Nags Head is home to the tallest natural sand dune on the East Coast. Jockey’s Ridge, a series of five dunes, is a natural wonder that’s continually changing in shape and height. With the highest hill varying from 90 to 110 feet tall, this system of sand is a haven for adventure. Colorful kites waver over its majesty regularly, and hang gliders climb to its summit to swoop down a sandy incline. Hikers excite in its form and function, and nature buffs appreciate discovering the subtle dune life that exists here. Few can resist the climb to bear witness to renowned Outer Banks sunsets.
Included in the 426-acre park are several trails, picnic areas, a visitor center and a museum supported by the nonprofit Friends of Jockey’s Ridge. Natural history programs for adults and children are offered. A boardwalk provides a lookout for a terrific view of the dunes and also serves as a passage for the mobility impaired. When you enter the state park through the visitor’s center you can choose from three adventures: Hike up the impressive dune, or travel two nature trails that meander through the dune. The Soundside Nature Trail takes about 45 minutes, and the Tracks in the Sand Trail is a 1.5-mile walk. Arrangements can also be made for a four-wheel dune ride to the top (the park requests a 24-hour notice). In the summer, the sand on the dunes is usually 25 to 30 degrees hotter than the air, so shoes are a necessity.
The visitor center, which contains a museum shop with toys, souvenirs, books and educational items, closes at 5 p.m. from November through February and 6 p.m. the rest of the year. The Soundside Access Gate is open until 5 p.m. from October through March and until 7 p.m. from April through September. The ridge closes 15 minutes before the park closes. Jockey’s Ridge State Park is open daily with the exception of Christmas Day.