Driving on the beach is allowed in many areas of Cape Hatteras National Seashore. However, the National Park Service (NPS) requires visitors to have an off-road vehicle (ORV) permit to operate a vehicle on designated ORV routes at the Seashore. ORV permits and route maps can be obtained at any of the three NPS permit offices located at the Bodie Island Visitor Center, the Hatteras Island Visitor Center (Buxton), and the Ocracoke Visitor Center. These offices are open year-round, seven days a week (except Christmas Day), from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with expanded hours on weekends and holidays during the summer season. Check here for ORV use information at Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
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. Permits can also be purchased and printed online at recreation.gov (search for Cape Hatteras ORV).
You can access the beach by vehicle at one of several sand ramps along the island. Be sure to read any signage concerning beach driving. There are also several soundside off-road-vehicle trails listed on the maps. Driving on the ocean beach or the soundside trails can be very convenient, especially for anglers looking for the perfect spot to fish. It’s also nice for families to be able to park and spend the day at the water’s edge. The speed limit on the beach is 15 mph unless otherwise posted. Pets are allowed on the beach but must be on a 6-foot leash at all times.
Four-wheel-drive vehicles are an absolute necessity when driving in sand. You’ll certainly be the subject of derisive snickering if you attempt it in a two-wheel-drive car and get stuck. But even four-wheel-drive vehicles get stuck from time to time. If you’re going to attempt driving in sand, it is strongly recommended to lower the air pressure in your tires to at least 20 psi for better traction in the sand. Try to follow in the tracks of vehicles that were there before you, and try to maintain a steady pace in the softer, deeper sand. If you do get stuck, a fellow off-roader will usually help you out. If not, call Cape Point Exxon Towing Service in Buxton at (252) 995-5695.
There may be beach-driving closures in effect to protect the breeding birds and turtle nests, so the areas of closed beaches vary greatly depending on where the birds and turtles decide to breed and nest each season. To protect nesting sea turtles, night driving is not allowed on any Cape Hatteras National Seashore beaches between May 1 and September 14. From November 16 to April 30, ORV routes are open to night driving 24 hours a day with a valid ORV permit. For the current status of Seashore ramp and routes, click here. The Seashore’s Facebook page is updated daily during the summer months, so it is the best source of current information. If you don’t have access to the web, call the Outer Banks Group Headquarters at (252) 473-2111.