One thing remains a constant on the Outer Banks beaches — they are all free and open to the public from North to South – all 140 miles of them.
Beyond that commonality, you can really divide the beaches into two big categories: the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area, and everything else.
The first is the official name for the more than 70 miles of beach that run from South Nags Head to Ocracoke Island. The designation ensures the preservation of the area that includes Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, America’s Lighthouse, Jockey’s Ridge and several private communities. Along the way you’ll find picnic areas, lifesaving stations, opportunities for guided tours and designated camping areas. To the north of the national seashore are the quite popular towns of Duck, Corolla and Kill Devil Hills, and to the south, the more remote stretches of the Outer Banks, parts of which are only accessible by ferry.
Because the Outer Banks are barrier islands, they all can have strong surf and currents and rip tides. The southern part of the national seashore was long ago dubbed the “graveyard of the Atlantic” for its treacherous currents and storms. And North Carolina does play host sometimes to hurricanes. However, storms aside, the beaches are wide and uncluttered, the water is warm and the beach patrols are active and visible. Families with young children tend to opt for the more populated beaches of Duck, Kill Devil Hills, Corolla and Nags Head and other more populous towns simply because of access to more amenities. Check with local towns to identify the local regulations for off road vehicle permits and beach fires, and to secure permits.