Jockey's Ridge State Park Sign North Carolina

300 W Carolista Dr, Nags Head, NC 27959

Where is Jockey’s Ridge State Park

Jockey’s Ridge State Park is located on the Atlantic Coast on the Outer Banks of Nags Head in North Carolina. The park is in Nags Head town, just a 3-minute drive to the main downtown area. The closest major city is Chesapeake located about 1.5 hours north of Nags Head.

The closest larger town is just west of Jockey’s Ridge on Roanoke Island called Manteo. A 15-minute drive takes you into Manteo where there are more services available.

How Big is Jockey’s Ridge State Park

The park has 427 acres to explore with sand dunes, trails, a visitor’s center, gift shop, museum, picnic facilities, and restrooms. The park features the tallest natural sand dunes in the eastern United States. Dunes reach 80 to 100 feet tall, constantly changing with the seasonal winds and tides. The tallest point in the park is a 100-foot plateau that hang gliders launch from.

North Carolina’s Outer Banks are famous for three unique ecosystems, the Roanoke Sound, the dune system, and the maritime forest. The park features all three ecosystems.

Jockey’s Ridge State Park

Year-round this area remains pleasant to visit. The summer is the warmest and has the most visitation with temperatures on average 80 degrees. July is the warmest month with a high of 88 degrees during the day. Sand temperature can reach over 100 degrees from the sun warming the dunes.

During the summer, dangerous thunderstorms roll through the area striking the tall sand dunes with lightning. Warning sirens will warn visitors of approaching lightning storms, so visitors have time to leave the higher ground points on the sand dune ridges and sides. 

Rainfall is steady throughout the year with an average of 4-5 inches a month. During the winter when there is heavier rain, pools at lower levels of the dunes form attracting raccoons, opossums, mice, and muskrats to the area.

Spring and fall are pleasant with temperatures cooler in the 60’s. Winter temperatures are down in the low 50’s and lasts from December to March. Animals can be seen year-round in this unique ecosystem. Rabbits, foxes, lizards, and other animals appear at night when the sand cools down. Visitors will most likely see the animals in the early morning when the sand is still cool.

Sunrise Over Majestic Dunes Jockeys Ridge State Park North Carolina

When did Jockey’s Ridge become a State Park

The sand dunes date back from 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, forming from the tides and changes of the land overtime pushing sand up into dunes. The dunes are constantly still changing as the wind and ocean tides change and shift sand around.

The origin of the name dates back to legends of early settlers capturing wild ponies on the Outer Banks and racing them along the flat beaches.

In the early 1900’s development started in the Outer Banks as the area was viewed as a desirable vacation home spot. In 1973, a local family noticed that a new community was being formed at the base of the massive dunes and a bulldozer was paving away portions of the larger sand dunes in the now state park.

Carolista Baum developed The People to Preserve Jockey’s Ridge foundation to petition for protecting the sand dunes from development. In 1975, 152 acres of the state park land was purchased and set aside to create Jockey’s Ridge State Park. More land was purchased over time to create the 420-acre Jockey’s Ridge State Park preserving the unique ecosystem.

Things to do in Jockey’s Ridge State Park

Famous for the beautiful sand dunes, history, and hang gliders soaring over the largest dunes in the eastern United States, this park can be enjoyed by all in different ways.

Visit the Exhibit Hall

The visitor center has displays about the history, ecology, and origins of the sand dunes.

Walk the boardwalk

A 360-foot boardwalk starts from behind the visitor center and leads visitors out to a deck with benches. Continue on to explore the dunes.

Hike the Tracks in the Sand Trail

A 1.2-mile loop takes you on a self-guided trail with brochures about the Roanoke Sound and views of the tallest dunes.

Hang Glide

A popular activity enjoyed by USHGA Hang 1 rating cards, people hang glide off of large dune faces. Kitty Hawk Kites near the visitor center offers hang gliding lessons.


There are a variety of picnic tables available near the parking area.

Look for Fulgurites

Fulgurites are glass tubes formed when lightning hits the sand. Keep an eye out for them when walking along sandy areas on the dunes. Don’t touch these preserved pieces in the park.

Fly a Kite

Wind coming off of the Atlantic makes for great kite flying.

Kayak and Swim

A swimming spot is located on the southwest corner of the park. Warm water in the summer is enjoyed by windsurfers, kayakers, and swimmers alike.

Sand Board the dunes

Sand boarding is allowed in designated areas during the off-season from October to March with a permit. A thrilling, fast paced activity is enjoyed by thrill seekers.

Sunset Over Jockeys Ridge State Park North Carolina

When to go to Jockey’s Ridge State Park

The beach, hiking, and dune activities can be enjoyed year-round. During the hot summer days however, the sand temperature can reach over 100 degrees making it difficult to touch the sand.

The summer months from June to September are the warmest with temperatures reaching high 80’s during the day. Spring and fall are pleasant times with temperatures in the 70’s.

Visiting during the spring and fall in April, May, September, October are the most pleasant times. This is the most visited national park in North Carolina and the highest visitation is from June to August.

Must-Have things to bring to Jockey’s Ridge State Park

Jockey’s Ridge State Park is a day use park and has limited amenities. There are nearby stores outside of the park to buy or rent your gear from and bring into the park.


There is no fresh water available in the park, so bring plenty of drinking water to last the day.


You won’t find food inside the park so make sure to pack yourself at least a few snacks and even a whole lunch if you plan to picnic and hangout.

Proper Hiking Boots

The sand on the dunes heats up 20 to 30 degrees hotter than the air temperature. Having thick soled shoes is necessary to protect your feet from the hot temperatures.

Jacket for Rain and cold weather Attire

Nowadays weather forecasting can be very accurate, however, being prepared for rain is always smart, and even during the warmer months, the beach can get very breezy and cool at night.

Sunglasses, Sunscreen

Sun reflecting off of the dunes and warming the sand 20-30 degrees hotter than the air temperature can sun burn skin easily and be harsh on the eyes.

Bug Spray

Mosquitos are plentiful during spring, summer, and fall. Ticks can also be found in the area so doing a tick check before leaving the park is important.

Swim and beach gear

Don’t forget your swimsuit, towel, and beach toys and chairs!

Dunes at Jockey Ridge State Park North Carolina

Where to stay in Jockey’s Ridge State Park

There is no camping in the state park itself, but there are many options outside of the park. Nags Head town is within walking distance of the park and has several hotels, motels, and vacation rentals.

Holiday Inn Express Nags Head Oceanfront, Surf Side Hotel, Oasis Suites Hotel are a few close hotel options. There are many other options in Nags Head scattered along the coast as this area is a popular vacation spot.

Food Nearby Jockey’s Ridge State Park

There is no food available in the park, so bring in any snacks and lunch to the park to picnic. Just outside of the park within walking distance are several options. Sooey’s BBQ and Rib Shack are just off the main road featuring amazing BBQ.

Nags Head Café, Mulligan’s Grille in Historic Cottage Row, and Blue Moon Beach Grill are other close options within walking distance located in Nags Head town.

There are several markets to do grocery shopping at in Nags Head. The Fresh Market, Food Lion, and 7-Eleven are all close by.

Blue Hour Sunset at Jockeys Ridge State Park North Carolina

Airports near Jockey’s Ridge State Park

The closest international airport is Norfolk International Airport located about 2 hours north of Jockey’s Ridge State Park. Renting a car from Norfolk and driving to Nags Head is the best option with a beautiful coastal drive.

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