17 Awesome Dog-Friendly Beaches in North Carolina to Visit this Summer

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Located in the southeastern United States, North Carolina is surrounded by Virginia to the north, Tennessee to the west, South Carolina to the south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. And with over 10.4 million residents, you know it has to be a fantastic place to be whether you are visiting for business or pleasure. The state boasts temperatures in the 80s during the summer and 50s during the winter, so outdoor activities are popular here. 

Besides the ocean, the state also has 166 rivers with waterfront beaches to enjoy, so you and your pup can find a variety of different places to play along the water. In fact, there are close to 50 named beaches along the North Carolina coast alone. However, it can be a real chore figuring out which beaches are dog friendly. We found 17 dog beaches in North Carolina that are worth a visit with your pup. 

Carova Beach

The state’s most northern beach is Carova Beach, which is part of the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge. Your pup is welcome here as long as he is on a leash that is no more than 10 feet long. But 10 feet is enough for Fido to run around in the water, fetch a ball, and dig in the sand. The clean white beaches here are sensational and known for the clear turquoise water, where you can see the bottom in most places. 

Another thing Carova Beach is known for is the Corolla Wild Horses. They are beautiful animals, but you need to keep your pooch far away from them at all times. Since they are feral animals, they are unpredictable, so you should keep your distance from them too. You may also see other endangered animals like sea turtles, piping plovers, and other waterfowl. You will have plenty of opportunities to swim, fish, or go boating, as well as hiking, biking, and picnicking.   

Corolla Beach

Another very popular beach in North Carolina, Corolla Beach, is in the Currituck Banks Reserve, where you and your canine companion can explore almost 1,000 acres of space. Only a few minutes from Carova Beach, there are tidal flats, marshes, maritime forests, shrub thickets, and sand dunes within the reserve as well as the beach and 24 miles of oceanfront. Although dogs have to remain leashed, the leash can be as long as you like it. 

On the western side of Corolla Beach, you can see Monkey Island across the Currituck Sound. If you have a 4WD vehicle, you can also enjoy acres of dunes and other 4WD trails and spaces. Another place where you and your fur baby can play is Crystal Lake, which is a small lake between the ocean and Raccoon Bay. And, of course, you will see wild horses running around here, too, so keep your pup secured. 

Kitty Hawk Woods Reserve Beach

Just under an hour to the south of Corolla Beach, Kitty Hawk Woods Reserve has almost 1,900 acres to enjoy. The park is surrounded by water, including Kitty Hawk Bay and Albemarle Sound. There are miles of waterfront to explore and enjoy with your dogster, and he is welcome to run around on a leash no longer than 12 feet. Just remember that this is a reserve, so there are numerous endangered wildlife species around. 

Some more common animals you may see include bobcats, foxes, raccoons, and deer, as well as rabbits, squirrels, and possums. This fascinating park has more than just beaches, though. There are ancient dune ridges up to 30 feet tall and forests with marshes and swamps. Some of the rare species here include plants like coastal goldenrod, wooly beach heather, southern twayblade, and shoreline sedge. Just remember to pack plenty of doggie bags to pick up after your pup. 

Kitty Hawk Beaches

All pups are allowed on the beaches in Kitty Hawk from the Friday before Memorial Day until the day after Labor Day between 10 AM to 6 PM as long as they are on a leash less than 6 feet long. During the rest of the year, your fur baby is allowed to be off the leash as long as he is voice controlled. If not, he can be on a 12-foot or shorter leash. There are 11 public beach access points from Fonck Street to West Kitty Hawk Road.

Bring along some beach toys like a frisbee, balls, and fetch toys. But make sure your dog does not go out too far. There are several parks in Kitty Hawk as well, including Sandy Run Park with picnic areas, grills, and a fishing pier, as well as a playground, two fitness stations, and a nature walk. And Windgrass Circle Park on Kitty Hawk Bay has shallow waters for waiting and is perfect for pups and kids. 

Nags Head Beaches

Less than 10 miles down the coast from Kitty Hawk, there are more than 40 beach access points in Nags Head, starting at East 8th Street and running all the way to Coquina Beach. That is over 13 miles of white sand beaches along the Atlantic Ocean on the eastern side and the Roanoke Sound to the west. Your canine companion is allowed on the beach all year long but he has to be on a lead not to exceed 10 feet long. 

As a tourist attraction, Nags Head beaches are often crowded, so it is good that there are so many of them. All along the island, there are small beach towns and groups of shops and eateries. Those with outdoor access are often pup-friendly, but you should always ask first before bringing in your fur puppy. And you can take a walk out on Jennette’s Pier for some fishing or just to watch some fish get reeled in. 

