Jockey's Ridge State Park is a beautiful natural attraction in Nags Head, North Carolina. With over 427 acres of sand dunes, it is the tallest natural sand dune system in the eastern United States.
The park is a popular destination for tourists, outdoor enthusiasts, and nature lovers. This article will provide everything you need to know before visiting Jockey's Ridge State Park.
History of Jockey's Ridge State Park
Jockey's Ridge State Park has a rich history dating back thousands of years. The park's namesake, Jockey's Ridge, is a massive dune formed over millions of years by the wind and the sea. It is believed that Native American tribes lived in the area as far back as 3,000 BC and used the dune as a lookout point for hunting and fishing.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the dune became a landmark for mariners traveling along the coast of North Carolina. It was used as a navigational aid, and sailors often called it "Jockey's Hill" or "Jockey's Ridge."
In the 1970s, residents formed the "People to Preserve Jockey's Ridge" organization to protect the dune from development. In 1975, North Carolina purchased the land and designated it as a state park.
Since then, Jockey's Ridge State Park has become a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, tourists, and locals. The park offers a unique combination of natural beauty, recreational opportunities, and cultural significance, making it a must-see destination for anyone visiting the Outer Banks.
What You Need to Know Before Visiting
Before heading out to Jockey's Ridge State Park, it's essential to know a few things to make your visit more enjoyable:
- The park is open year-round, but the hours vary by season, so be sure to check the park's website for current operating hours.
- Pets are allowed in the park but must be kept on a leash.
- The park offers several activities, including hang gliding, kite flying, and sandboarding, but these activities may require a permit, so check with the park before participating.
- The park has several hiking trails, so bring appropriate footwear and plenty of water.
- Speaking of what to pack, remember sunscreen and a hat, especially if visiting during the summer, aka peak season.
Best Time of Year to Visit Jockey's Ridge State Park
The best time to visit Jockey's Ridge State Park is during the fall and spring seasons when the weather is mild and the crowds are smaller.
During the summer, or peak season, the park can get crowded, and the sand can be scorching hot, making it difficult to enjoy some park activities.
Visitors by Month (2022)
As you can see in the graph above, summer is the most popular time of year for travelers to journey across the sand dunes. If you do visit during the summer, consider stopping by a couple hours before sunset or in the early morning.
The winter season can also be a great time to visit, as the park is less crowded, and the cooler temperatures make for excellent hiking conditions.
How to Get to and Where to Park
Jockey's Ridge State Park is easily accessible by car. If you're driving from the north, take US-158 S, and if you're coming from the south, take US-64 E. Note that your car can get you to a parking space near the dunes, but if you want to get to the apex of one of the dunes, you will have to rely on your legs or someone strong enough to give you a piggyback ride!
In terms of parking, see the two red arrows pictured above.
Arrow on Top: This is the parking lot for the State Park. There is plenty of parking and the best option if you want to check out the visitors center or if you have hang gliding lessons with Kitty Hawk Kites.
- Address: 300 W Carolista Drive, Nags Head, NC 27959
Arrow on Bottom: This parking lot is at Jockey's Ridge Crossing shopping center, just across the street from the dunes. There is a stop light with a pedestrian button to help you safely make your way across the bypass onto the dunes.
- Address: 3933 S Croatan Highway, Nags Head, NC 27959
Regardless of which options you choose, parking is free!
Where to Stay Near Jockey's Ridge State Park
Several hotels, motels, and vacation rentals are near Jockey's Ridge State Park. The Comfort Inn South Oceanfront and the Hilton Garden Inn Outer Banks/Kitty Hawk are excellent options for those looking for a comfortable stay near the park.
However, if you're looking for something more budget-friendly, consider staying at the Surf Side Hotel or the Holiday Inn Express Nags Head Oceanfront.
Where to Eat and Drink Near Jockey's Ridge State Park
There are several restaurants and bars near Jockey's Ridge State Park, offering a variety of cuisines and beverages. Check out Tortugas' Lie Shellfish Bar and Grill or Awful Arthur's Oyster Bar for a taste of local seafood.
If you're in the mood for a drink, visit Outer Banks Brewing Station, a popular brewery that offers locally crafted beer and excellent food.
Best Adventures at Jockey's Ridge State Park
Once you've had your fill of the park's natural wonders, it's time to dive into the many activities that Jockey's Ridge State Park offers.
Of course, one of the most popular activities is hang gliding. Jockey's Ridge is one of the best places on the East Coast to try this thrilling sport. Visitors can take a lesson from one of the park's certified instructors and soar above the dunes for an unforgettable experience. Kitty Hawk Kites offers year-round dune hang gliding lessons which begin with flight school and end with you floating off the dunes with the assistance of one of their experienced instructors.
For those who prefer to stay on the ground, there are plenty of other activities to enjoy. Hiking and running are popular ways to explore the park's numerous trails. There are over 400 acres of sand dunes to explore, so you'll have plenty of space to stretch your legs.
If visiting during the offseason, you may be interested in sandboarding down the sound side of the dunes. Make sure to get a permit from the onsite park office. No board of your own? No problem! Rentals are available.
For those who enjoy water activities, the Roanoke Sound is located just a short distance from the park. Here, visitors can enjoy kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and fishing. The sound is known for its excellent fishing opportunities, with various species available, including red drum, flounder, and spotted sea trout.
Check out the park's summer programs if you're visiting during the summer months. The park offers a variety of programs for visitors of all ages, including nature walks, sandcastle-building contests, and stargazing sessions. These programs are a great way to learn more about the park's unique ecosystem and to meet fellow visitors.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to climb Jockey's Ridge?
The time it takes to climb Jockey's Ridge can vary depending on your fitness level and the specific path you choose to take. On average, it takes around 20-30 minutes to climb to the top of the tallest dune. Keep in mind that it can be physically demanding to climb up dunes, so make sure to bring plenty of water and take breaks as needed.
Is Jockey Ridge State Park free?
Yes! Jockey Ridge State Park is free to visit. There are no admission fees to enter the park or to use the parking lot.
Was Star Wars filmed at Jockey's Ridge?
Unfortunately no, Star Wars was not filmed at Jockey's Ridge. Sorry, Luke Skywalker fans! However, the movie "Days of Thunder" scenes were filmed at the park.
Can you drive on Jockey's Ridge?
No, driving is not allowed on Jockey's Ridge. The park is designated for foot traffic only.
Is it hard to climb Jockey's Ridge?
Climbing Jockey's Ridge can be physically demanding, especially on hot days when the sand can become hot and loose. Therefore, it's essential to take breaks and drink plenty of water. However, the climb is relatively easy for most people.
Can you slide down Jockey's Ridge?
Yes, sliding down Jockey's Ridge is a popular activity at the park. Visitors can bring sandboards or plastic sleds to slide down the dunes.
Does Jockey's Ridge have a beach?
No, Jockey's Ridge does not have a beach. However, the park is near many public beach accesses in Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills.
Is Jockey's Ridge shrinking?
The height of Jockey's Ridge has been known to fluctuate over time due to the shifting sands. However, the park has been relatively stable in recent years and is not considered to be shrinking.
Jockey's Ridge State Park is a must-visit destination for anyone visiting the Outer Banks. With its towering dunes, diverse wildlife, and endless recreational opportunities, this park truly has something for everyone. So pack your sunscreen, strap on your hiking boots, and get ready to explore all that Jockey's Ridge has to offer!