Beach Driving Permit

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3 minutes, 49 seconds

Information on safely driving on the beaches and sand trails of the barrier islands within Cape Lookout National Seashore. This video must be viewed as part of obtaining an ORV driving permit for the barrier islands within the park.

 

Bringing your vehicle to the beach this season? Don’t forget to purchase your ORV (Off-Road Vehicle) permit! ORV permits must be purchased online through Recreation.gov.

The permit is valid for the calendar year and is required for driving on both North Core Banks and South Core Banks. The upcoming season runs from mid-March through December 31. Permits purchased on or before March 15, 2023 will cost $25.00. Beginning on March 16, 2023, the permits will cost $50.00. If you purchase your permit between January 1st, and February 28th, your ORV decal will be mailed to you. For permits purchased after March 1st ,you must show your printed permit to a Park Ranger upon arrival to North or South Core Banks to receive your ORV decal. Each vehicle must have its own permit and decal. The printed permit must be stored in the vehicle while it is on the islands. The ORV decal must be displayed on the driver's side top corner of the vehicle windshield or on the driver's side front fender of an ATV/UTV. Managing off-road driving at Cape Lookout National Seashore through the use of permits helps protect important wildlife habitat and recreational interests. The cost of the ORV permits directly supports these management efforts.

Important Dates:

January 1, 2023 - March 9, 2023 No vehicles are allowed on North Core Banks (Portsmouth Island) or South Core Banks (Davis Island).
January 1, 2023 - March 15, 2023 ORV permits become available on Recreation.gov. From January 1st through March 15th, the cost is $25.00 for the calendar year.
March 10, 2023 - December 31, 2023 North Core Banks (Portsmouth Island) and South Core Banks (Davis Island) open to vehicles. ORV Permits are required to drive on these two islands.
March 16, 2023 - December 31, 2023 The cost of the ORV Permit goes up to $50.00 for the calendar year.

Note: A printed copy of the permit must be carried in the vehicle while it is on the island. To print out the ORV Permit, log onto your Recreation.gov account. Go to My Reservations, click on Cape Lookout ORV permit, and select Print Permit.

 
Two vehicles and a camper on the sand. Three visitors stand in between the vehicles and the ocean. Multiple fishing poles stand in the sand
Surf fishermen with their vehicles.

NPS Photo

To obtain an ORV permit, your vehicle must:

  • Create a Recreation.gov account

  • Be registered, licensed, and insured and comply with inspection requirements for the state, country, or province where the vehicle is registered.

  • ATVs/UTVs are not required to be licensed or insured in the state of NC. When purchasing an ORV permit for an ATV or UTV, please enter your driver's license number when asked for a license plate.

  • Watch a short educational video on off-road driving at Cape Lookout shown above

Receiving Your ORV Decal:

If you purchase your ORV permit between January 1st - February 28th your ORV decal will be sent to you in the mail. Be sure to include your mailing address when purchasing your permit. For ORV permits purchased on or after March 1st, your decal will be issued upon arrival on the islands. They can only be issued at the Great Island Cabin Camp Office (daily from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm), the Harkers Island Visitor Center (by appointment only, call 252-728-2250), or by Law Enforcement Park Rangers upon showing the printed ORV Permit purchased from Recreation.gov. Failure to have the window decal while driving on the island may result in a citation. Decal must be displayed on driver's side left top corner of the windshield or the front left fender on an ATV/UTV.

 
Two ATV riders drive on the beach. The Cape Lookout Lighthouse is in the background, between the two riders.
Two ATV riders wear the proper safety equipment while riding on the beach

NPS/Sabrina Godin

Note: If you attempt to print the permit from your phone or mobile device, it will print blank. If you do not have access to a printer, ask the rangers in the cabin office to print your permit for you. All visitors who are driving on North Core need to print their permit before arriving to the island. Park Rangers are unable to print their permits.

Additional Information: Be aware that the Cape Lookout National Seashore ORV Driving Permit is not the same as the ORV permit purchased for Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Long term parking is not included with the purchase of an ORV permit. If you are going to leave your vehicle in one of the long-term parking lots, you still need to obtain a long-term parking permit.
 

Frequently Asked Questions

Before you bring your vehicle to the islands, read through the frequently asked questions to esnure you know all the driving regulations 

Speed limit is 25 mph, unless otherwise posted. Slow down when passing vehicles parked on the beach as they may have young children or pets that may dart out from the vehicles without seeing you.  

Driving in or on the dunes is prohibited. Parking in between dunes is prohibited. This includes campers, trailers, etc. Driving or parking on vegetation is prohibited.  

Passengers riding in the beds of pickups and UTVs MUST sit flat on the bed of the truck and not on side rails, wheel wells, camp chairs, coolers, etc.  

You must wear your seatbelts while riding in vehicles and UTVs 

Recommended equipment within the vehicle includes: low-pressure tire gauge, shovel, jack and jack support board.   

Before driving on designated off-road vehicle routes, Cape Lookout National Seashore strongly recommends that tire pressure be lowered to 15-20 PSI. The softer the sand, the lower the pressure needed. Re-inflate tires to normal pressure after returning to paved roads. Many local businesses have air pumps.   

Optional equipment includes a full-sized spare tire, first-aid kit, fire extinguisher, trash bag or container, flashlight (if night driving) and tow strap. 

You cannot have any open containers of alcohol anywhere in the vehicle, including in the bed of a truck or UTV

ATV operators must be at least 16 years of age, wear a DOT approved helmet, wear safety glasses/goggles, and have only the manufacturer’s recommended number of riders. 

Beach fires must be below the high tide line and no more than 3 feet in diameter. Beach fires must be fully extinguished with water. If you have a fully contained fire pit or stove, you may have it between the high tide line and the dune line, but not within the dunes.  

Camping for more than 14 consecutive days is prohibited.   

Pets must be restrained on a leash not to exceed 6 feet or otherwise confined at all times. Pets are prohibited within any resource protection zone closure.  

Driving on beaches or back road at night with accessory light bars illuminated is prohibited.

Fireworks are prohibited.   

Metal detectors are prohibited 

Drones are prohibited 

Do not drive between vehicles parked near the water line and the ocean. You may snag a fishing rod line.    

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.    

Stay informed about current and anticipated weather conditions and high tide events. Some sections of beach become impassable during high tide.  

Do not attempt to drive through any wildlife closures, or along the water’s edge in front of closures. For ramp-to-ramp closures, you must detour to the back road; for partial closures, you must drive behind the closure, along the edge of the dunes.  

Do not approach, feed, or disturb any wildlife. Report beached marine mammals to the National Park Service.  

Reckless driving, such as cutting circles, throwing sand into the air, or defacing the beach is prohibited.    

Sound side driving is prohibited.    

Parking in between dunes is prohibited. This includes campers, trailers, etc. Driving or parking on vegetation is prohibited.  

Last updated: January 26, 2023

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

131 Charles St
Harkers Island, NC 28531

Phone:

252 728-2250

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