With more than 200 miles of seashore stretching along the shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean to the east as well as the Currituck, Roanoke and Pamlico sounds to the west, the Outer Banks of North Carolina offers something for everyone to enjoy—including the four-legged members of your family. From the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in Buxton and the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills to Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head and the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge on the northern tip of Hatteras Island, you’ll find dozens of pet-friendly Outer Banks attractions that welcome your furry friend to tag along on your adventures.
If you wouldn’t dream of leaving your four-legged family members at home while you spend your summer vacation on the barrier islands, be sure to scope out the following dog-friendly places on the Outer Banks the next time you visit:
Jockey’s Ridge State Park
Stretching 100 feet into the sky and covering a 420-acre area along the shores of the Roanoke Sound in Nags Head, Jockey’s Ridge is the tallest “living” sand dune system in the eastern United States. The colossal mound of sand that makes up this popular state park is best-known for providing a prime spot for outdoor adventurers to take to the air while hang-gliding down from the top of the ridge. But hang-gliding isn’t the only form of outdoor recreation Jockey’s Ridge has to offer.
The park comprises three unique ecosystems—the sand dunes, a maritime thicket and an estuary at the edge of the sound—which are home to a wide array of native species of wildlife. Leash up your four-legged friend and go for a hike along one of the three self-guided nature trails that weave through the scenic parklands. During your journey you’ll have the chance to spoteverything from white-tailed deer and red foxes to raccoons, luna moths and six-lined racerunner lizards.
Pet rules in Jockey’s Ridge State Park: Dogs are permitted throughout Jockey’s Ridge State Park, with the exception of inside the buildings. Dogs must be on a leash at all times, and leashes should not be longer than 6 feet. Learn more about Jockey’s Ridge State Park here.
Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve
Another must-visit dog-friendly Outer Banks attraction located within the oceanside community of Nags Head is the Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve. Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the busy beaches, this hidden gem boasts 1,400 acres of maritime forest, sand dunes and saltmarshes just waiting to be explored by you and your furry family members. The Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve was established in the 1970s when area conservationists came to the realization that the vast majority of land on the barrier islands was undergoing massive development to accommodate the booming tourism industry on the beaches of the Outer Banks.
In 1974, the Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve was designated as a National Natural Landmark, guaranteeing the forever protection of the unique series of ecosystems it encompasses and the assortment of wildlife that call the confines of the preserve home. This unspoiled natural area—which lies along the shoreline of the Roanoke Sound on the western side of the island—is bordered by Jockey’s Ridge State Park to the south and Run Hill State Natural Area to the north. Visitors can traverse the park via seven marked nature trails, each of which winds its way through the lush maritime forest, over the rolling sand dunes and past a series of freshwater ponds. While you’re hiking, keep an eye out for the more than 50 species of birds, 15 species of amphibians, 30 species of reptiles, 50 species of butterflies and 550 species of plant life that make up this one-of-a-kind ecological preserve.
Pet rules in the Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve: All dogs much be on a leash at all times, and leashes must not exceed 6 feet in length. Leashed pets are permitted on trails 4, 5, 6 and 7. Learn more about the Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve here.
Wright Brothers National Memorial
The Outer Banks of North Carolina are famous for being the site upon which an array of historic events have taken place over the years. From the mysterious disappearance of the Lost Colony in the 16th century to the spot where the infamous pirate named Blackbeard met his demise, the barrier islands are brimming landmarks and attractions that highlight the area’s rich history. But perhaps the most significant historic event to ever occur on the Outer Banks was the world’s first powered flight, achieved by brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright on Dec. 17, 1903.
Situated in the heart of Kill Devil Hills, the Wright Brothers National Memorial pays homage to the unprecedented achievement and the pair who forever altered the world of aviation well over a century ago. When you visit the site you’ll discover an enormous monument that sits atop a huge hill in the middle of the park, as well as a visitors center, a series of exhibits and the “flight line” that shows the landing spots along the path where the Wright Brothers attempted several flights that day before finally reaching success with the fourth. If you’re feeling a bit adventurous, leash up your dog and head up the hill to the base of the monument overlooking the memorial grounds. From here you’ll enjoy stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the Roanoke Sound to the west and the town that stretches out below.
Pet rules at the Wright Brothers National Memorial: Pets are permitted on the grounds of the Wright Brothers National Memorial but not inside any buildings. Pets must be on a leash at all times, and leashes must not exceed 6 feet in length.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
When it comes to the best beaches in the United States, nothing can compare with the Outer Banks of North Carolina. And if you’re searching for wide expanses of sandy shoreline, windswept sand dunes topped with sea oats, uncrowded and undeveloped beaches, and scenery that is unmatched by anywhere else on the East Coast, be sure to check out the area’s crown jewel: the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Extending more than 70 miles from South Nags Head and Hatteras Island to the southernmost tip of Ocracoke Island, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore encompasses nearly 25,000 acres of preserved and protected natural habitats. along the sea and sound. Whether you explore the national seashore by boat, bicycle, kayak, car or on foot, you’ll have the chance to enjoy a wealth of activities including kiteboarding, surfing, swimming, fishing, crabbing, shell-hunting, wildlife-watching, sightseeing and so much more.
The Cape Hatteras National Seashore is also home to one of the most iconic landmarks in the country: the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Built in 1803 and standing 210 feet tall, the structure is the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States and has served as a navigational aid that has helped mariners to safely navigate the constantly shifting diamond shoals off the coast of Cape Hatteras for centuries. For an unforgettable Outer Banks experience, climb all 257 steps to the top of the lighthouse to take in the spectacular 360-degree views of the Atlantic Ocean, Pamlico Sound and surrounding villages below.
When your climb is complete, leash up your dog and venture south toward Cape Point via the pristine stretch of seashore that is commonly referred to as “Buxton beach.” Here you’ll find the spot where the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse originally stood—before it was moved farther inland in 1999 in an effort to save it from falling into the sea—as well as unparalleled opportunities for spotting wildlife, finding seashells and simply enjoying a leisurely stroll along one of the most beautiful barrier island beaches in the entire world with your four-legged friend.
Pet rules for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore: Pets are welcome along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, but are prohibited inside any marked closures (such as bird and sea turtle nesting areas) and inside buildings. Pets must remain on a leash at all times, and leashes must not exceed 6 feet.
**Stay tuned to our next blog to discover the many dog-friendly restaurants on the Outer Banks of North Carolina!