Jockey's Ridge State Park

Of the many recreational opportunities and natural features of the Outer Banks, Jockey's Ridge State Park in Nags Head uniquely combines both to the approval of the thousands of visitors each year.  Created in 1975, Jockey's Ridge State Park features the tallest natural sand dune system in the Eastern United States.  The shifting dunes, which can reach heights of 80 to 120 feet, are an example of what is called a medaƱo, a huge, asymmetrical, shifting hill of sand lacking vegetation. (1)
The park offers many recreational outlets.  Two hiking trails highlight the numerous natural features of the park.  First, the "Tracks in the Sand" trail is a 1.5 mile trail over the dunes to the sound and back.  Also, the Soundside Trail is a one mile loop that focuses on the Roanoke Sound Estuary and ecosystem.  Both trails are a must and in the summer months shoes or flip-flops are recommended over the sand as sand temperatures can be 20-30 degrees hotter than the air temperature.
In addition to hiking and maybe the most popular activity at the park, visitors are more than welcome to fly kites as the same winds that attracted the Wright Brothers over a century ago to make their historical flight allow for exceptional kite flying.   Speaking of the Wright Brothers, visitors can partake in their own historic flight as hang gliding is another popular activity at the park.  Individuals with a USHGA Hang 1 or other agency-approved rating card may hang glide on Jockey's Ridge.  However, if you have never attempted before, a local hang gliding outfit offers lessons daily at the park.  Something that I adventured and enjoyed in March of 2009.  Finally, if you prefer your adventures on the ground, sandboarding is permitted from October 1st through March 31st.  The only requirement is obtaining a permit from the park office.
Jockey's Ridge State Park is easily accessible off of US 158 in Nags Head.  It is a great sample of the entire barrier islands in one park.  It offers all of us a chance to experience and enjoy the uniqueness of the Outer Banks.

All photos taken by author in March 2007.

  • (1) The Nature Conservancy in North Carolina. "Jockey'sRidge State Park." (November 4, 2007)
  • Jockey's Ridge State Park ---North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation
  • Friends of Jockey's Ridge State Park
  • Jockey's Ridge State Park ---Outer Banks Guidebook
  • Jockey's Ridge State Park ---The Nature Conservancy in North Carolina
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