Lessons on 4×4 Beach Driving

Here are some personal and researched suggestions for 4×4 Beach Driving here on the Outer Banks and in Currituck County. These tips could be applied to any 4WD adventures you might embark on!

  • Fill up with gas / diesel before driving onto the beach.
  • When arriving at the beach, try to check out the entrance and exit areas on foot before actually entering an area you’re not certain of (this means arriving before the sun sets). Navigating an unknown beach at night could have dire consequences.
  • Have a tire pressure gauge handy so that you can lower your 4 wheel drive vehicle’s tire pressure to between 15-20 psi — we used 20 psi for our Dodge 2500 (this allows a tire to have more surface area for gaining traction; the deflated tire is not as rigid as it is when fully inflated, thereby cutting in to the sand).
  • Find a closely source for inflating your tires after exiting the beach, or bring your own compressor (we used a combination of both. Our tiny compressor was enough to top up the tires after filling up at the local store).
  • Check the tide levels before arriving. We checked the day of, and were lucky to arrive at a good time. Low tide is ideal, as there is more hard packed surface area to drive on (fewer potential obstacles to avoid with the wider berth of travel).
  • Try to avoid driving through the surf, as the salt water and sand are extremely corrosive. If you come from a place which salts their roads in the winter, you’ll understand this principal fully.
  • If you do drive through the surf, find yourself a car / truck wash to rinse off any excess salt water and/or sand.
  • 4×4 vehicles are recommended due to the tendency of All-Wheel Drive (AWD) vehicles to have low clearance levels.
  • There are speed limits posted for a reason (35 or 15 mph, dependant on whether there are beachgoers or animals in the vicinity). During the high season, lots of people (on foot or in a motored vehicle) make full use of the beach. Such that the beach in Currituck County is a State recognized ‘road’. Can you think of a major highway where pedestrians are allowed? I can’t remember any personally. Lucky for us today, the beach was almost uninhabited by vehicle or pedestrian. One of the bonuses for coming so late in the season!
  • Be mindful and vigilant around wildlife, be that Wild Horses or boondocked Sea Turtles.
  • Vehicles are to drive either on the shoreline (the hard-packed sand) or in the upper dune areas.  The areas in between are considered parking and pedestrian areas.
  • CAA / AAA does NOT tow vehicles stranded in a 4×4 area (i.e. on the beach).
  • The ramp entrance / exit area and the first ½ mile of the beach are illegal places to stop or park. These vehicles WILL be towed.
  • Only registered, insured and licensed vehicles are allowed on the beach and dunes (driver must be 16 years of age). No ATVs allowed.
  • Towing and getting stuck with an RV would be a NIGHTMARE. Thankfully, we were smart enough to have left our heavy tri-axle Airstream behind at the RV park.
  • By driving slow, one can enjoy the view, the smells and the sounds of the Outer Banks. It’s a truly thrilling experience meant to be savoured and enjoyed. No rush necessary!

4-Wheeling on the Outer Banks

What a way to start a week of adventure on the Outer Banks! slaDE and I were in pursuit of finding the Wild Horses of Currituck County. We were super excited to explore Corolla and the surrounding area, 4 wheeling on the beach in search of hidden treasures. Today, unlike Sunday afternoon, we were prepared for the thrills and hazards of driving through the dunes and on the sand. You see, slaDE made a spontaneous attempt at cruising down the beach at Nags Head yesterday.

The tides were mid-way between high and low (aka half-tide) and the sands at the entrance of the beach ramp were loose, piled high and quite steep. Well, you can only imagine what happened … and CAA was not an option for helping us out of our ‘bind’. So after getting stuck quite deeply in the sand and finding an alternate exit point, slaDE and I hastened to learn the techniques and finesse of 4×4 Beach Driving before launching our escapade today. We found this resource to be a terrific gem: Lessons learned? We discovered the importance of walking the beach access route(s) before entering and exiting with our truck … vitally important in recognizing whether the beach is suitable or not for 4WDing. Also, prior research to the techniques of beach driving is always a good thing :).

Corolla is considered the northernmost town on the Outer Banks (pronounced ‘cor-Aah-lah’ and NOT the Toyota Corolla way :)). This tiny fishing and tourist village is a refuge to both Sea Turtles and wild ponies, the latter which act as mascots around the entire Outer Banks. The horses are descendants of the Spanish Mustangs brought to the North Carolina coastline in the early1600s. Currituck County also houses giant upscale homes (mostly along the outermost stretches of beach) accompanied by a mammoth increase of tourist population during the summer months. This unfortunately is proving to be a threat to the diligently protected horses. Reckless driving and acts of violence in recent years have led to strict and severe penalties upon those who violate these beautiful untamed and rugged animals. Yet the population is shrinking, part of which lies in the inbreeding of these lineally pure Mustangs.

So in pursuit of witnessing these ethereal creatures, we drove the full length of the Carova Beach (about 8 miles), marvelling at the deep but smooth rutted ‘highway’ this beach has become. We both took turns driving, enjoying the ability to navigate with ease, after having let out our tire pressure to 20 psi. The gas mileage went down quite quickly (from 25 mpg to 20.1 mpg) during our experiment with beach driving. The traffic was blissfully light (compared to the horror stories experienced by locals during the summer season) and made for an incredible experience. Even driving up over the heavily sanded dune in to the home access road was disarmingly easy. I was awestruck by the number and size of monolithic mansions that created a suburbia along the water’s edge. We were told that 90% of the properties are unoccupied outside of the tourist season and major holidays. I can’t imagine the cost of heating one of those places during the winter. So I’m thinking that most are rental properties (with 10 bedrooms, one can only imagine the rent!). Once we reached the end of the occupied beach, bordered by a boundary marker to the Virginia State Park, we decided to walk along the beaches edge looking for the Wild Horses. We saw big stinking evidence of their recent residency :), but there were no sighting on any ponies carousing through the Atlantic. Still with hope in our heart, we skirted beyond the perimeter road about a ½ mile back from the waters edge. Coming around one of the dunes, we slowed and witnessed a herd of 6 horses quietly mowing the fields of their neighbour. They didn’t even stir as we approached in our truck, as close as 50 feet away. It was stunning to see them feed. One of the mares appeared to be heavily pregnant, due any day. The light was gorgeous and made for an astounding photo shoot, both of us excited at having stumbled across the only horses we were to witness today (apart from the winged statue we saw earlier) :). Although my Father boards quite a few horses, the sight of these wild untamed beauties had me holding my breath at the wonder of nature, and the history behind their lineage. After an hour of sitting silently whilst they fed,  and photographing up a storm, we made our way back to the village of Corolla, as it was vital that we refill the air in our tires. A flat tire would have marred the calm of our day, and we weren’t ready for that.

Before heading south to our overtly expensive RV park, we wanted to take advantage of the setting sun and thus quickly headed towards the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, for a few final photos of our incredible Corolla adventure. The Currituck Beach Lighthouse stands 165 feet tall and was built in 1875. It is the northernmost of the North Carolina Lighthouses.

Hope you enjoy all the pictures! We certainly enjoyed taking them. A photographer’s delight, to be certain, with such a beautiful canvas such as this . . . .