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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 NERR components 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 National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) in North Carolina, Currituck Banks encompasses 965 acres of ocean beach, sand dunes, grasslands, shrub thicket, maritime forest, brackish and freshwater marshes, tidal flats, and subtidal soft bottoms. It is bordered by the Currituck Sound on the west and the Atlantic Ocean on the east. The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service own neighboring tracts to the north. 

While Currituck Banks was once a series of islands, it is currently part of a barrier spit that extends about 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 hurricanes, northeasters, and shoaling. While there were once several inlets in the area, the last of the inlets that once connected Currituck Sound to the ocean closed in 1828 due to natural shoaling. This inlet closure left the area in its current situation: 50 miles away from the closest ocean inlet (at least for the time being!). Because of this, Currituck Sound does not have regular deposits of saltwater, so its salinity is much lower than other parts of the Albemarle-Pamlico Sound. The marshes that extend into Currituck Sound are characterized as “oligohaline,” which means they have very low salinity compared to brackish marsh systems that are closer to ocean inlets. One can find freshwater species of plants and animals not common in more saline coastal marshes due to the low salinity. Water levels are also impacted by the lack of a nearby ocean inlet. Wind direction and intensity are the main forces affecting water levels in Currituck Sound, as opposed to lunar tides.  

The mixing of the warm Gulf Stream current and the cool Labrador Current off Currituck Banks creates a climate where northern species reach the southern limit of their ranges and southern species reach the northern limit of their ranges. As a result, a diversity of species from both regions is found here.  In fact, the Reserve is noted as a crossover point for a number of northern and southern species!  There is a rich community of both commercial and game fish species in the sound.  Because the Reserve encompasses such a wide variety of habitats, visitors can find an abundance of bird diversity within the Reserve.  The Currituck Sound is located within the Atlantic Flyway, and the site is especially important for migrating waterfowl. Currituck Banks is also part of the North Carolina Birding Trail System.

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

Download a copy of our site brochure with trail map.

See a list of expected birds at Currituck Banks

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 permit. See information below to obtain these permits.

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

(2) Obtain a N.C. Coastal Reserve Permit. 

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

Your Currituck Banks Reserve Permit 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 Permit, 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: 252-261-8891.

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