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Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Outer Banks NC

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Jockey’s Ridge State Park is home to the tallest living sand dune on the coast of the Eastern United States. Standing over 100 feet high, this dune is a popular spot for visitors and locals in the Outer Banks. The park also offers hiking trails along the dunes, and it’s a great spot to fly a kite or hang glide.

girl standing among sand dunes at jockeys ridge state park.

Visitors can explore the unique habitats within the large sand dune or take in the sights atop one of its observation decks. The park’s trail system allows visitors to traverse from one end of this expansive area to another without leaving sight of a stunning view.

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From Outer Banks beach-goers looking to take a dip in the sound to birdwatchers hoping to catch a glimpse of rare species, there is something for everyone at Jockey Ridge State Park. Picnic areas are also available for those who wish to have a cookout and get even more out of their experience at the natural sandy playground.

Founding of the Park

The founding of Jockey Ridge State Park began in the early 1970s when developers’ plans for new vacation homes on the site were replaced by a proposal to create a state park. The local community was passionate about preserving the area and its unique sand dunes, created over thousands of years by strong winds coming off the nearby Atlantic Ocean.

After much lobbying, North Carolina’s General Assembly approved funding to purchase 152 acres of land for the park in 1975. The Nature Conservancy purchased additional land. After opening to visitors, the site quickly became one of North Carolina’s most beloved parks.

Today, it is well known as an excellent spot for flying kites and watching the sunset. It also offers hiking trails and stunning views from atop its largest sand dune, Jockey’s Ridge, which stands over 100 feet tall.

posing by the bay at jockeys ridge state park.


Hiking is a great way to explore the outdoors at Jockey Ridge State Park. With several trails ranging from easy to moderate, hikers can find a suitable route to enjoy the beauty of nature.

Trees, shrubs, and wildflowers line the trail, leading up to a spectacular view at the top of Jockey Ridge’s sand dunes. The sand provides a unique terrain for hiking that also offers an aerobic workout.

sandy area with trees.

Kite flying is an enjoyable activity at Jockey Ridge State Park for all ages. With plenty of open space and strong winds coming off the nearby ocean, kite flyers have plenty of room and wind power to launch their creations into the sky. The bright colors and shapes fill the sky in this picturesque setting, providing an entertaining show for visitors below.

The main access area also allows sandboarding and hang gliding. There is no permit needed for sandboarding but hang gliders must be registered with the park office. There are also picnic sites with grills for those wanting to enjoy a cookout with family and friends.

There is a second access area of the park on Roanoke Sound. This area offers paddling, swimming, kiteboarding, and windsurfing. Plus, it has an additional 0.75-mile hiking trail, the Soundside Nature Trail.


Animals in Jockey Ridge State Park are diverse and abundant. One of the most common wildlife visitors will see are birds. In summer, there are sandwich tern, little blue heron, snowy egret, and eastern kingbird among other species. During the winter, the tundra swan is usually spotted. The area is also a spot for Piping Plover and raptors to migrate to. The spring is the best time for seeing terns.

Visitors may also spot mammals such as white-tailed deer, raccoons, rabbits, red foxes, and opossums. Reptiles include box snakes and lizards, while amphibians include frogs and toads.

The plant life in Jockey Ridge State Park is equally varied yet distinct from other parks due to its location on the east coast of North Carolina. The park features maritime forests with live oak trees and shrubs like wax myrtle and bayberry.

jockeys ridge plants.

Sand Dunes and Natural Beauty

Sand dunes are the most unique and fascinating feature of Jockey Ridge State Park in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The park is home to the East Coast’s tallest active sand dune system, making it an excellent spot for exploring and appreciating natural beauty.

The sand dunes range from 30 to 100 feet tall, covering up to 420 acres. Visitors can explore these massive shifting sand hills by hiking or running across them, marveling at their grandeur.

Many visitors also come here to enjoy activities such as hang gliding and kite flying due to the strong winds that blow through the area. These strong gusts of wind create a unique environment filled with rippling flags, rustling grasses, and sandy mounds that seem almost alive as they move with each passing breeze.

As visitors take in coastal views from atop the highest points of the dunes, they can see miles upon miles of the unspoiled shoreline stretching out beneath them. This is an experience that will take your breath away without having to climb one of the Outer Banks lighthouses.

View from observation deck.

A Calming Place to Reflect

Jockey Ridge State Park is an ideal spot to take a moment and reflect on life. The calming atmosphere of the park allows visitors to reflect without any distractions, allowing them to focus on their thoughts truly.

Walking along the sand dunes or sitting atop one of the many hills provides a peaceful experience surrounded by nature’s beauty. The park’s vastness also allows for some beautiful views across the horizon and over the ocean, making it easy to feel connected with nature and one’s inner self during quiet contemplation.

Additionally, visitors can use this time to practice mindfulness or meditation while silently observing their surroundings. Allowing oneself to reflect deeply in such an environment can be incredibly beneficial for physical health, emotional well-being, and overall mental clarity.

A Place to Enjoy Nature

At Jockey Ridge State Park, visitors can experience the beauty of nature with a wide range of activities. From hiking and camping to bird watching and hang gliding, there is something for everyone.

Whether looking for adventure or peaceful relaxation, Jockey Ridge offers a place to enjoy nature in all its glory. There are plenty of trails to explore as well as a great viewing deck at the entrance to the dunes.

Jockey's Ridge hiking trail in sand.

With over 200 acres of land filled with unique wildlife species, outdoor enthusiasts can explore this hidden gem while participating in activities that suit their interests and abilities. Whether you’re here for a day or planning an extended stay, Jockey Ridge provides plenty of opportunities to connect with nature and create lasting memories.


Can you swim at Jockey’s Ridge State Park?

Yes! Swimming is allowed at the sound-side access off of Soundside Road. The Roanoke Sound is a nice shallow place to take a dip in the water to cool off.

Why is it called Jockey’s Ridge?

According to legend, the name comes from early inhabitants capturing and racing wild ponies in the area.

Can you sandboard at Jockey’s Ridge?

You can! You can rent sandboards from Kitty Hawk Kites at Jockey’s Ridge State Park year-round. Sandboard rentals include one sandboard without bindings and a single block of sandboard wax.

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