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!
Awesome posts! I’m just starting to get into off-roading now that I have a ’16 4runner TE. If you don’t mind, can you tell me who did the builds for your rig? Thank you
Most of the work has been done by Main Line Overland and Forge Specialties. Both are excellent shops that we don’t hesitate to recommend. If you’re looking for more details, shoot me an e-mail and I’d be happy to help you out.
Don’t forget to disable traction control if you have it before hitting the sand.
You can camp and drive on the beach at Cape Lookout National Seashore, but you have to take a private ferry across from Davis (not the pedestrian ferry from Harkers Island). There’s always some beach closure for the turtles or the plovers, but there’s a sand path that’s drive-able back behind the first row of dunes. Camping on the Core Banks is pretty awesome, so long as the weather holds! We’ve had it both ways… awesome, clear, sunny weather with the beach all to yourself… and nor’easters with 3ft of floodwater behind the dunes and 6ft bow waves in front of the truck. Which… I guess is awesome too, but in a completely different way.
I’ve changed to Corova/Corrolla beach access since it’s free. Water is still nice and there are typically good beach neighbors to meet and play cornhole with. We either sit facing the waves or turn around and enjoy watching some cool and interesting people/4×4’s drive by. Exploring the neighborhoods in Corova is a lot of fun too. There are typically a few water holes to forge also.
Maybe an unofficial DRT Beach Trip could be coordinated? I believe there is a state campground next to the Oregon Inlet entrance, but nothing on North 12 unfortunately. Frisco also has a state campground along with a private one which are both nice. Beach fishing is fun too.