Cape Lookout National Seashore

Off-Road Driving
Page 4 of 6   |  

The Core Banks provide recreational opportunities to thousands of visitors each year, but they are also a fragile barrier island system that is extremely susceptible to damage, particularly from vehicles driven over dunes and vegetation. A network of approved roads has been developed that protects the islands without limiting visitor mobility. Traveling outside these roads destroys vegetation, causes dune erosion, and endangers sea turtles and nesting birds. Please help us preserve the park for all visitors by obeying park regulations for off-road vehicle use.


All vehicles, ATVs, and trailers left unattended for over 24 hours must be parked in an official parking area and have a valid Cape Lookout vehicle permit. Permits are available Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., at the Park Headquarters on Harkers Island. Call (919) 728-2250 for more information.

Vehicles must meet all state license end safety requirements, and must display a valid state inspection sticker.

All drivers must possess a valid driver's license.

Drive only on the ocean side of dunes, on officially marked roads, and in parking areas. Driving over dunes, vegetation, sand flats, illegal tracks, and the sound side of the islands is prohibited.

The speed limit is 15 miles per hour within 100 feet of cabin areas or visitors; otherwise the limit is 35 miles per hour.

Open alcoholic beverage containers are illegal in moving vehicles. Never drink and drive.

Driving in turtle and bird enclosures is prohibited. Please obey the detour signs around these areas—do not drive on any portion of the beach, regardless of tide level.

Hints for Off-Road Driving

Four-wheel drive is highly recommended for beach driving, because two-wheel drive vehicles often get stuck on the sandy beaches. Remember: You are responsible for towing, which often costs several hundred dollars.

Carry an off-road kit. We suggest including a tire pressure gauge, first aid kit, shovel, spare tire, air pump, tow rope, jack with base support board, extra boards (for traction), water (since vehicles quickly overheat on the sand), and a fire extinguisher.

Lower the pressure in all tires before you drive onto the sand; 1520 psi usually works best. Remember to reinflate your tires as soon as possible after returning to paved roads.

Drive slowly and be alert for people walking or lying on the beach.

Don't forget to check the weather and tide table before your trip, as some portions of the beach are impassable at high tide and during bad weather.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Apr 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


park finder
step one
Where are you going?

step one
What do you want to do?

+ More Activities

GEARZILLA: The Gorp Gear Blog

Receive Gear Reviews, Articles & Advice

Preview this newsletter »

Ask Questions