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Jockey’s Ridge State Park (Essential Guide)

If you’re visiting the Outer Banks, North Carolina, a great place to spend half a day is Jockey’s Ridge State Park.

Jockey’s Ridge’s claim to fame is that it is home to the largest active sand dunes on the East Coast. These dunes are just begging to be climbed and explored.

While it’s not a large park in terms of land area, it’s North Carolina’s most visited State Park, and there is plenty to see and do to keep the whole family entertained.

Where is it?

Jockey’s Ridge State Park is located near the town of Nag’s Head, at the northern end of the North Carolina coastal area known as the Outer Banks.

Just an about hour’s drive south of Virginia Beach, it’s even easy to access as a day trip down from that northern neighbor.

Address for the Main Entrance (Visitor’s Center): 

300 W. Carolista Drive
Nags Head, NC 27959

Hours of Operation at the Main Entrance area are as follows:

  • November to February: 8:00am to 6:00pm 
  • March to April: 8:00am to 8:00pm 
  • May to September: 8:00am to 9:00pm
  • October: 8:00am to 8:00pm 
  • Closed Christmas Day

Address for the Soundside Access: 

330 W. Soundside Road
Nags Head, NC 27959

Hours of Operation at the Soundside Access:

  • November to February: 8:00am to 5:00pm
  • March to October: 8:00am to 7:00pm
  • Closed Christmas Day

If you’re coming down from the north, the park entrance is just a few miles past the Wright Brothers Memorial (a National Monument) on the right.

How much does it cost?

It is completely free to visit Jockey’s Ridge State Park. The best part about a visit here is that it’s very easy on the travel budget.

There is no entrance fee or parking fee, and most of the activities at the park are free as well.

If you opt to do something like the hang gliding lessons or a sandboard rental, there will be a separate fee for those activities.

What Activities Are Available?


The most popular activity at Jockey’s Ridge State Park is the hiking or just plain climbing the dunes!

There are three main trails available, but you don’t have to stick to the trails. Once you reach the dune areas, you are free to climb and explore as you please.

Boardwalk Trail

The Boardwalk Trail leaves directly from the visitor center. It’s a short 360 feet (0.07 miles one way) boardwalk that takes you to an overlook where you can see small pools of water and some of the dunes.

Informational signs along the walk will educate you about local flora and fauna.

At the end of the Boardwalk Trail, you have the option to keep heading on out onto the dunes, in a choose your own adventure type of hike. You’ll see several ways to head on up to the high dunes.

Soundside Nature Trail

The Soundside Nature Trail is a 0.6 mile loop trail. You can access it on West Soundside Road. It loops through the park’s maritime shrub thicket.

This is a great trail for birdwatching and other wildlife spotting.

Tracks in the Sand Trail

The longest trail at the Park is a 1.2 mile loop. It’s the Tracks in the Sand Trail starting at the southwest corner of the Main Entrance parking lot.

This trail will be the most rewarding if you take along the informational leaflet available at the trailhead, to learn about what you’re seeing along the way.

The Tracks in the Sand Trail will take you all the way to Roanoke Sound.


Bring a picnic lunch or dinner along on your excursion. There are plenty of picnic spots available, including picnic tables in shaded locations.

I don’t recommend taking your picnic out on the dunes themselves unless you don’t mind a bit of sand in your sandwich.

There are also a few picnic shelters available, but if you want to be sure to get one while you’re there, you need to make a reservation ahead of time.

If you would like to plan an event at the Park such as a wedding or family reunion, you will need to apply for an Event Permit. Make sure to do this well in advance of your planned event.


Why not bring your binoculars along on your hike down the dunes trail? There are plenty of fascinating bird species to catch your eye.

It’s not all barren sand on the dunes, with enough vegetation filling the edges to provide habitat for the birds and other wildlife.


Sandboarding is another immensely popular activity at Jockey’s Ridge State Park.

Just like it sounds, you can ride a board down the giant hills of sand, for an experience similar to sledding or snowboarding (just without all the winter gear).

