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22 Jun 2022
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History & Culture

Jockey’s Ridge State Park

For visitors to the Outer Banks who have traveled along Highway 158 through Nags Head, Jockey’s Ridge—the massive mound of sand that sits along the sound side of the island—is virtually impossible to miss. Towering 100 feet tall and extending across an area of more than 420 acres, Jockey’s Ridge State Park has been a popular destination for tourists and Outer Banks locals for decades. 

The largest living natural sand dune system on the East Coast is home to a wide array of wildlife, including red foxes, raccoons, white-tailed deer, opossums, rabbits, and six-lined racerunners, as well as several species of bird, such as snowy egrets, sandpipers, and ospreys. The enormous dune also serves as the perfect spot to enjoy outdoor recreation ranging from sand-boarding to hang-gliding. Although the native wildlife that lives here and the opportunities for outdoor recreation are the primary attractions that draw visitors to the state park, the buried treasure that occasionally surfaces from beneath the sand also prompts people to swing by to take a peek. 

History of Jockey’s Ridge

The Town of Nags Head was established in the 1830s when residents of inland towns began to seek an escape from the smothering heat of North Carolina summers and started arriving by boat across the Roanoke Sound. Promising fresh salt air and cool ocean breezes, the Outer Banks soon became a travel destination for visitors, many of whom also constructed summer cottages on the western edge of the island so they can spend several weeks or months at a time along the shoreline. 

As more and more visitors traversed the inland coastal plains and made their way to the barrier islands a need to develop more accommodations became evident. In 1938, the area’s first hotel was constructed at the foot of the sand dunes. With maritime winds constantly blowing grains of sand and causing the sand dunes to shift, the hotel’s rooms soon began to fill with sand, forcing the owner to provide shovels in each room so guests could clear sand from their doorway during their stay. 

Buried Treasure Beneath Jockey’s Ridge

Over time, the sands of Jockey’s Ridge had shifted dramatically and the mountains of sand that had formed on the back side of the hotel started to rise as high as the hotel’s rooftop. Since the hotel owners were no match for Mother Nature, the Nags Head hotel was eventually swallowed up entirely by the sand dune. Today, no signs of the hotel can be found, and many debate whether or not the stories of its existence under Jockey’s Ridge are even true. 

In the 1970s, a miniature golf course was opened on a site near Jockey’s Ridge to provide family-friendly fun to Outer Banks visitors of all ages. Among myriad other obstacles on the putt-putt course that players had to navigate were a giant octopus and a large sand castle. Winds whipping across the barrier islands throughout the seasons cause the sand dune to migrate anywhere from three to six feet to the southwest each year, and because the course was situated so close to Jockey’s Ridge, it also fell victim to the colossal sand dune. 

In the summer of 1973, development began on the soundside of Jockey’s ridge when Carolista Baum, a resident of the Outer Banks, stood in front of the bulldozers and demanded they stop the destruction. After a year of petitions and fighting for the dune’s preservation, Jockey’s Ridge became a National Natural Landmark, and a year later, the park system purchased the putt-putt course, which now lays entombed beneath the sand, and the surrounding land to create Jockey’s Ridge State Park. 

Located on the southwest corner of Jockey’s Ridge State Park, the tip of the sand castle from the golf course can occasionally be spotted in the midst of the dunes. Southwest winds sometimes shift the sand just enough that the crumbling structure can be spotted from the road, prompting many visitors to make a stop at the park to hike up the dune to pose for a photo beside this piece of buried treasure on one of the most famous landmarks along the entire Outer Banks.

Jockey's Ridge Today

Today, Jockey's Ridge is a registered state park and is the tallest "living" sand dune on the Atlantic Coast. But what do we mean by that? Obviously, we don't mean the sand dune talks and breaths, but we do mean that the wind is always blowing the sand back and forth, constantly changing the dune itself. It boasts a beautiful visitor and a 384-foot boardwalk to help you navigate the paths and see the amazing wildlife and vegetation that call the dune home.

Some of the most fantastic things about Jockey's Ridge, however, are the many exciting adventures offered by Kitty Hawk Kites. From sport kite tournaments to hang gliding lessons, Kitty Hawk Kites offers something for everyone at the dunes. And right now, Seaside Vacations guests can save $20 on beginner hang gliding lessons! Kitty Hawk Kites has been teaching this 3-hour lesson since 1974, allowing you to taste the thrill of flight on your own over the dunes. It's one of the most popular activities on the beach and is available for everyone ages 4 years old and up, meaning that your entire family group can get on the once-in-a-lifetime excitement. Each student will be able to fly a hang glider over the spectacular dunes of Jockey's Ridge five times over the course of the lesson.

Take a look below as our own Seaside Vacations Team participates in the hang gliding experience with Kitty Hawk Kites!

Watch Pittsburgh 3WS Radio Hosts Jonny and Bonny take to the skies on their own hang-gliding adventure!

Events

The park also has picnic shelters and beautiful views of the soundside, as well as a full list of ongoing events for every season! There's never a wrong time to visit Jockey's Ridge, or the Outer Banks! 

Below is a list of annual events at Jockey's Ridge:

Memories and Experiences

There's nothing more amazing than climbing up to the top of that giant dune with your family, taking in the vast beauty of the Outer Banks, and racing each other down as you collapse into a fit of joy and giggles as you watch kites paint the sky overhead. Check out these episodes of the Outer Banks podcast where we discuss hang gliding, parasailing, sport kite flying, and more!

#1 Luke Baer - Kitty Hawk Kites

August 23, 2018

Welcome to the Outer Banks podcast, presented by SEASIDE VACATIONS. Our podcast covers all things Outer Banks, NC an underdeveloped, unspoiled beach vacation destination. Today we talk to Luke Baer from Kitty Hawk Kites the largest hang gliding school in the world and the place to go for Outer Banks adventures such as parasailing, kiteboarding, surf lessons, kayaking, and much much more. You can visit Kitty Hawk Kites at www.kittyhawk.com . Start your Outer Banks visit by booking a private beach vacation rental at www.OuterBanksVacations.com

#13 Ben Saltzman – Kitty Hawk Kites

July 2, 2021

The Outer Banks Podcast presented by SEASIDE VACATIONS. Wind and waves are certainly the pastimes of the Outer Banks and on this episode we explore a classic way that we game the wind with Ben Saltzman, Marketing Director for Kitty Hawk Kites. A hardcore kite enthusiast, Ben gives us a window into the sport of kite flying on the Outer Banks and the kite flying community in general. We explore the different types of kites including kites that you can make dive, hover in the air, and pinpoint land. In addition, Ben talks about the series of kite flying events held on the Outer Banks each year.

#17 - Hang Gliding Spectacular - Billy Vaughn & Megan Turner

April 15, 2022

On this episode of the Outer Banks Podcast, presented by Seaside Vacations, we talk to Kitty Hawk Kites Flight School co-managers Megan Turner and Billy Vaughn about the 50th annual Hang Gliding Spectacular, and Outer Banks tradition. Billy and Megan tell us about this longest-running hang gliding competition in the world and all of the events that happen surrounding it. Not that you need an excuse to visit the beaches of the Outer Banks but this 4 day event is as good as any.

Book Your Outer Banks Vacation Today!

So what are you waiting for? Whether you're looking for adventure, spectacular views, or a place to put your feet in the sand to get away from it all, the Outer Banks has a little bit of something for everyone! Choose one of our fabulous homes for your stay, many of which are only a short drive from this fantastic natural wonder. 

Book your memory-making Outer Banks vacation today!