Beach Driving

Surf fishermen with their vehicles.

NPS Photo/Carolyn Segrist


A vehicle can be a great way to reach a remote camping spot or to go surf fishing or shelling. But unless it is driven carefully, a vehicle can also cause damage to the environment. The required ORV Education Certificate helps beach drivers maintain a safe, beautiful seashore environment now & in the future. Please ride and drive responsibly so the park can continue to provide maximum recreation with minimal restriction.

Unlike other area beaches, Cape Lookout does not have any paved or hard-surface roads within its boundaries. All driving within the park is done on sand.


Driving Areas

Vehicles are allowed on two of the barrier islands that comprise Cape Lookout National Seashore: North Core Banks and South Core Banks. Both of these islands can only be reached by ferry. Contact the ferry directly for ferry rates and to make reservations.

Driving is allowed on the open oceanside beach, seaward of the dunes and down to the tide line as well as on the trail behind the dunes called the "back road." No vehicle may be driven on or over the dunes or on the soundside beach.

Sea Turtle Hatching Area Beach Closed to All Vehicles

NPS Photo/Brit Brown

During certain times of year, parts of the beach will be closed to vehicle traffic in order to protect bird and turtle nests. The protected areas and detours around the protected areas are marked.

Other areas will have reduced speed limits to allow visitors to spot and avoid bird chicks in the area.

There is a map in the Beach Driving brochure which shows ramps from the back road to the beach and permanent closures. Drivers are responsible for knowing where temporary wildlife protection zones are as well. Zone locations are updated on the park's Wildlife Protection Zone page and on the park's social media pages on Facebook and Twitter.

Read our Know Your Signs page to get better acquainted with these and other signs. Closures are enforced.

Off-Road Driving

Although Cape Lookout National Seashore allows vehicles to drive off-road, it is not an "off-road park." Driving is allowed as a means of transportation only and is restricted to the open oceanside beach seaward of the dunes and on marked trails. Speed limits are posted and enforced.

All drivers must obtain the free ORV Education Certificate and have the certificate decal on their vehicle before they can drive on the islands. The Education Certificate is available in the park at Great Island or Long Point cabin office. For more information on obtaining the free certificate and decal, check out the ORV Education Certificate page.


Licensing Requirements

All vehicles must have a current state-of-origin registration, safety inspection and valid license plate at all times (the same as if operating on North Carolina highways).

All drivers, including those operating an ATV, must be at least 16 years of age.

All drivers, including those operating an ATV, must possess a valid driver's license.


Types of Vehicles Allowed

Four-wheel drive is highly recommended for the islands as two-wheeled drive and all-wheel drive (AWD) vehicles are more easily stuck in the soft sand areas of the beach and sand trails. Even with a four-wheel drive vehicle, it is also advisable to lower the tire pressure to 20 psi or lower. See our tips on beach driving for more information.

All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and small utility vehicles (UTVs) can also be driven in the areas designated for vehicles. To ensure a safe and enjoyable visit to our beaches, check out the ATV riding rules before you come. These are enforced.

Motorcycles, including dirt bikes, are prohibited on all barrier islands within the park.

Long-term Parking

There are three public parking lots for vehicles being left for long periods on the islands: in the Long Point cabins (North Core Banks), Great Island cabins (South Core Banks), and Lighthouse Complex (South Core Banks) areas.

All vehicles, ATVs, and trailers left unattended for over 24-hours must be parked in an official, long-term parking area and have a valid Cape Lookout long-term parking permit.

Stuck in Sand
This vehicle, left below the high tide line, sank into the sand when the tide came in.


Park Rangers are here to assist you, but they are not permitted to pull or tow other vehicles.

You are responsible for any needed towing. Commercial towing services are extremely limited and very costly.

Most roadside assistance memberships do not cover problems in off-road areas. The beaches of Cape Lookout are definitely considered “off-road.”

See our tips for beach driving for information to help prevent these situations.

Last updated: February 16, 2019

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Mailing Address:

131 Charles St
Harkers Island, NC 28531


(252) 728-2250

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