The sandboards use a wax coating on the bottom of the board to protect the wood from the sand, and give you a smoother, faster ride down the sand dune.

You don’t strap them on like a snowboard, so you can sit or stand on the board.

You can bring your own sandboard or rent one from the Kitty Hawk Kites store located at the main entrance area. The cost to rent a board for 1-4 hours is $25, or $40 for a day rental.

No permit is required to sandboard at Jockey’s Ridge, but you need to keep to the designated areas (of which there are plenty).

Hang Gliding

Jockey’s Ridge is also famous for being a reliably windy place, perfect for hang gliding. That’s why Kitty Hawk Kites located its Hang Gliding School here at the park.

You can sign up for a Hang Gliding lesson, with packages starting at $129.

The school does its best to accommodate people of all skill and physical ability levels, so don’t assume it’s something beyond you. If it sounds intriguing, why not give it a try?

Kite Flying

The same steady winds that make Jockey’s Ridge a great place to hang glide also make it ideal for kite flying.

You’ll have to avoid the areas where hang-gliding lessons are happening. Also, you should not fly kites near power lines, in the parking lot, or on the dune closest to the highways.

Visitor’s Center

The Visitor’s Center at Jockey’s Ridge offers an appealing, interactive display of information about the region’s history and ecology.

Completely free to enter, it’s a fantastic way to either begin your day of adventure, or round it off with some respite from the sun, wind and heat.

Park Events

There’s always something happening at Jockey’s Ridge, from group hikes to informational talks at the Visitor’s Center.

The types of events you can expect include:

  • Park Discovery Table
  • Sunset on the Ridge
  • Dune Hike
  • Kayak the Sound
  • Soundside Explorers

The events vary by season, and some require pre-registration. Check the Jockey’s Ridge State Park website for a complete calendar of events.

Water Activities

If you enter the park at the Soundside Access, there are numerous ways you can enjoy the water.

Bring your kayak or standup paddleboard, try some windsurfing, or just relax on the quiet sands of the soundside beach.

You can swim in the relatively still water, or explore the reedy marshes full of aquatic wildlife.

The wave-free water of the Roanoke Sound makes this a great place to swim with small children, as you don’t have to worry about them getting knocked down in the relentless surf at the oceanfront.

There aren’t any rip currents to worry about either.

What to Wear

The right attire for a day at Jockey’s Ridge will make your experience more enjoyable.

Closed shoes, loose, breezy clothes and a hat and sunglasses are highly recommended. Also, don’t forget water, sunscreen and snacks.


For those headed to the dunes for hiking, exploring, sandboarding or hang gliding, I recommend closed shoes rather than flip-flops, or trying to hot-foot it barefoot.

Especially on a sunny day in the height of summer, that sand is HOT!

Flip-flops or sandals will let a lot of that hot sand in on your feet, or kick it in a spray up your back. Wearing closed shoes will protect your feet and make it easier to walk.

Hat and Sunglasses

A hat and sunglasses are a must for eye and sun protection.

Reducing the glare on your eyes will make it a much more pleasant day on the sand, and prevent that over-sun-exposure headache at the end of the day.

Comfortable, Breezy Clothes

Summer on the Outer Banks is hot, so take that into consideration when choosing your attire for an outing to Jockey’s Ridge State Park.

If you’re into maximum skin protection with minimum sunscreen, you can wear a loose-fitting natural material shirt (such as linen).

Or if you don’t mind slathering on the SPF, wear something like a t-shirt and shorts or a breezy beach coverup.

Just keep in mind that unlike a day at the beach, there isn’t easy access to water to cool off in up on the dunes.

What to Bring

For a visit to the dunes, essential items to bring with you include:

  • Plenty of water
  • Sunscreen
  • Snacks to keep little ones happy (or your own energy up)

Other items you might consider bringing:

  • A kite
  • A sandboard (if you happen to have one and prefer not to rent)
  • A plastic sled (not quite as good as a sandboard, but works in a pinch)

If you’re headed out for a day on the water at the Soundside Access, bring any equipment needed for your water sports, as there are no rental options once you get there.