Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area

There’s nothing quite like a day at the beach, and with over 70 miles of National Seashore spanning from Oregon Inlet to the Southern tip of Ocracoke Island, the Outer Banks offers plenty of opportunities to explore the sand and get your feet wet in the cool ocean waves. Because the beaches of Hatteras Island  are located in a National Park, there are a few guidelines and rules that you should know before you kick off your flip flops and head to the beach. Find them online at http://www.nps.gov/caha/index.htm.

Pets on the Beach

Dogs are allowed on Hatteras Island beaches as long as they are kept on a 6 foot leash. The National Park Service will issue a ticket for an unleashed dog. Please always clean up after your pet. 

Beware of Rip Currents

Rip currents or rip tides are created by breaks in a sandbar offshore and are very dangerous. Rip currents are channels of water, usually 10-50 ft. wide that pull out into the ocean.

If you find yourself stuck in a rip current, the most important thing to remember is not to panic. DO NOT try to swim back to the shore as a rip current is very powerful and you may become exhausted trying to fight it. Instead, swim PARALLEL to the shore in either direction until you are no longer stuck in the rip current. Then you can begin swimming back to shore.

Remember for ocean rescue or any other emergency, always dial 911. Be sure to make note of which street or ramp you are near in case of emergency. 

Surf Fishing

North Carolina State law regulates fishing within the National Seashore. Limits, seasons and licensing requirements are set by the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF). Size and limit sheets can also be found at most local tackle shops. You will need a North Carolina Recreational Fishing License to surf fish on the Outer Banks, which can easily be obtained at local tackle stores or via the NCDMF website.

Bonfires on the Beach

Bonfires on the beach can be fun way to enjoy an evening with the family. The Park Service allows beach bonfires as long as the following rules are observed:

Cape Hatteras National Seashore campfire

  • Obtain a free Beach Fire Permit from one of our Surf or Sound Realty offices. You may also obtain a permit from a park campground or park visitor’s center. All beach fires require a permit.
  • Small beach fires (less than 3 feet in diameter) are allowed between 6am and 10pm on any beach area between Nov. 16 and April 30.
  • Between May 1 and Nov. 15, beach fires are only allowed in front of the villages, at Coquina Beach or Ocracoke day use area. Fires must be less than 3 feet in diameter.
  • The fire must be below the high tide line.
  • The fire must be attended by an adult.
  • The fire must be completely extinguished before you leave the site.
  • Please do not put anything into the fire that will not burn completely (i.e., cans, bottles, etc.) This is considered littering and is subject to severe fine.

Leave No Trace

At the end of each day, remove your belongings from the beach. This includes umbrellas, chairs, canopies, etc. The National Seashore has a regulation prohibiting these items from being left on the beach overnight. The Park Service might remove items left on the beach and impose a fine.  

Please also fill in any holes dug in the beach before you leave for the day as they pose danger to passers-by, emergency vehicles and wildlife.

Off Road Vehicle (ORV) Access on Hatteras Island

Off-road vehicles (ORVs) are welcome on many of Hatteras Island’s beaches. As of February 2012 permits are now required for driving on the beach. The cost is $50 for one week or $120 for one year (calendar year) per vehicle.

New for 2016, permits can be acquired online and printed at home to begin using immediately.

You can also obtain a permit in-person at the park service visitor's centers at the Bodie Island Lighthouse, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in Buxton or the Ocracoke Island Visitor Center.

For more information about permits visit: http://www.nps.gov/caha/planyourvisit/permitsandreservations.htm#ORV

To purchase a permit online visit: http://www.recreation.gov/wildernessAreaDetails.do?page=detail&contractCode=NRSO&parkId=70853

Here are some helpful tips to driving on the beach:

  • Drive on marked ORV routes and comply with all posted restrictions.
  • Use only designated beach access ramps and sound-side access roads to enter the designate ORV routes.
  • While most of the beach remains open for pedestrian traffic, please keep an eye out for any closures that have been posted by the park service. These closures can change daily. Please call the park service at (252) 473-2111 or visit http://www.nps.gov/caha/planyourvisit/off-road-vehicle-use.htm for the most current information.
  • Please obey the beach speed limit of 15 mph unless otherwise posted.
  • Lower the air pressure in your tires to under 20 psi. 
  • Follow the "tracks" in the sand made by other drivers.
  • Do not drive through the surf, as salt water can harm your vehicle
  • Do not drive through the dunes and vegetation.
  • If you get stuck, do not spin your tires. Use a shovel and wooden boards to get yourself out, or call a local towing company.

Fireworks

Fireworks are prohibited on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. According to local ordinance, it is against the law to possess or set off any fireworks on Hatteras Island.

Miscellaneous

• Distilled liquor and fortified wine are prohibited in the park. Open containers are not allowed in vehicles.
• The use of small metal detectors is prohibited in the National Seashore.
• Camping is allowed in designated campgrounds only. There is no camping allowed on the National Seashore, including the beaches, soundside and maritime forests.

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