One of the first things you’ll come to quickly realize about the Outer Banks is how diverse the beaches are. There are over 100 miles of shoreline in Dare County connected by the legendary coastal two-lane highway NC 12. Depending on your personal preference, you can find public beach accesses with ample paved parking, modern bath houses and nearby beach convenience shops, or you can immerse yourself in the natural or even primitive beaches of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore best accessible by a 4×4 off-road vehicle. The choice is yours.
Outer Banks Accessible Beaches
Everyone can enjoy the beaches and fishing that have made the Outer Banks a world-famous destination. See OuterBanks.org for complete listing of organizations that provide adaptive equipment for beach access and fishing; subject to availability.
Click the individual pins below to see the features of each beach access.
(features: lifeguard, handicap and general parking available, bath house, wood walkway)
Tips For Staying Safe At The Beach
Exposure to the Sun
Enjoying the sunshine means also being aware of the dangers of prolonged exposure to the sun. Proper and regular application of sunscreen to exposed skin will help protect your skin from sunburn and sun damage. Remember to reapply sunscreen every time you get out of the water.
Rip currents are channeled currents of water that flow away from shore, and can quickly pull even the strongest swimmers out to sea. Since the current flows under water, it’s important to know the signs of a rip current and avoid the water in that area.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), indicators of rip currents include:
- A channel of churning, choppy water.
- Notable differences in water color.
- Lines of foam, seaweed or debris moving steadily seaward.
- A break in the incoming wave pattern.
Check the National Weather Service Surf Zone Forecasts for the latest rip current, high and low tide and surf height information. You’ll want to check the Outer Banks regional forecast.
Flags on public beaches also indicate rip current alerts: green for low hazard and calm conditions, yellow for medium hazard with moderate surf conditions, and red for high hazard with rough conditions indicating rip currents. Be sure to look for flags on lifeguard stations and read the sign keys when arriving at the beach.
If you see warning signs of rip currents or moderate or high hazard flags, stay out of the water and alert others to do the same. If caught in a rip current, you should stay calm to conserve energy and allow yourself to think clearly. Don’t try to fight the current. Instead, swim out in a direction following the shoreline and swim toward shore once you’re out of the current.
Beach Warning Flags
Watch for flags posted at many beach access sites signifying water conditions.
The Outer Banks welcomes several million guests annually and many of these people enjoy our shores and waters. For travelers who prefer swimming on beaches with lifeguard stations, see chart below.
Be attentive to any weather-related watches or warnings issued by the National Weather Service or local authorities, and follow carefully any precautionary directions or evacuation notices from public safety officials. When thunderstorms or lightning threaten, seek cover promptly in a large enclosed building, or if not possible, an enclosed metal vehicle. The National Weather Service recommends waiting 30 minutes until after the last thunder crack before returning to the beach. You can always get the latest on tropical storm forecasts from the National Hurricane Center.
Visit OuterBanks.org for more great information or to start planning your OBX vacation!