With miles of unspoiled beaches, historic sites, and parks, North Carolina’s Outer Banks is fun for the whole family — and that includes the ones with four legs! If your dog is anything like mine, he or she will love watching the sanderlings on the beach and getting a good sniff of those famously strong winds that lured the Wright Brothers a century ago. But there is more than just the beach as the entire Outer Banks is dog-friendly! From the most dog-friendly restaurant to plenty of activities, here’s your guide for an Outer Banks dog-friendly vacation that is truly for the whole family!
Outer Banks Dog-Friendly Accommodations
First things first. If you’re going to visit the Outer Banks, you are likely going to need somewhere to stay that welcomes furry family members. Rental accommodations in the Outer Banks primarily take two forms: homes or hotels. Homes are generally available for rent in one week periods. Hotels are available with greater flexibility offering you the chance to stay for as little as a few days.
Outer Banks Dog-Friendly Rentals
Rental homes in the Outer Banks tend to be the more popular choice. In addition to having more space and privacy, houses offer kitchens and many have additional amenities like pools and hot tubs. There are also a large number of pet-friendly rental homes in the Outer Banks. Local rental companies like Twiddy offer online catalogs of their homes but you can also find suitable rentals on Vrbo and Airbnb. I also prefer rental homes because you generally have a safe area to walk the dog, even if it is only a driveway area. (Just keep an eye out for burrs sticking to paws and fur!)
Pet-Friendly Hotels in Outer Banks
Finding a dog-friendly hotel in the Outer Banks tends to be a little more difficult. Rooms generally charge an additional fee for hosting dogs and there may be weight or size restrictions. There are some oceanfront chain hotels to choose from, such as Comfort Inn South Oceanfront, Comfort Inn on the Ocean, and Ramada Plaza by Wyndham Nags Head Oceanfront. If you prefer something a little more personal, the Inn at Corolla Light also welcomes pets.
Dog-Friendly Things to Do in the Outer Banks
Jockey’s Ridge State Park
There’s something really awe-inspiring about Jockey’s Ridge State Park. The eastern seaboard’s largest active dune is just acres and acres of sand. With the Roanoke Sound on one side and the Atlantic Ocean only a few blocks away on the other, Jockey’s Ridge is fun to explore. In addition to the huge sand dunes, there are small ecosystems within the park and trails that you can hike.
Jockey’s Ridge is welcoming of dogs and, no doubt, they will enjoy every minute of frolicking in the sand. Because the vast majority of the park is sand with full sun exposure, be sure to keep an eye on the sand temperature for delicate paws. It’s also a good idea to bring cold water along, too.
Stop and Smell the Roses at Elizabethan Gardens
Amid the salt air and the sandy beaches, it may surprise you to know that there is a beautiful botanical garden in the Outer Banks. Tucked in a wooded area of Roanoke Island that is part of Fort Raleigh National Historic Park and near the Lost Colony’s Waterside Theatre, the Elizabethan Gardens is a hidden gem.
The more than 10-acres of gardens are dedicated to the memory of the English colonists who settled near the site. There are over 500 different species of plants at the Elizabethan Gardens. As with any garden, what is in bloom changes with the season.
But the best part is that the Elizabethan Gardens is an Outer Banks dog-friendly spot! For a nominal fee, well-behaved leashed dogs who are up to date on vaccinations can also enjoy the gardens.
Stroll the Duck Boardwalk
The town of Duck has a roughly three-quarters of a mile-long boardwalk that runs along the Currituck Sound. The path connects the Duck Town Park, shopping areas, public boat slips, kayak launches, and fishing areas. Pets are welcome as long as they are on a leash. So you and your furry friend can go for a stroll or do some window shopping. Many of the shops put water bowls out for the four-legged customers. The boardwalk area is also a fantastic spot to enjoy the sunset!
Explore Historic Corolla
If you’re a lighthouse enthusiast (Hi, Mom!), the Outer Banks is an exciting place. But there is so much more to do in Corolla than just Currituck Beach Lighthouse, that pretty brick lighthouse that emerges from the evergreen trees.
Slowly but surely, the historic area hidden away from the multi-million dollar beach homes is being preserved for future generations while still being enjoyed by the present. In addition to the lighthouse, Historic Corolla Village is comprised of buildings with historic value dot the area that you can easily explore on foot (or paw) or by bicycle. Nearby you can also find the Whalehead Club and the Corolla Chapel.
While your dog can’t venture inside any of these buildings (or to the top of the lighthouse), he or she can still go for a look (and a sniff) about the area. Be sure to see the picturesque wooden bridge by the Whalehead Club and maybe have a picnic lunch along the waterfront.
