Jockey's Ridge National Park - Nags Head, NC - Natural Sand Dune State Park

Jockey's Ridge State Park, located in Nags Head, North Carolina at milepost 12 on the Highway 158 Bypass (South Croatan Highway). It is the tallest natural sand dune system on the East Coast and the park is one of the most significant landmarks on the Outer Banks. It is open from 8:00 AM until 8:00 PM in March, April, May, September and October. In November through February it is open from 8:00 AM until 6:00 PM and from 8:00 AM until 9:00 PM in June through August. The park is closed on Christmas Day.

Jockey's Ridge has three different ecological environments. Dunes have three peaks of shifting sand that lack vegetation. Maritime Thicket next to the dune has a variety of trees that are home to larger animals like foxes, deer, and raccoons. The Roanoke Sound Estuary is a habitat that many animal and bird life call home. Many fish and Blue Crab can be found in the estuary, as well.

While there are no camping facilities available at the park, there are picnic shelters, a Visitor Center, Museum, and Auditorium. There is a 384-foot boardwalk that ends with a view of Jockey's Ridge, which is handicap accessible. There are benches for visitors to wait for their families who are playing in the dunes, as well as transportation to the top of the dunes. However, transportation depends on the availability of a vehicle and requires 24-hour notice.

Free programs are offered to the public and vary with each season. Some programs include Kayaking, Birding on the Sound, Sunset On the Ridge, and Seine the Sound. There are also hiking, airborne activities, and water sports. Tracks in the Sand is a mile and a half trail that go over the dunes, to the soundside, and back and shoes are required. The Soundside Nature Trail is a mile loop that focuses on the estuary and scrub thicket ecosystems. The park also offers Hang-gliding to those persons with a USHGA Hang 1 rating card. Kayaking, windsurfing, and swimming are also permitted at the soundside access, which can be found in the southwest corner of the park.

Though visitors generally do not encounter many animals, early morning hikers may see a variety of animal tracks. Some animal tracks include red and gray foxes, rabbits, deer, raccoons, and mice. Birds are abundant throughout the park, especially during winter months when the soundside becomes a home to many different waterfowl. In the summer a variety of shorebirds can be seen, and songbirds are found all year long.

There are a few safety precautions to keep in mind. In the summer months the sand dunes become very hot and often have lightning storms. It may not be wise to go barefoot, as the sand is 25 to 30 degrees hotter than the air temperature, on average. And if a warning siren sounds while guests are on the dunes it indicates a lightning storm is approaching and guests must clear the ridge as soon as possible. It is also wise to have a landmark that all in the party are familiar with, as family members have become separated while playing on the dunes. Since the dunes are outdoors it is important to do "tick checks'' after walking in the park's thickets, as well.

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