Nags Head

Nags Head on the Outer Banks of North Carolina is one of the top vacation destinations on the East Coast — and it has been since the early 1800s. For centuries, travelers have made their way to this barrier island community to enjoy the wide Atlantic Ocean beaches, the warm, shallow Roanoke Sound and the great expanses of sand in between. This is a place to enjoy nature’s beauty and outdoor recreation to its fullest, including surfing, swimming, fishing, hang-gliding, watersports and much more.

Eleven miles long and rarely more than a mile wide, Nags Head is one town on the island (it’s actually a peninsula) that runs from the Virginia state line down to Oregon Inlet. The island includes Corolla, Duck and Southern Shores on the north end, Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills Nags in the middle and Nags Head and a portion of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore on the south end. Nags Head’s narrowness (in most places) means that walking or biking to the beach is always a possibility.

Attractions | Nearby Attractions | Recreation | History


Nags Head is perfectly positioned at the center of the Outer Banks. It neighbors Kill Devil Hills, home of the Wright Brothers National Memorial. It’s just five miles from Roanoke Island, home to charming Manteo and some of the top Outer Banks attractions. Nags Head is the gateway to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, where undeveloped beaches and even more recreational opportunities await. It’s just eight miles from world-renowned Oregon Inlet Fishing Center and Oregon Inlet that leads to Hatteras Island.

For those flying into the area, Nags Head is 10 to 15-minute car ride from the Dare County Regional Airport on Roanoke Island. Car rentals are available at the airport. The National Park Service’s First Flight Airstrip in Kill Devil Hills is about 5 or 10 minutes from Nags Head, but no car rentals are available there.

Nags Head is home to the Outer Banks Hospital, the only hospital on the Outer Banks. The town is also a commercial hub of the region, offering numerous shopping and dining options.

Jockey's Ridge State Park

Besides the beach, Jockey’s Ridge State Park is the most popular attraction in Nags Head. At 420 acres, Jockey’s Ridge is the largest sand dune system on the East Coast and it has been preserved as a park for everyone to enjoy. Visitors can climb 100 feet to the top of the ridge to see both the ocean and sound, fly kites on the windy dune tops, hang glide from the ridges, learn about sand dunes in the museum or participate in year-round nature programs.

Bordering Jockey’s Ridge is Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve, a 1,092-acre, rare maritime forest eco-system that can be explored on a series of hiking trails.

Nags Head Pier

Nags Head offers two fishing piers — Outer Banks Pier and Nags Head Pier. A third, North Carolina Aquarium Jennette’s Pier, is under construction and will be complete by May 2011. It will include a 1,000-foot-long pier, a 16,000-square-foot building with exhibits, educational areas and more.

A stretch of historic oceanfront homes is one of the town’s most cherished features. These homes are prized for their unique "Nags Head-style" architecture and are known as the "Unpainted Aristocracy." You’ll find them around milepost 13, though none of them is open to the public.

About Nags Head

Nags Head, from its earliest beginnings in the 1800's, has predominately consisted of single family cottages and a few small hotels and cottage courts. Visitors to Nags Head can still enjoy the town's several historic cottages, which are primarily located across from the town's most significant landmark, Jockey's Ridge State Park. The tallest natural sand dune system in the eastern United States, the park offers unparallel views of Nags Head from its heights.

Right across from Jockey's Ridge, on Highway 12 (i.e., Virginia Dare Trail) you'll see unpainted, cedar shake beach cottages that encompass the Historic District, and are classic examples of the original architecture that once dotted the Outer Banks. Many of today's new beach homes borrow from the old Nags Head Style. The town is home to a thriving art community as well, and Gallery Row is another recognized District at the north end of town that harbors treasures of canvas, wood carvings and so much more.

Plentiful public beach accesses and accompanied parking can be found along the Nags Head oceanfront. Two public fishing piers, the Nags Head Fishing Pier, and the Outer Banks Fishing Pier in South Nags Head provide sweeping access to the copious species of fish that make their home off our sandy coast. Incorporated in 1961, Nags Head has the longest municipal stretch of oceanfront at 11 miles, and with 6.5 square miles within its borders, the town is physically the largest on the Outer Banks. Often the name Nags Head is used loosely to ascribe the Outer Banks region in the national media. Beach driving is allowed during the off season, with a proper town-issued permit between October 1 and April 30.

Regarding the origin of the town's colorful name, the legend of Nags Head takes us back to days of piracy, when tales drifted ashore about the wonderful treasures traveling at sea being plundered by "rogue businessmen" like Blackbeard, that one of the original Outer Bankers got the inspiration which brought about the equine moniker. A lantern was tied around the neck of an old gentle horse, then this old "nag" was led up and down the tallest of the sand dunes, i.e. Jockey's Ridge, so that the light shone out to sea. As a ship's captain saw this gently bobbing light, it seemed to be from a ship riding at anchor in a sheltered harbor. As the Captain tried to put in to this "safe" harbor, his ship would pile up on the treacherous shoals that constantly writhed and changed shape beneath the surface. The "land pirates" made the crew walk the plank, looted and burned the hapless ship, and made away with the bounty.

Today, family operated businesses and a small town atmosphere prevail, contributing to a certain charm and a slow, relaxed pace of life. Incorporated in 1961, Nags Head takes pride in its clean water, low density of development, and abundant open spaces. Its 11 miles of oceanfront and 6.5 square miles of area are home to a year round residential population of 2,800. The town is an annual vacation spot for a countless number of families, making it the ideal family beach.

For more information, please visit or call 252-441-5508.