the gas to sink you down to your axle. The best solution is to decrease your tire pressure, shift to low range and back out of the rut you came in on before trying to proceed.
Don't drive between parked vehicles and the shoreline (except in the area north of Corolla where the road to Carova Beach is on the beach itself and the traffic lane is between the ocean and any parked vehicles. The speed limit for this area is 25)
Items to Bring With You
- Tow Strap or Rope (at least 14' long with a load strength of 20,000 lbs.)
- Tire Pressure Guage
- Bumper Jack
- Board sufficient to support base of jack (otherwise the jack may sink in the sand)
- First Aid Kit