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Beach Driving Information

Off-Road Vehicle Use in Cape Hatteras National Seashore from U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service.

The beaches of Cape Hatteras National Seashore are attracting more visitors every year. One form of recreation that is increasing in popularity is beach driving. Driving on the dunes, however, has disastrous effects, leaving the dunes bare to the winds and leading to eventual dune destruction. Off-road vehicle users can help ensure that this fragile ecosystem remains healthy and strong with attractive stretches of beach available for beach driving by following the regulations and guidelines listed below.
Off-Road Driving Regulations*
Avoid Damaging Vegetation:

  • Enter and leave the beach only at designated numbered ramps.
  • Drive only on that portion of the beach which lies between the foot of the dunes and the ocean.
  • Do not drive on or between the dunes, except on marked ORV routes.
  • Drive only on marked ORV routes west of NC Highway 12 (soundside).

Drive Safely:

  • The speed limit is 25 mph on all beaches. Proceed with due caution and have consideration for other beach users. Seat belts are required for all front seat occupants and recommended for rear seat passengers.
  • Beach pedestrians ALWAYS have the right-of-way. Drive slowly and detour around people lying, standing or walking on the beach. Watch for fishing lines.
  • Avoid overloading your vehicle with people. Do not allow your passengers to sit on the tailgate or rooftop, or otherwise stand or hang outside your vehicle.
  • No open containers of alcoholic beverages allowed in moving vehicles.
  • No public consumption, display or possession of spirituous liquor or fortified wine is allowed in the park.

Help to Conserve the Beach and its Wildlife:

  • Be alert for and obey signs which indicate areas closed to ORV use.
  • Do not drive or walk in posted bird nesting areas.
  • Do not drive or walk in posted turtle nesting areas.
  • Pets are required to be on a six-foot leash when on the beach and elsewhere in the park.
  • If you carry it in, carry it OUT. Dispose of trash properly, including fish parts and dead fish. Help keep the beach clean.
  • Fish caught and not used should be returned to the water alive.

Observe Vehicle Licensing Requirements:

  • All vehicles, including ATV's, must have a current state-of-origin registration and valid license plate.
  • The operator must have a current driver's license.
  • * All regulations listed above are National Park Service regulations and carry a maximum fine of $500 and/or six (6) months imprisonment for violations.

* All regulations listed above are National Park Service regulations and carry a maximum fine of $500 and/or six (6) months imprisonment for violations.
Guidelines for Beach Driving:

  • Check weather forecast and tide tables before starting your trip. Ask a ranger about current, constantly changing beach conditions.
  • Carry the following equipment: shovel, tire pressure gauge, first-aid kit, spare tire, tow rope (at least 14 feet long with a load strength of 20,000 pounds), litter bag, fire extinguisher, flashlight, and bumper jack (with sturdy board to support jack).
  • Two-wheel-drive vehicles are not recommended for beach driving due to lack of adequate tire traction.
  • Rangers are here to assist you, but they are not permitted to pull or tow other vehicles. Commercial towing services are limited and costly.
  • Lower pressure in all tires to a recommended 20-25 pounds; the softer the sand, the lower the pressure needed for better flotation. Inflate tires to normal pressure as soon as possible after leaving the beach. Low tire pressure can affect vehicle braking and maneuverability on paved roads.
  • Excessive speed endangers you, your vehicle, and others using the beach. Experienced beach drivers know that a slow, steady pace and correct tire pressure are more effective than speed. If wheels start to spin, back up in your tire tracks for several car lengths. Accelerate slowly as you move forward. Sudden moves are your worst enemy.
  • Slow down and allow additional space when passing or meeting other vehicles, since steering on sand can be difficult.
  • Before driving through water, determine in advance its depth and the firmness of its underlying surface. Remember that salt water is highly corrosive.

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