Carova, NC Beach Vacation Guide

Besides Ocracoke Island, which can only be reached by boat, Carova, North Carolina, is about as remote of an Outer Banks town as there is.

Only accessible with a four-wheel drive vehicle, Carova is the northernmost Outer Banks town, just north of Corolla and teetering on the North Carolina and Virginia border.

Arial View of Carova North Carolina Outer Banks NCGray Moeller/

No joke, there are zero paved roads, and if you think your Honda Civic will be able to navigate you to your rental property successfully, you will surely be disappointed!

Things you should know about Carova.

  • Nearest grocery store, restaurant, or souvenir shop is in Corolla.
  • This town is where a herd of feral Spanish mustang horses call home.
  • About 200 or 300 year-round residents live in Carova.
  • No paved roads. You must have a four-wheel drive vehicle to stay in Carova.
  • Beaches are typically uncrowded and very quiet.
  • All vehicles must have a beach parking permit, issued by Currituck County. 

Carova Beach Parking Permit

From the last Saturday of April to the first Saturday of October, Beach Parking Permits are required to park on the beaches of Carova.

Vacationers renting a home in Carova through a rental company are provided with parking permits as part of their check-in packet. If you do not receive a set of permits from your rental company of choice, contact them directly to inquire.

  • Beach Parking Permits are available via Currituck County's website.
  • Permits are limited to 300 per week at $50 each.
  • Once purchased online, Beach Parking Permits can be picked up at the Corolla Visitor Center, located at 500 Hunt Club Drive in Corolla, NC.
  • You may not park within the first 1.5 miles north of the four-wheel drive beach access.
  • Stopping your vehicle or parking on the beach ramp area is prohibited.
  • The speed limit on the beach is 35 mph and 15 mph when within 300 feet of any person.
  • Remember to air down your tires before driving on the beach to increase traction and reduce the chance of getting your vehicle stuck in the sand.

What are the origins of the area's name?

The origin of the town of Carova's name is unknown. Still, it is suspected to be a contraction of Carolina and the abbreviation for Virginia, which is VA, thus indicating its proximity to the North Carolina-Virginia boundary.

If you want an interesting story on how an Outer Banks town received its name, read up on some of the sinister stories surrounding the name of Nags Head.

Where to Stay in Carova

No hotels or condos are available in Carova, just vacation rental homes ranging in size from quaint three-bedroom cottages to 20+ bedroom estates. Choose from several hundred private secluded vacation rentals either directly on the beach or tucked away between the dunes.

Of the two dozen property management companies operating on the Outer Banks, only a handful manage a property on this remote stretch of the barrier island. But, no matter the size of your vacation group, there's a home that will undoubtedly fit your needs.

Many rentals include a private pool, allowing guests to shuffle between the waves and the pool many times throughout the day. Not every home is oceanfront, of course, but every house in Carova is within walking distance of the ocean.

Thanks to the limited restrictions on how big of a home you can build, guests with a large group of family and friends can book a stay in a house with 24 or more bedrooms. You read that right, 24 bedrooms! If you have the funds, The Chesapeake is your private resort, right on the beach, with about every amenity you could ask for in a rental home. The Black Stallion is another massive vacation rental home that couples frequently rent out for their destination wedding.

You should know that Carova consists of different communities, including Carova Beach, Swan Beach, North Swan Beach, Penny's Hill, and Seagull.

Things to do in Carova

Kayaking: Bring your own or rent one from a local establishment like Kitty Hawk Kites or Ocean Atlantic Rentals. Instead of you having to strap to the top of your SUV, some companies will deliver to your rental home and pickup upon departure. Your kayaking adventure could take place on the sound side or between the waves of the Atlantic. Choose your own experience!

Wave Riding: Grab a surfboard or body board and head out in hopes of catching a wave. The conditions will be too rough some days and too calm other days. However, no matter what, you're sure to have a blast.

Beach Combing: Along the beaches of Carova, you can find an array of different shells and beach treasures. Sandglass, shark teeth, sand dollars, and more await those willing to wake up just before sunrise to comb the beaches in hopes of finding something worthwhile.

Wild Spanish Mustang Horses in Carova

First and foremost, do not, under any circumstances, attempt to pet, ride, or take a picture next to one of these feral horses. These are wild animals, and at times, they can behave in a manner that is dangerous to us humans. Some vacationers have not heeded the advice from local organizations like the Corolla Wild Horse Fund and have been injured or bitten by one of the wild animals. 

Getting too close to one of the horses is not only dangerous but also illegal and punishable with a hefty fine that will cut into your funds set aside for dining out. Speaking of food, do not feed the wild horses as they can only digest natural beach grasses. Carrots and apples seem like a safe thing to toss in the direction of a wild horse, however this can upset their stomachs. 

Wild Horses in Carova North Carolina Grazing on the BeachDennis W Donohue/

Now that disclaimer is out of the way, you should know that these majestic horses have inhabited this slight stretch of a barrier island for over 400 years. That's right, four centuries! Way before our time, and even our great grandparents' time.

If you're vacationing in Carova for an entire week, chances are you'll spot a wild Mustang organically without even trying. So the best advice we can give you is to look as much as you'd like and take as many photos as your phone's storage will accommodate, but stay back at least 50 feet.

Wild horse tours depart from Corolla and operate throughout the day during the peak summer months. If you would like a tour guide and the chance to ride in a sweet off-road vehicle in search of the opportunity to spot a wild horse, then a tour may be a worthwhile expense from the budget set aside for your Outer Banks vacation. Otherwise, you're almost guaranteed to spot a wild horse frolicking along the beach or peaking through the dunes near your vacation rental home.

Carova FAQs

Are there lifeguards on the beaches in Carova?
Unfortunately, no lifeguards are on duty along the beaches of Carova. However, you won't have to travel far to find a lifeguarded beach. Corolla Village Road public beach access, located about a mile from the beach ramp, has a lifeguard on duty during the summer.

Where is the nearest gas station?
The nearest gas station to Carova is Citgo, located at 1150 Ocean Trail, Corolla, NC, less than a mile from where the paved road ends.

Are the beaches in Carova dog friendly?
Good news; dogs are permitted on the beaches of Carova 365 days out of the year! Your pup should always remain on a leash; however, there is no leash length requirement. Also, remember that wild horses are roaming the beaches, and your four-legged friend may be startled when spotting one.