Tiny, tiny waves sluggishly move bits of white sand of the Outerbanks. The late July heat is intense, reflecting off the sand and North Carolina’s deep blue water. In your Chacos, you walk 15 feet into the comfortably cool water before the water reaches your knees. Staring across the sound, you stretch tall and then fall backwards – the water, you think, is the most amazing thing on a day like today.
Back at your car and dripping wet, you grab your stuff and lug your boat the 20 yards to the flat, sandy beach. Out on the water, the heat disappears in a calm western wind. The dunes of Jockey’s Ridge shimmer in the heat off to your right; slicing into and out of the water, your paddle makes the only sound.
The Paddle Trail – 2.7 miles one way
This trail is for you if you are:
- looking for a pleasant and mellow paddle in warm and always shallow water.
- wanting the perfect spot for relaxing; taking someone out for their first time; or family paddles that isn’t stressful.
- interested in a unique view of Jockey’s Ridge (with few other people around).
Jockey’s Ridge State Park provides a small (23 spot) paved parking lot right next to the sound. The lot is on West Soundside Road, which connects to highway 158 at a four way lighted intersection. It is 30 second carry from your parked car to the white sand beach launch point. During summer months, this lot becomes busy late in the day with sunbathers and families.
The winds create a tide effect when they blow westward for several days (out of the easterly direction); this pushes the water towards the middle of the sound away from the shore. The shallow water becomes more shallow. Generally this isn’t an issue for paddlers other than requiring more distance from shore – though still in shallow (~3-4 feet) of water. If the winds are forecasted to blow 12-15 mph+, be ready to put some energy into your paddle and small chop (1 foot).
It is not recommended to paddle in winds over 15 mph since there is no protection from wind – this is an open water paddle.
The best chance to have the winds in your favor is early morning, when it tends to be calmer. In the afternoons wind tends to blow stronger from the west, heading east, pushing you towards shore.
There is a nice private campground close by, a distant public campground, and many B&Bs, hotels, and vacation rentals. See Where to Stay for information.
When to Go
Jockey’s Ridge is a pleasant paddle anytime of year. Off season means you have everything to yourself. Summer is busy but once you are on the water, you tend to not see many people. This section of the sound is too shallow for motor boats. Sunset over the water is quite spectacular.
From the sandy beach, head to your right (looking out over the water)/north. If you paddle south/left you quickly see development (houses, docks, etc).
Since the sound is shallow, search for the perfect depth for your boat and paddle blade. Don’t be surprised if you paddle 500 yards from shore but in 3-4 feet of water.
Heading north, at mile .86 the first and only bit of human development is reached with a half mile of several piers and condos on the shoreline to your right.
Continue following the shoreline until you reach Mann Point, where you make a wide turn to your right (east, facing in the direction of the Atlantic). As you make this wide turn around the point, you will see a 150 yard wide beach and numerous tall pines trees.
Land your boat at one of the many suitable spots and enjoy the shade and water. The land you stand on is managed for the public by the Nature Conservancy.
To get back, retrace your route.
Three other options exist if you want a longer paddle and have two vehicles. These paddles involve more development but are otherwise similar in nature to the paddle described.
What You’ll See
Open skies and calm water of the sound, while to your right (east) the tallest sand dunes (110 feet to 145+ feet) on the east coast rise up over the sound.
This section of the shoreline is protected and undeveloped, cattails, sawgrass, giant cordgrass and black plants in the marshland before turning into live oak trees, persimmons, red cedar, wax myrtle, bayberry, sweet gum, red oaks, and pines on shore.
Paddle slowly in shallow (about 1 foot works) water and watch for blue crabs, sting rays, and if you are lucky, a sea turtle.
The Local Knowledge To Make it Great
If you are going for a late afternoon paddle, remember the gate to the lot locks early.
Bring a hammock or a blanket for a picnic as the stand of trees at your destination is the perfect spot to relax in. This land is owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy as the Nags Heads Wood Preserve. The preserve has 8+ miles of hiking trails – worth a visit.
If you had 2 cars, you can paddle from or to Colington Road in Kill Devil Hills using a primitive kayak and fishing access point. See map for Optional Paddle #3. The water around Kill Devil Hills will have more motor boats.
Another access point, though not recommend due to the more developed shoreline is to use the Harvey Soundside Park kayak access. See map for Optional Paddle #1
Sometimes the gates aren’t locked so early morning paddles are possible. For a sunset paddle, use the public sound access on W. Dunbue Street wth 16 parking spots and just .72 miles south of Jockey’s Ridge. Launch here and paddle to your right(north) from the access point. See map for Optional Paddle #2
NOAA Booklet Chart 12204 (suitable chart/map for home printing. Page 9 and 13)
Jockey’s Ridge State Park (main entrance)
- 300 W. Carolista Drive
- Nags Head, NC 27959
- Phone 252-441-7132
- Park Entrance GPS: 35.964200, -75.633000
Jockey’s Ridge State Park – Soundside Parking Lot
- GPS: 35.9514385,-75.6321726
- Soundside Parking Gate Hours
- October-March: 8am – 5pm
- April-September: 8am – 7pm
All access points are free to park, paddle, and visit.
Where to Stay
If you wish to camp, the nearest campground is in Kitty Hawk. Adventure Bound Campground. Clean, plenty of facilities and near other paddling. Oh, and they have peacocks.
The National Park Service’s Oregon Inlet Campground is 12.4 miles south (16 minutes with no traffic, rare during peak summer).
Adventure Bound Campground
- 1004 W Kitty Hawk Rd,
- Kitty Hawk, NC 27949
- (252) 255-1130
NPS Oregon Inlet Campground
- Campground Website
GPS: 35.80028, -75.545 | 35°48’1″N, 75°32’42″W