Off-road vehicles (ORVs) are one way for visitors to enjoy the ocean beaches and sound-side waters of Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Ramps all along the seashore provide access to the ocean and the sound. Access does change frequently during the breeding seasons of protected birds and sea turtles. To see the latest access information, check out the
The National Park Service (NPS) is managing ORV use with protection of important wildlife habitat and recreational interests. Use of ORVs within Cape Hatteras National Seashore requires a permit.
Getting a permit
Obtaining an ORV permit is an easy process that takes only minutes from start to finish. You can choose to visit an ORV office at Cape Hatteras National Seashore in person or you can visit the Cape Hatteras ORV Permit page at Recreation.gov. If you request a permit using the Recreation.gov website, you can choose to pick up the permit at an ORV office or have it mailed directly to you.
Cape Hatteras Light Station (46368 Lighthouse Road, Buxton, NC 27920)
Ocracoke Visitor Center (40 Irvin Garrish Highway, Ocracoke, NC 27960)
These offices are open seven days a week, year-round (except Christmas Day) from 8 am to 4:30 pm. Refer to the Designated Off-Road Vehicle Routes map to see the location of the permit offices, ramps, and other park amenities.
Two types of permits are available for purchase. They are
a 7-day Permit ($50, valid for 7 consecutive days),
or an Annual Permit ($120, valid for the calendar year).
Remember to keep the permit in the glove box of your permitted vehicle and the proof-of-permit sticker clearly visible on your windshield.
Here is the 7-minute educational video on off-road vehicle use in Cape Hatteras National Seashore. You can watch the video here, however you will still need to watch the entire video at the permit office when you go to get your permit (unless you have last year's permit).
Cape Hatteras National Seashore Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) Use Video SCENE 1. INTRODUCTION Welcome to Cape Hatteras National Seashore. We want you to have fun, be safe, and help protect this special place for generations to come. SCENE 2. PROTECTION OF PARK RESOURCES The National Park Service has developed an off road vehicle, otherwise known as ORV, management plan to preserve the unique plants and wildlife of this dynamic barrier island ecosystem, while permitting the use of vehicles on designated ORV routes. Portions of the beach designated for ORV use may be temporarily closed to ORVs to protect wildlife or rare plants. Shorebird nesting areas are posted as closed to all entry during the nesting period. This provides undisturbed areas for birds to nest and helps prevent the loss of eggs and chicks from disturbance or destruction by vehicles, people, or their pets. Other beach activities are also restricted during the shorebird and sea turtle nesting seasons. Here are key points you need to know, but be sure to read the regulations for all the details before you sign for your ORV permit. Drive only on officially designated and marked ORV routes and observe posted closures. Violations can result in a fine of up to $5,000, imprisonment of up to 6 months, and/or loss of your ORV permit. During the sea turtle nesting season, from May 1 to November 15, vehicles are prohibited on Seashore beaches from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. This reduces disturbance to nesting female turtles and protects emerging hatchlings. Some ORV routes may re-open to night driving after September 15 if there are no turtle nests in the area. From November 16 to April 30, vehicles are allowed on designated ORV routes 24-hours a day. Pets must be on a 6-foot leash at all times. Pets are prohibited within any resource protection closure or on the beach adjacent to prenesting closures. Beach fires require a free permit which can be obtained from any campground kiosk, ORV permit office, or visitor center, during normal operating hours. Remove all trash or litter from the beach. This includes bait, fish parts or dead fish. Trash attracts predators! Feeding wildlife (including gulls) is strictly prohibited! Kite flying, including kite board kites, and ball and Frisbee tossing are prohibited within or above the air space of any bird closure. Kites and Frisbees can scare birds off their nests, leaving eggs and chicks exposed to predators and deadly heat. Fireworks, metal detectors, jet skis and other motorized personal watercraft are prohibited. Camping on the beach is not permitted. Camp only in designated campgrounds. Following these National Park regulations will ensure that we are protecting this special place. SCENE 3. BE SAFE This is a beautiful place, but there are hazards you should be aware of. For instance, rip currents are powerful currents of water moving away from shore. They can sweep even the strongest swimmer out to sea. If caught in a rip current, don’t fight the current; swim parallel to shore out of the current, then to shore; if you can’t escape, float or tread water; if you need help, call or wave for assistance. Complying with the following the National Park Service ORV regulations will also protect lives and property. Pedestrians ALWAYS have the right-of-way! Slow to 5 mph when driving within 100 feet of a pedestrian anywhere on the beach. Watch for children and pets that may dart from between parked vehicles into traffic. The speed limit on park beaches is 15 mph, unless otherwise posted. When parked on the beach, leave room for two-way traffic to pass safely. Park along the shoreline in a single row of vehicles no more than one vehicle deep. Any law applicable to vehicle use on paved roads in the State of North Carolina also applies to ORV use at the Seashore. A current driver’s license, valid vehicle registration, insurance and license plates are required for all vehicles. All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and utility vehicles (UTVs) are prohibited. Open containers of any type of alcoholic beverage are prohibited in vehicles. Public consumption of spirituous liquors or fortified wines is prohibited. The use of seat belts is required. All passengers in the vehicle must be seated, including any passengers riding in the bed of a truck. Children in the truck bed must be accompanied by an adult. To report emergencies, call 911. To report violations or hazards, call the number printed on your copy of the ORV Registration. SCENE 4. HAVE FUN OK, so now you know the rules. Here are some beach driving tips to make your trip a good one: Use ONLY a four-wheel drive vehicle to drive on the beach. Two-wheel drive vehicles are allowed, but are VERY likely to get stuck in our soft sand. Lower the pressure on all tires and drive at a slow, steady speed. Generally, drive with no more than 20 lbs. of pressure in each tire; however, the softer the sand, the lower the pressure is needed. When you return to the paved road, re-inflate tires to normal pressure as soon as possible. Check the weather forecast and tide table chart before starting your trip. Pay attention to incoming tides. ORV routes may be impassible during periods of high tide. Before driving through any water, determine the depth and firmness of the underlying surface. Salt water is highly corrosive. It is recommended that you wash the vehicle after each outing, both the sheet metal and the undercarriage. Required Equipment includes a shovel, a low-pressure tire gauge, a jack and jack stand. Recommended Equipment includes a tow strap, a first aid kit, a full-sized spare tire, trash bags, a fire extinguisher, and, if you’re night driving, a flashlight. Park Rangers may assist you, but they are not permitted to pull or tow other vehicles. Commercial towing services are available. Refill holes and remove any boards or other aids after being stuck, leaving the beach passable for others. SCENE 5. CONCLUSION Thank you for taking the time to learn about Cape Hatteras National Seashore’s ORV regulations and guidelines. For current information, visit one of the Seashore visitor centers or go to www.nps.gov/caha where you can find current beach access maps. We hope you have a safe and enjoyable visit!
When going out onto the beaches with your vehicle, remember to take along the required equipment, which includes
a low-pressure tire gauge,
and a jack support board.
You might find these recommended items useful to take along as well:
a tow strap,
a first aid kit,
a full-sized spare tire,
a fire extinguisher,
and, if you are night driving, a flashlight.
Here are some additional resources regarding ORV use within Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
Lightning whelks eat about one large clam per month. The whelk pries the clam open with its muscular foot, wedges the clam open with its shell, then eats the soft inside of the clam.
Lightning whelk shells, which whorl to the left, wash up on the beach at Cape Hatteras National Seashore.