The islands of the Outer Banks are a haven for nature enthusiasts and outdoor adventurers alike. With wide open beaches bordering the Atlantic side of the islands and coastal marshes bordering the sound side of the islands, OBX supports a diverse array of sightseeing and activities.
Enjoy all of this—and so much more—at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. A Dare County landmark and absolute ‘must’ for history and nature buffs, learn more about what makes this national park so special and about all of the exciting things to do for families and visitors of any age.
About Jockey’s Ridge State Park
Founded in 1975, Jockey’s Ridge State Park is a top destination for beach lovers and sightseers alike and one of the Outer Banks’ most treasured natural wonders. Located in Nags Head
Home to the tallest living sand dune along the Atlantic coast (which reaches heights of over 60 feet!), the park is a premier spot for hang gliding, flying kites, nature watching, hiking, sunbathing, and some of the best sunsets in OBX. The state park also offers a full visitor center, on-site ecological museum, public picnic shelters, and 360-foot boardwalk with exhibits that explain the dune’s unique history.
The expansive park covers over 425 acres and extends from the Roanoke Sound side of the island all the way to the Croatian Highway on the Atlantic Ocean side of the island. Because of the unique Carolina coastal location, the park supports three unique ecosystems: the maritime forest, the dune system, and the Roanoke Sound system.
The park is located at 300 W Carolista Dr, Nags Head, NC 27959.
The park is open daily from 8 a.m. – 9 p.m. — though hours change seasonally so be sure to check in advance.
You can learn more by calling (252) 441-7132 or by visiting the official park website at https://www.ncparks.gov/jockeys-ridge-state-park/home.
Living Sand Dunes
It is estimated that the dunes at Jockey’s Ridge were formed 3000 – 4000 years ago. The dunes likely served as an important landmark and navigation aide for mariners. Today, the dunes act collectively as a huge sponge. Only the top 6 inches of the dunes remain dry and able to shift and drift with the wind; the rest is wet from pulling water from the underlying water table, which helps the dunes maintain their impressive shape and size.
Technically speaking, the dunes are an example of what is called a ‘medano’, which refers to a large hill of shifting sands that lacks vegetation and wildlife. Though the coastal and marsh ends of the park support an array of plant and animal life, the sand dunes are vast and empty.
In 1973, portions of the dunes were slated to be completely flattened to make way for residential development. However, a woman named Carolista Baum started a movement that ultimately saved the dunes. By 1974, the dunes were declared a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service, and the park opened to the public in 1975.
Jockey’s Ridge State Park Activities
There’s plenty to see and do at Jockey’s Ridge State Park! From hiking coastal trails to zooming down the dunes, check out these top park activities.
As a general rule, shoes are recommended at all times to protect your feet from sand spurs and the hot sand. Sand temperatures can reach up to 30 degrees hotter than the air temperature.
The year-round prevailing winds position Jockey’s Ridge as a premier destination for hang gliding. Fly the same skies as some of history’s most famous pilots—the Wright brothers—who helped make North Carolina the birthplace of modern aviation.
Hang gliding, or paragliding, is a recreational air sport in which a person flies a non-motorized, foot-launched aircraft called a hang glider. Think of it like flying through the air while harnessed to a large, structured kite. With proper instruction, hang gliding is very safe and appropriate for both children and adults.
For park safety reasons, solo hang gliders must hold a USHPA Hang 1 or other agency-approved rating. If you aren’t an avid hand glider and are more curious about getting started, don’t fret. Kitty Hawk Kites offers on-site hang gliding lessons and excursions. Adventures start at only $99 with a variety of options for guests of all ages and experience levels. We promise you’ll get the hang of it in no time!
If hang gliding is a little too much adventure, try a more down to Earth (literally)—kite flying. The park is a great spot for this easy and affordable hobby. Pack your own gear or take a professional kite flying lesson (equipment included!) with Kitty Hawk Kites. Lessons are 1.5 – 2 hours in length and teach students how to launch, loop, steer, dive, and land a framed stunt kite. How cool is that? Kite lessons will only set you back $50 per person.
Sandboarding and Sand Sledding
You’ve likely heard of snowboarding and snow sledding… now apply that same concept to sand, and you’ve got sandboarding and sand sledding! Gracefully slide down the largest sand dunes on the east coast with this fun and freeing activity. All you’ll need is good gear and plenty of wax, which you can source yourself or rent on-site through Kitty Hawk Kites. The special wax provided reduces friction and will help you glide effortlessly down the dunes. Be prepared to get sandy (very sandy!) and to hike back up the dunes as there is no lift or shuttle to transport you back to the top of the dunes. Equipment rentals start at only $25 for a half day and $40 for a full day rental.
The park presents a great location for casual coastal hiking with three unique options for explorers. Hit the boardwalk for a short (0.7 mile one way), scenic trek to the ocean. You’ll have partial views of the dunes and front row views of live oak trees, ephemeral pools, and coastal marshes. For a challenge, explore the tracks in the sand trail, a self-guided walk with educational displays along the way. This moderate hike through the sand is a 1.2 mile loop with plenty to see and do along the way. Finally, for a quick and easy trek, try the soundside nature trail. This picturesque hike is a speedy 0.60 mile loop that winds through the park’s maritime shrub thicket.
Tip: Be on the lookout for fulgurites—glass tubes that are naturally formed when lightning hits the sand.
What could be more fun than a beach picnic? Pack a lunch or grab lunch to-go from one of the area’s great local restaurants and head over to the park for dining al fresco. The park offers a free parking lot, several public picnic shelters, which are available via reservations or first come-first serve, and restroom facilities.
Tip: Looking for great takeout? Check out Sooey’s BBQ, Village Pizza, Tortouga’s Lie, Waveriders Deli, or Duck Donuts—an OBX staple.