Jockey's Ridge – Nags Head, North Carolina - Atlas Obscura

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Jockey's Ridge

Nags Head, North Carolina

This shifting North Carolina sand dune is an odd little desert surrounded by oceanic forest life. 


A 400-acre large and 100-foot high shifting sand dune brings a swath of desert to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Near milepost 12 of the South Croatan Highway, Jockey’s Ridge covers Bodie Island next to Nags Head. While the Atlantic Ocean is just one block away at points, the dune is hot and dry. No plants live on the shifting sand, and animals only visit it at night. The northeast and southwest winds keep the dune in place and prevent it from being slowly blown into the sea.

A maritime thicket surrounds the dune on land and the Roanoke Sound abuts it to the west. During migration season, many kinds of waterfowl may be seen there, and recovering populations of brown pelicans and osprey also live there. Early morning visitors to ridge may see the tracks of red and gray foxes and the six-lined racerunner,  North America’s fastest lizard, with a sprint of 18 miles per hour if threatened. The top of the dune is the highest point in Dare County, and is a popular spot for kite flying and hang-gliding.

Part of Jockey’s Ridge was being bulldozed in 1973 when Carolista Baum successfully got the operator to stop by standing in the bulldozer’s path. Her efforts helped the dune become part of Jockey’s Ridge State Park, created two years later, and now the most visited state park in North Carolina. In the developed tourist destination of the Outer Banks, a wild patch of desert remains. Sometimes the wind exposes the remains of an old mini-golf course.

Know Before You Go

Popular activities here include sandboarding and kite flying (bring your own), nature trails, sunset viewing, and learning to hang-glide. There are no entrance fees to enjoy the park. But keep in mind, this is a day-use only park with no campgrounds.

Go past the sand dunes to West Soundside Rd, it goes to a nice beach on the sound where you can walk in the water forever.

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