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge Beach

Just 36 miles southwest, the 152,000-acre Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge is a huge pup popular park on a peninsula between the Albemarle Sound, Alligator River, Croatan Sound, and the Pamlico Sound. Dogs are welcome as long as they are kept on a leash of 10 feet or shorter in length. However, this is an area known for its abundance of black bears, so it is probably a good idea to keep your pup’s leash shorter than that. 

The wildlife refuge also has a vast array of different wildlife, including alligators, deer, turtles, shorebirds, and even the endangered red wolf. Your pooch is welcome to explore the banks and even play in these waters but always be on the lookout to keep your fur baby safe. Also, there are several lakes, including South, Whipping Creek, and East Lakes. Do not forget to pack plenty of dog cleanup bags to pick up anything he drops while you are there. 

Pea Island Beach

Across the Pamlico Sound, Pea Island Beach is perfect for leashed pups and their pup parents. Located on the Atlantic Ocean, the white sand beach stretches almost seven miles, giving you plenty of space to play in this 5,823-acre national wildlife refuge. The locals are often the only ones you will see on this beach because it is more hidden and less touristy with fewer amenities. However, it does have restrooms and a Visitor Center open to leashed pets. 

There are two trails in the park as well, with over six miles of walkway along North Pond and in the salt flats. Always make sure you have enough doggie bags to pick up after your fur puppy, and do not let him get too close to any wildlife you see. Fishing in the ocean is great, with anglers catching flounder, spotted seatrout, striped bass, and red drum. You will need a saltwater fishing license, though. 

Cape Hatteras National Seashore Beach

A very popular tourist destination, the dog-friendly Cape Hatteras National Seashore in Manteo is only 16 miles to the south of Pea Island Beach. And your leashed canine companion is welcome to jump in and swim or play on the sand at any of the beaches except for the guarded swimming beaches. Some of the more popular beaches include Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Little Kinakeet, Avon, Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras. Leashed dogs are also allowed on the boardwalk, nature trails, and the Bodie Island Lighthouse grounds. 

This national seashore boasts 70 miles of coast where you can walk along the shore to look for shells, fly a kite, or take your pooch into the water to play. Bring along a cooler with some food so you and your pupster can enjoy a meal on the beach. That way, you do not have to lug everything back to the car and go get something to eat. 

Ocracoke Beaches

Dogs are welcome at any of the beaches on Ocracoke Island but have to be leashed at all times. Ocracoke Island is right next door to Hatteras Island and is surrounded by the Pamlico Sound, Ocracoke Inlet, and the Atlantic Ocean. That is 16 miles of uninterrupted beach from one end to the next, where fur babies are allowed all year long. Then, there are another 16 miles of beach on the Pamlico Sound side of the island. 

The most popular, by far, is Lifeguard Beach, on the southern end of the island. It is easy to get to by car, has restrooms, and even has a doggie water fountain. If you want to stay for the night, there is a campground in the middle of the island with over 150 sites on the ocean. While you are on the island, stop at the Pony Pen to see the wild ponies. 

Emerald Isle Beach

Almost to the southeastern corner of North Carolina, Emerald Isle Beach in North Carolina allows leashed dogs on the beach year-round. And you will not have any trouble finding a beach to your liking because there are more than 50 of them on the ocean side and 35 on the sound side. Many of them do not have actual names, but any beach access point you see is public and dog-friendly unless it is marked otherwise. 

The island also has several parks, including Blue Heron, Cedar Street, Emerald Isle Woods, Ocean Oaks, Park Street, Station Street, and Third Street. These all have beach access as well, except for Blue Heron and Cedar Street. Blue Heron is perfect for a family day with a playground, a fossil pit, and picnic areas. If you like fishing, be sure to bring your gear and a license because you can catch a variety of fish here.   

Bald Head Island 

A few hours southwest of Emerald Island, Bald Head Island, originally known as Smith Island, can be found between Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean. And the island is so dog-friendly they even have a park just for pups to play off the leash in the northwest by the Fishing Creek, which is great for letting your pup play around in. With a population of under 160 people and no vehicles allowed on the island, this is a very peaceful getaway for all.

Although most of the restaurants and shops do not allow dogs inside, those with outdoor access are usually pup-friendly. If in doubt, just ask. At many of the local places, they will even offer your pooch a treat and some water. Almost all of the hotels and other rentals allow pets as well. And with so many beaches at every turn, you and your pup will never be bored.  

Oak Island Beaches

The next island over has a bunch of places to play in the surf as well. Some of the Oak Island Beaches include Long, Yaupon, and Caswell but there are many public beach access points without names as well. Oak Island is special because your fur puppy does not even have to be leashed between the middle of October and the middle of March. It is so much more fun to play fetch and frisbee together if he can run and chase without having to drag you along. 

Besides swimming, playing in the sand, and sunbathing, you and your canine companion can also go fishing along the beach or on the Ocean Crest Pier. You will be surprised at some of the huge fish you can pull out of this water off the end of the pier! But make sure you have a fishing license. And make sure you are on Ocean Crest Pier because Oak Island Pier does not allow pups. 

