Schlepping coolers, beach chairs, and umbrellas over the dunes only sitting shoulder to shoulder on a postage stamp of sand? Nah. If you have a 4×4 and are headed to the Outer Banks in NC, definitely plan on checking out one of the several 4×4-access beaches. Here’s what you need to know:
Which Beaches can I drive on?
There are multiple options in the Outer Banks during the summer – working from North to South:
- Carova: To get to the Carova Beach area, you basically just drive north on Highway 12 on the Outer Banks past Corolla until it ends, and keep driving on the sand. The drivable beach extends for many miles, and you can even rent houses up there that are 4×4 access only.
- South Nags Head: Take an immediate left after passing the entrance to the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center south of Nags Head. While not as big of a drivable stretch as Carova, this access (Coquina Beach) is very popular and definitely a fun place to hang out.
- Hatteras Island: Access here can vary (there are multiple access points) and the NPS Facebook Page is the best place to find out which ramps and sections of beach are open.
- Ocracoke: South of Cape Hatteras and only accessible by Ferry, Ocracoke is quiet, has a ton of drivable beach, and is just an awesome place to spend time. Even if you are staying elsewhere in the OBX, it is worth a day trip. Similar to above, access can vary and is updated on the NPS Facebook Page (but normally open in the summer).
Do I need a Permit?
For Carova, No. For all of the other beaches, which are part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, YES. Weekly passes run $50 and annual passes are $120. Both are available online here.
Any tricks to driving on the sand?
Yeah, a couple. The main one is to AIR DOWN. Please, don’t be the idiot that gets stuck ~50 feet from the ramp with 40psi in your tires and end up on Oregon Inlet Idiots. I tend to drop to 20PSI, and at those levels, I’ve never had a problem driving in 4-Hi on the beach, even in soft, rutted sand.
Even so, best to maintain forward momentum when possible (~5-10 mph) when the sand is deep and rutted. I’d also recommend bringing a shovel, jack, and jack platform at a minimum so you can self-recover if you start to dig in.
See you on the beach!