Visit the Wright Brothers Memorial Park
In December 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright made the first successful airplane flight in Kitty Hawk. Today, the site is one you and your dog can visit. The Wright Brothers National Memorial combines the actual location where the brothers lived, work and flew; a massive stone memorial; and a fantastic museum/visitor center.
As you walk the field you can see the exact spot where Orville took to the skies. Trace the path imagining that first successful flight all the way to the landing location less than 900 feet away. You can also take a peek inside reconstructions of the simple camp buildings that the brothers lived in. Imagine the wind and sand pounding on those thin wood walls.
Pets are welcome at the park but not within the buildings. Additionally, pets must be on leashes no longer than 6-feet.
Visit Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse’s black and white swirl stripe is iconic. But there’s more than just the lighthouse. Cape Hatteras National Seashore is more than 70-miles of land stretching from Bodie Island in the north, all the way down past Ocracoke Island to where the park meets Cape Lookout National Seashore. That means there are three lighthouses in total — Bodie Island, Ocracoke, and, of course, Cape Hatteras — that you can marvel at as well as miles of coastal towns to explore and historic shipwrecks to ponder.
Dogs are welcome at the park so long as they are on a leash no longer than 6-feet. Additionally, pets are not permitted on designated swim beaches or in buildings.
Go for a Hike at Nags Head Woods
While the Outer Banks is a popular vacation spot, sometimes it can be hard to find a quiet spot for reflection. This is especially true during the peak summer season and, increasingly, the rest of the year, too. But the seclusion that Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve offers is something truly special. The site was originally a village that was inhabited from the 19th century until about the 1930s.
For some, Nags Head Woods is a place to go for a walk. There are eight trails ranging from easy quarter-mile loops to more challenging hikes that are closer to four miles in length. But for others, Nags Head Woods is a place to indulge in nature. More than a hundred species of birds, fifteen species of amphibians, and more than two dozen reptiles have been documented in the preserve.
Leashed dogs are permitted on some but not all of the trails.
Have a Day at the Beach
Let’s be honest. The beach is, without a doubt, the most popular thing to do in the Outer Banks. It is understandably the main draw of the region. But because the Outer Banks is actually a collection of smaller communities, the rules for dogs on beaches varies across the region. Rules may change so be sure to confirm with the specific locale. In general, the Outer Banks in the fall off-season is very welcoming. In fact, I think the beaches are some of the best East Coast dog friendly beaches.
- Duck: In town and at the park, dogs must be leashed. On the beach, dogs are allowed year-round and may be off-leash. But, keep mind that there is no public beach access. Read more.
- Southern Shores: Dogs are only allowed on the beach from May 15th-September 15th during the hours of 6 pm-9 am. Dogs must be on a leash. Read more.
- Kitty Hawk: Dogs must be on a leash in town. Dogs are allowed on public beaches. However, leashes must not exceed 6-feet from the Friday before Memorial Day until the day after Labor Day from 10 am-6 pm. Otherwise, dogs may be on a leash retractable to 12-feet. Dogs can go off-leash on the beach if they do not disturb others and are within 30-feet of their human. Read more.
- Kill Devil Hills: From Memorial Day through Labor Day, no dogs are allowed on the beach from 9 am-6 pm unless they are service dogs. Dogs must always be on a leash. Read more.
- Nags Head: Dogs on leashes no longer than 10-feet are allowed on the beaches year-round.
- Manteo: Dogs on leashes no longer than 6-feet are permitted year-round. Read more.
- Cape Hatteras National Seashore: Dogs must be on leashes no longer than 6-feet and are not permitted on designated swim beaches or in buildings. Read more.
- Carova & 4×4 Beaches: Leashed dogs are allowed year-round.
Dog-Friendly Restaurants in the Outer Banks
In my experience, a “dog-friendly restaurant” usually means there is an outdoor area where dogs are welcome. Often it is a patio or a sidewalk, just outside of the main restaurant. Maybe there is a bowl of water. If they are particularly generous, there could be a few biscuits.
Pigman’s BBQ in Nags Head welcome not just you but your dog into the restaurant. As the owner Rich explained to my husband and me, he’d rather have the dogs in the restaurant than under the hot sun or inside hot cars. And they really gave George, our mini schnauzer, a warm Southern welcome. He was given a bowl of cold water (that was so large he probably could have bathed in it) and some fresh, housemade pork rinds. George even shared a few with my husband.
For human visitors, I recommend the pulled pork and that fantastic vinegar-based Carolina BBQ sauce. The cornbread is pretty tasty, too.
You can tell when someone really loves animals and the folks at Pigman’s really walk the walk. If the weather permits, there’s also a green area outside with picnic tables.
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All opinions, as well as all photos, are my own. This post contains affiliate links.