Currituck Banks Reserve

*Please note: the parking lot for the Currituck Banks Reserve trailheads is not to be used for: private or commercial parking for carpooling to 4x4 beach OR airing up and airing down tires for accessing 4x4 beach. County lots located near the lighthouse are available for these uses*

Currituck Banks was one of the three original National Estuarine Research Reserve sites dedicated by NOAA and the Division of Coastal Management in 1985. This site is also a Dedicated Nature Preserve, authorized by G.S. 143B-135.250.

Natural Features

The northernmost site of the N.C. Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve, Currituck Banks Reserve encompasses 965 acres of ocean beach, sand dunes, grasslands, shrub thicket, maritime forest, brackish and freshwater marshes, tidal flats, and subtidal soft bottoms. Currituck Banks Reserve is bordered by the Currituck Sound on the west and the Atlantic Ocean on the east. The Nature Conservancy and Currituck County own neighboring tracts to the north. 

The Currituck Banks Reserve is part of a barrier spit that extends approximately 70 miles from Virginia Beach to Oregon Inlet. In the Outer Banks, inlets open and close naturally due to weather and geologic events such as storms and shoaling. While there were once several inlets in the area, the last of the inlets that connected Currituck Sound to the ocean closed in 1828 due to natural shoaling. As a result, the closest inlet is 50 miles away. 

The salinity changes that followed have resulted in larger shifts in the ecosystem. Marshes extending into Currituck Sound are characterized as oligohaline, meaning they have very low salinity compared to brackish marsh systems that are closer to inlets. One can find freshwater species of plants and animals not common in other coastal marshes due to the low salinity of Currituck Sound.  The brackish water also supports a rich community of both commercial and recreational fish species.  Water levels shift with the wind, direction and intensity are major forces affecting the water levels of Currituck Sound, as opposed to the lunar tides.  

The mixing of the warm Gulf Stream current and the cool Labrador Current occurs offshore of Currituck Banks. As a result, a diversity of species found near the limits of their range occur at the site.  With a wide variety of habitats and location along the Atlantic Flyway, visitors can find  migratory birds as well as the year-round residents (see the expected birds list). The North Carolina Birding Trail has included Currituck Banks Reserve as a site where it is well known for the waterfowl that it supports each winter. 

Go on a virtual field trip of Currituck Banks in PDF format.

Download a copy of our site brochure with trail map.

Check out the Coastal Reserve Facebook page.

Visiting the Site

Take N.C. 12 north past Corolla. Currituck Banks is accessible by foot traffic and boat; however, there is no boat ramp or dock within the Reserve boundaries.

Accessing the “Boardwalk/Sound Overlook” and “Maritime Forest” trails: Visitor parking for boardwalk and trail use is located at the sharp turn in the road. From the small wooden gate in the parking lot, both trails begin on the handicap accessible 1/3-mile boardwalk (2/3 mile round trip). The “Boardwalk/Sound Overlook” trail leads to a view of Currituck Sound with interpretive signs along the way. The 0.75 mile (1.5 mile roundtrip) “Maritime Forest Trail” departs from the boardwalk- look for a trailhead kiosk on the right side of the boardwalk as you head towards the sound. The “Maritime Forest Trail” heads north through a maritime forest to the sound. Both trails have rest area benches along the way and are well marked. A link to a pdf of the Currituck Banks Site Brochure contains a trail map.

Accessing the Beach:  There is no pedestrian beach access from the trailhead parking lot. Public beach access lots are available with more direct access to the beach, showers, restrooms, and picnic tables one-mile south of the Reserve parking lot.  

Access to the 4x4 beach and northern portions of the Reserve is limited to four-wheel drive vehicles. Just north of the hiking trails, N.C. 12 terminates at the beach access ramp. No pedestrians are allowed on the driving ramp to the beach. To access this beach highway, drivers must first air down their tires to 20-30 pounds (depending on the vehicle). New county regulations in 2018 also require visitors who wish to park on the beach to obtain a county permit from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Please do not use the trailhead parking lot to leave a vehicle in order to carpool to the beach, walk to the beach, or for airing up/airing down tires. Unauthorized use of the parking lot will result in vehicles being towed or booted. Currituck County public lots are available for these purposes a mile south of the trailheads at the public beach access (the county lots also have bathrooms, trash cans, and outdoor showers). Free air stations are available in the lighthouse lot.  

Be a responsible visitor: check out the reserve rules and policies before your visit. 

Hunting

Hunting is allowed within Currituck Banks National Estuarine Research Reserve. Hunters must agree to follow the rules and regulations of N.C. Wildlife Resources CommissionCurrituck County, and the N.C. Coastal Reserve. Hunters are responsible for knowing and abiding by all hunting regulations and knowing Reserve boundaries. 

Hunters are required to have a (1) valid state hunting license AND (2) a valid N.C. Coastal Reserve hunting authorization. See information below to obtain this license and authorization.

(1) Obtain your state hunting license from N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. Note: You must obtain this license before you can apply for a N.C. Coastal Reserve authorization.

(2) Obtain N.C. Coastal Reserve Authorization. 

  • Step 1. Complete the online form and view the informational slide show, which is required as part of completing your authorization.
  • Step 2. Your Reserve Authorization for Currituck Banks will be issued to you after the online form is completed and delivered.  Your authorization number will be emailed to you.  This authorization number can be used to fill out your paper authorization
  • Step 3. Print your parking pass if you will be parking at the reserve to hunt. 

Your Currituck Banks Reserve Authorization will include a list of Reserve hunting regulations as well as a map of hunting locations at Currituck Banks. Hunter parking for the Reserve is located on the beach- please see the “Accessing the Beach” information above for more information.

Your signed and dated Currituck Banks Reserve Authorization, as well as your N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission license and a valid ID, must be carried with you at all times while hunting. 

Hunters are required to report all successful harvest information to the Reserve using this online form. Additional comments regarding hunting at the Reserve sites can be submitted here

For more information, contact Jason Brown, Phone: 252-475-7219.

Site Management