Shop Reservations Newsroom

GO TO PARK

Ecology

Park Maps and Brochures:

Upcoming Events:

Friday, September 21, 2018 - 9:00am
Tuesday, September 25, 2018 - 10:00am
Tuesday, September 25, 2018 - 10:00am
Park has reopened   

Jockey's Ridge State Park is now open. Please exercise caution during your visit as park staff work on clearing storm debris.

 Posted on: Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Ecology

The big dune

Sunset at Jockey's Ridge State Park

By C. Peek.

Jockey's Ridge is home to the largest natural active sand dune system in the eastern United States. Shifting maritime winds blow billions of grains of sand in different directions, constantly changing both the shape and the size of the dune. At times, the dune can get as tall as 60 feet. The winds blow from the northeast during the winter and from the southwest during the summer, so the sand is constantly blown back and forth, preventing it from blowing away entirely.

The dunes are an example of a medano — a huge hill of shifting sand that lacks vegetation. There are several prominent sand dunes in the area; of them all, Jockey's Ridge is the most spectacular.

The dunes are believed to have formed 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. Geologists believe that strong water currents from hurricanes and storms washed sand from large offshore shoals onto the beach. Over many years, the wind picked up this sand and blew it inland. These evolved into a system of dunes that now stretches along the Outer Banks coastline.

 

Plant life

Red bay tree
Red bay tree, Jockey's Ridge State Park. By J. Brown.

Even though shifting sands provide a somewhat less-than-inviting environment, several plant communities are present in the park. Small pockets of American beachgrass grow along the base of the dune. Thickets of wax myrtle, bayberry, red cedar, live oak and red bay are found in protected areas near the parking lot. A small shrub forest of southern red oaks, sweet gums and loblolly pines may be found to the west of the dune.

The shrub forest gives way to brackish marshes along Roanoke Sound, where salt and freshwater mix to create an estuary. Cattails, sawgrass, broadleaf arrowhead and a variety of sedges dominate the upper freshwater marsh, while closer to the open water, needlegrass rush and big cordgrass give way to scattered smooth cordgrass and other species more tolerant of high salt concentration.

 

Animal life

Eastern cottontail rabbit

Eastern cottontail rabbit, Jockey's Ridge State Park. By M. Gosselin.

Early morning hikers will often see tracks that rabbits, foxes, lizard and other animals left in the sand during the night. Heavy rains form temporary pools in the lower level of the dunes and serve as a source of water for raccoons, opossums, mice and muskrats.

Bird life is abundant in late summer and fall when large numbers of migrating birds funnel southward. Warblers, sparrows, flycatchers and other species may be seen in the shrub thickets. The soundside is home to a variety of waterfowl in the winter.

 

Contact:

300 W. Carolista Drive
Nags Head, NC 27959

252-441-7132
jockeys.ridge@ncparks.gov

 

Map of North Carolina

GPS: 35.9642, -75.633

 

PARK HOURS:
  • November to February:
    8:00am to 6:00pm
     
  • March to April:
    8:00am to 6:00pm
     
  • May to September:
    8:00am to 9:00pm
     
  • October:
    8:00am to 8:00pm

Closed Christmas Day

 

SOUNDSIDE ACCESS:
  • October to March:
    8:00am to 5:00pm
     
  • April to September:
    8:00am to 7:00pm

 

VISITOR CENTER:
  • November to February:
    9:00am to 5:00pm
     
  • March to October:
    9:00am to 6:00pm