The beaches of Hatteras Island are some of the most beautiful and unspoiled beaches in the entire United States, offering great views of wildlife, surf, and weather. Hiking along the beach never fails to provide unique experiences and discoveries, but have you ever considered driving on the beach for a new perspective? It's fun! And Hatteras Island is one of the few remaining stretch of beaches where driving is allowed. Driving on the beach takes a little planning and preparation, so here's a short 5-step primer to help you out.
1. Make sure you're driving the right kind of vehicle.
First of all, what kind of vehicle are you driving? It will need to be capable of off-road use in deep, soft sand. Four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive vehicles are best for driving on the beach. Two-wheel drive vehicles are not prohibited from driving on the beach, but you will be at a greater risk of getting stuck. The clearance of your vehicle is another point to consider: your tires will sink into the sand, so your vehicle should sit up high enough to not bottom out. If you're not confident your personal vehicle meets any of these criteria, no problem - there are a handful of beach vehicle rental companies who can help you out. Check out our Area Directory online with a few recommendations for beach vehicle rentals.
2. Get your beach driving permit.
You'll need a permit from the National Park Service to drive on the beach. There are two types of permits that you can purchase: (1) a ten-day permit for $50 or (2) a one-year permit for $120. The permits can be purchased online here or in-person at any one of the three area National Park Service visitor centers (Bodie Island Visitor Center and Lighthouse; Hatteras Island Visitor Center and Lighthouse; Ocracoke Island Visitor Center). In addition to your permit, you'll also need a map of the beach ramp access points - you can find a map online here or pick one up at the visitor center if you buy your permit in-person.
Once you have your permit and map, you can plan out where and when you want to go for your drive on the beach. Be sure to consider the weather, the time of day, the tides, and the Park's rules and regulations for driving on the beach. There are some seasonal closures that generally range from April 1-October 31 so be sure to visit the CHNS Facebook page for current beach ramp information. If you're an experienced beach driver, you might want to consider taking a night drive. Night driving is allowed on the beach generally from November 16-April 30 during limited hours, so do your homework and plan ahead.
4. Deflate your tires just before entering the beach.
After you reach the beach ramp where you want to begin your adventure, pull over and deflate your tires to ~20 PSI. Why? Because your tires will become wider and flatter, giving you better traction in soft sand. OK, you're now ready to go for a drive on one of the most beautiful beaches in the U.S. Take your time and enjoy the experience - go find a secluded spot for a picnic or for fishing, hiking or just hanging out and enjoying the scenery. But remember: you're sharing the beach, so drive cautiously, use good common sense, and steer clear of other vehicles, people, and/or especially wildlife. Watch out for protected bird and turtle nesting areas.
5. Re-inflate your tires and rinse off sand and salt.
When your drive is finished and you leave the beach, drive carefully to the nearest gas station and re-inflate your tires to their recommended pressure - the safety and control of your vehicle is dependent upon properly-inflated tires. And while you're at the gas station, take a moment to wash off the traces of sand and salt from your vehicle.
We hope you find this primer for driving on the beach helpful! If you have additional questions, the National Park Service has a FAQ page here or you can contact them by phone at 252-475-9054.
Drive safe, have fun, and go make some memories!