13 Sunset Beach

All the way to the southwestern corner of North Carolina, Sunset Beach allows dogs from Labor Day until Memorial weekend anytime. However, they are only allowed on the beach after 6 PM during the summer, and they must be leashed at all times. According to National Geographic, Sunset Beach is one of the 21 Best Beaches in the World, so it is worth a visit even if you cannot go until the evening. During that time of year, it stays light out until well after 8 PM, so you will have plenty of time.  

Besides the miles of sandy space on the Atlantic Ocean, the city also has several parks. The largest one is Sunset Beach Town Park on the mainland. Here you will find five acres that include a boardwalk, picnic areas, a fishing pier, small boat launch, and even a dog watering station for when your pup gets thirsty. But be sure to bring puppy poopoo bags to pick up after your pup.

Lake Waccamaw State Park 

Located in Columbus County, about an hour north of Sunset Beach, at Lake Waccamaw State Park, your fur baby is welcome to play along the 14 miles of waterfront on Lake Waccamaw. The brownish water may not seem appealing to you, but your dog will love it, and it is special because it holds rare animals and plants you cannot find anywhere else. The limestone bluffs give the water a special nutrient content with less acidity for unique creatures.  

The park also features seven trails on almost 2,400 acres where you and your canine compadre can explore the woods. The Lakeshore Trail is the longest and the best if you want to learn more about the flora and fauna living here. Keep your pup on a short leash, though because there are often bears, bobcats, and even wolves in the area. And if you want to see Venus flytraps in the wild, take the half-mile Loblolly Trail.

Lake Norman State Park

About an hour north of Charlotte, Lake Norman State Park boasts almost 2,000 acres on the 

32,000-acre Lake Norman. Dogs are always welcome here as long as they are on a lead at all times. You will also need to bring a lot of doggie waste bags to pick up anything he drops. Lake Norman is the largest manmade lake in North Carolina, and the state park has 17 miles of shoreline to enjoy. It is a popular spot for locals to swim, boat, ski, fish, and camp. 

What is unusual about this lake is its warmth, making it a pleasant place to swim most of the year. You can also rent kayaks and canoes at the marina or bring your own to get out onto the lake. If you are an angler, bring your fishing license and gear because they have some whoppers, including white bass, largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, and perch. 

Lake James State Park 

Lake James State Park offers several beaches and access areas for pup parents and their leashed dogs. It is just over an hour from Lake Norman and has about 3,740 acres, not including the 6,510-acre lake. The lake has 150 miles of shoreline with great views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Besides the swimming area and beach, there is also a concession stand and bathhouse with changing rooms.

Like the park at Lake Norman, you can rent boats and paddleboards at the Paddy’s Creek Beach concession stand. Thinking of staying for a while? No problem! There are two campgrounds with 300 campsites, but it is good to book your site in advance because this place is popular. Each site has a picnic table, fire ring with a grill, and a parking pad with a level space for a tent or room for an RV. There is also a playground for the kids, shower house, and several trails through the woods. 

Falls Lake State Recreation Area Beach

Falls Lake State Recreation Area has seven different beaches and water access points for all to enjoy, including your leashed canine companion. They also have some awesome overnight experiences with over 350 campsites to choose from around the lake. Only 10 miles east of Durham, this is a popular recreation area with Falls Lake on the west and Beaver Dam Lake on the east. If you like hiking, this is a great place for you because there are 25 miles of trails. 

You can also go biking, paddling, or boating at Falls Lake. Rentals are available. Swimming is always fun with your fur buddy here, but he will need to keep a leash on during your visit. If you need some food, snacks, bait, or ice, there is also a concession stand next to Rolling View Marina, and there are bathhouses where you can change. Bring your fishing gear and license so you can do some fishing. 

The Final Woof

If the weather is not right for beaching, take your canine companion to Doggos Dog Park & Pub in Greensboro for some indoor fun. It is a bar with an indoor dog park as well as an outdoor area with all sorts of activities. You can indulge in some adult beverages and snacks while your pup plays off the leash. For something completely different, take your fur buddy to Emerald Village historical mining attraction in Little Switzerland, where he is welcome both indoors and out. Take a tour of the mines where you can pan for gold and explore the mill. You can even bring your dog into the museum. 

Photo of author
Patty Oelze is a freelance writer who is also in the process of getting her PhD in Psychology. She has been writing about dogs and other critters for about 10 years and has a plethora of animals at her home including several cats, some chipmunks, a dozen raccoons, two foxes, one coyote, and herds of deer. She and her husband have been living in the Missouri Ozarks for years where she enjoys taking care of wildlife, fishing, photography, boating, and of course, writing.

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