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20 Jun 2022
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History & Culture

Carova Beach

About Carova Beach, NC 

One of the most spectacular areas on the Outer Banks is Carova Beach, an undeveloped set of beaches only accessible by vehicles with 4-Wheel Drive. Visit the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge, which can only be reached by 4WD or boat, where you can see 13 acres of untouched beach, maritime forest, and brackish marsh, making it the perfect place for photographers, hikers, and anyone who wants to enjoy the untouched beauty of the northern Outer Banks. Miles of sand also make this the perfect place to drive your vehicle right up to your favorite spot where you can picnic, lay out in the sun, and enjoy the cool waters of the Atlantic. When you’re ready to book your vacation, choose from our selection of Corolla rentals just minutes away from the pristine beaches of Carova, and get ready for your perfect vacation.

If you want to learn more about this OBX must-see, keep reading below!

History of Carova Beach

The history¹ of Carova is just as fascinating as its unique beach attractions. The name “Carova” comes from combining “Carolina” and “Virginia,” since the community hugs the state line between North Carolina and Virginia. As early as the late 15th century, Spanish ships were known to pass the area before landing in the late 1500s. This is where the famous Corolla Wild Horses made their start after being left on the beach after the Spanish had to make a quick escape from an attack by the local Indigenous peoples. Historians are torn over whether the horses were left behind on dry land or if they were thrown overboard, either during this escape or a storm. Regardless, these horses became the ancestors of the famous Corolla Wild Horses who still grace the shores of the Northern Outer Banks with their endearing beauty and determination. To learn more, visit our guide to the Outer Banks Wild Horses here.

Nearly 100 years later in the 1660s, a group of settlers from North Carolina and Virginia found the area and settled in the areas now known as Corolla and Carova. An inlet ran through the area, reinforcing the NC-VA border, before closing in 1731. Over the course of its history, several towns have existed in and around Carova before being consumed by the sand, much in the same way that Jockey’s Ridge came into being. During the 1800s, several Lifesaving Service Stations were built before the Currituck Beach Lighthouse, in modern-day Corolla, was erected in 1876. In fact, an entire community in Carova named Penny’s Hill was completely washed out by the infamous 1962 Ash Wednesday storm.

It wasn’t until 1984, when NC Highway 12 was being paved, that the population in Carova become something worth talking about. The highway never extended north in order to protect the wild horses and the peaceful, non-industrialized atmosphere that people who call Carova home have come to know and love. During this same time, the Currituck National Wildlife Refuse and the Currituck Banks Coastal Estuarine Reserve were established to maintain the natural beauty of this nearly untouched area of the Outer Banks.

Things to Do At Carova Beach

Carova Beach is a beautiful and unique place to explore. If your goal is to get away from the development in other areas of the Outer Banks, Carova is a quiet place to take advantage of the beauty and elegance of the area. Visit Carova beach just like you would any other beach. Go swimming in the ocean, build sandcastles, play frisbee, skimboard, kayak, and work on your summer tan. But do all of these things while enjoying a drive directly on the beach, immersing yourself in a completely different world.

Enjoy the splendor of nature in Carova by watching (NOT touching or feeding) the Corolla Wild Horses, going birdwatching in the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge, and hiking through the path in the Currituck Banks National Estuarine Preserve. Just because we don’t have mountain views, hiking in the Outer Banks can still be a beautiful and fulfilling experience for the nature connoisseur in your group. It’s important, however, to follow several very important safety tips when visiting Carova Beach and interacting with the Wild Horses. Keep reading below for more information.

Carova Beach Safety Tips

Taking your vehicle out onto the beach can be one of the most fun things about an Outer Banks vacation. However, before taking your vehicle out for some off-roading adventures in Carova, there are several things to keep in mind to make sure that you have the best experience possible.

  • Only use a vehicle equipped with 4-Wheel Drive.

  • Decrease tire air pressure to 15 - 22 PSI, depending on beach conditions.

  • Be aware of the tides to avoid rising water.

  • Observe the 15mph speed limit, unless otherwise posted.

  • Stay in the established sand tracks that run along the high tide line.

  • Wash down your vehicle when you’ve made it off the beach.

  • Refill the air in your tires before getting back onto the highway.

  • Be sure to bring these items with you:

      • A low-pressure tire gauge
      • A shovel
      • A jack
      • A jack support band
      • A tow strap

Check out our guide to Driving on the Beaches of the Outer Banks for more information.

Driving Around the Wild Horses

When driving in Corolla and Carova, please be mindful of any wild horses you may encounter. These free-roaming majestic creatures are a major allure and incredible sight for visitors. You must be alert at all times since the horses can dart out from anywhere. Wild horses rest by laying down on the beaches, making it harder for drivers to see them, especially over the dune lines. The speed limit for driving on the beach is 15 MPH and is imperative to follow. Please stay alert and follow the regulations mandated by government officials and local authorities.

Visitors are highly encouraged to learn about and view these historic and majestic marvels in the hopes that preservation and conservation efforts will grow. However, it’s imperative for your safety and the safety of the horses that this is done at a safe distance. Currituck County law addresses human interaction with the wild horses in the Wild Horse Ordinance.

Important items from the ordinance include:

  • It shall further be unlawful for any person to lure, attract or entice a wild horse to come within 50 feet of any person or for any person.(Sec. 3-31. – Luring, enticing, seizing)
  • It shall be unlawful for any person to molest, torture, torment, cruelly beat, needlessly mutilate or kill, wound, injure, poison or subject to conditions detrimental to its health or general welfare any wild horse within a wild horse sanctuary, or to cause or procure such action. The words "torture" and "torment" shall be held to include every act which causes unjustifiable pain, suffering or death.(Sec. 3-33. – Cruelty)
  • It shall be unlawful for any person to feed, ride, pet or approach with the intent to feed, ride or pet any wild horse. (Sec. 3-36. – Feeding, riding and petting prohibited)

These laws are not meant to prevent visitors and locals from enjoying the Banks Mustangs, but rather to protect them. With such a small population, even one injury, illness, or death can be very detrimental to the herd. Unfortunately, many visitors do not understand the full extent of their actions by assuming the wild herd enjoys the same treats that a domestic horse would like. Sadly, one treat could easily kill the horse who eats it. Additionally, although they may appear calm and inquisitive, keeping your distance is absolutely necessary, no matter what your experience level is with domestic horses. At the end of the day, the Spanish Banker Mustangs are a feral species meaning they are wild, unpredictable, and potentially dangerous. To learn more about the majestic wild Outer Banks horses, click here.

If you want to learn more about Carova and other OBX beaches, check out our guide to Accessing Outer Banks Beaches

Driving on Carova Beach

Book Your Outer Banks Vacation Today!

Ready to plan your trip to the Outer Banks to enjoy all that the beach has to offer? Check out our available vacation rentals today! 

¹Coastal Guide Network. (n.d.). Carova history. Carova History - Retrieved June 17, 2022, from 

About the Author: Lauren is the author of two books and a travel enthusiast. She grew up on the Outer Banks and only left for a few years to get her degree at UNC-Chapel Hill and complete a tour in the Coast Guard before making her way back to the beach in 2017. The only thing Lauren loves more than writing is sharing her love of the Outer Banks and its rich history with visitors and locals alike. When she isn’t writing for the Seaside Vacations Travel Blog, Lauren can usually be found with a book and cup of tea in hand, planning her next travel adventure and trying to figure out what happened to the Lost Colony.