6 Must-Visit North Carolina Beaches That Are Wheelchair-Accessible

Image via NC Brunswick Islands

By Vanessa Infanzon

June 1, 2023

Beaches are for everyone. Here’s how you can take advantage of North Carolina’s beautiful beaches if you have mobility issues. 

I grew up in Long Island, New York where every day during the summer was a beach day. Towel, baby oil (that’s what we used in the 1980s) and a boombox (radio), and we were set. 

More than a dozen years later, a trip to the beach from my home in Charlotte involves more planning for our family of five. We live a few hours away from the nearest beach, and our oldest son, Ben, uses a wheelchair to get around. 

Read More: 7 North Carolina Towns That Are Perfect for Biking to a Brewery

Wheelchairs and sand don’t go well together. When Ben was young, we carried him and the wheelchair separately. But as Ben grew heavier, we couldn’t carry him from the beach ramp to the water’s edge. My husband dragged the wheelchair (with Ben in it) backward to try and get better leverage. It wasn’t easy. 

We finally discovered beach wheelchairs at Fort Macon State Park in Atlantic Beach. The chairs have large inflatable tires that ride easily over the sand. Most are made from PVC pipe and do OK near the sand and water.

We believe Ben was a fish in another life (I am joking, but his squeals of delight are real) so not going to the ocean isn’t an option. When Ben is with us, we choose beaches with ramps, beach wheelchairs and other amenities – restaurants nearby, hotels with accessible bathrooms, walkable towns – that make the trip enjoyable for all of us. 

If you have mobility issues or have family or friends who need to roll on the beach, here are a few places to help plan for this summer’s beach vacation in North Carolina:

Crystal Coast

Carteret County

Find wheelchair ramp access and beach wheelchairs to borrow at several beaches in the area.  Stop by the Visitor’s Center in Morehead City or Emerald Isle Welcome Center for a brochure about beach wheelchairs and access points. 

The Town of Emerald Isle has 12 beach wheelchairs available at the Emerald Isle Fire Department Station One.

Hammocks Beach State Park and Bear Island

Onslow County

6 Must-Visit North Carolina Beaches That Are Wheelchair-Accessible
Image via Onslow County Tourism

Roll on to the passenger ferry, first-come, first-serve and packed on the weekends, to Bear Island at Hammocks Beach State Park. Once you’re off the boat, a ½ mile path leads to the beach with a bathhouse and concession stand. One beach wheelchair is available to borrow. For folks who need extra assistance, a golf cart will take guests from the boat dock to the beach. Paddlers can use the island’s EZ Launch, an ADA dock for easy transfers. Paddle NC rents canoes, and single and tandem kayaks. Contact Hammocks Beach State Park for details at (910) 326-4881.

Stay, play and dine in Swansboro, near the ferry dock: Hampton Inn & Suites in Swansboro, shopping in downtown Swansboro

NC Brunswick Islands

Brunswick County

Ramps to the beach and mobile mats (a wide runner placed on the sand to make it easier to roll wheels on) are available throughout NC Brunswick Islands. Bald Head Island, Oak Island, Ocean Isle Beach and Sunset Beach offer beach wheelchairs for free or a wear and tear fee, depending on the town. The ferry to Bald Head Island is wheelchair friendly.

Ocean Isle Inn has accessible rooms and sits a block from the beach. Jink’s Creek Waterfront Grille, Sharky’s Restaurant in Ocean Isle and Inlet View Bar & Grille in Shallotte Inlet near Holden Beach provide access for wheelchair users.

Five ocean fishing piers in the county are ADA-accessible.

North Topsail Beach

Onslow County

Guests of the Town of North Topsail Beach may borrow adaptive equipment through the North Topsail Beach Police Department. Complete an online application to borrow one of the town’s two beach wheelchairs or the beach walker. For more information about availability, contact the police department at (910) 328-0042.

Ramps from the parking lot to the beach may be found at Onslow Beach Access #2 (NC210, 4 miles southeast of North Topsail Beach high-rise bridge). 

Hampton Inn & Suites and Blue Water Inn offer handicap-accessible rooms. Splash by the Sea Restaurant and Ocean’s Edge Restaurant provide elevators for access to the dining areas.

The Outer Banks

Dare County

6 Must-Visit North Carolina Beaches That Are Wheelchair-Accessible
Image via Outer Banks Visitor’s Bureau

Local organizations and fire departments offer beach wheelchairs to the public for free: Coquina Beach, Duck, Hatteras, Jockey’s Ridge, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head and Ocracoke. Call ahead to get more information about the process and availability, (877) 629-4386.

The town of Nags Head has wheelchair-friendly mats leading onto the beach at select public accesses. OBX Beach Mobility rents beach wheelchairs by the week. The fee includes a lap belt, umbrella, and delivery and pickup in the company’s service area.

More than 15 restaurants in Dare County are designated Dementia Friendly Restaurants. Staff participated in Dementia Friendly Training to help ease the experience for families traveling with a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. 

Wilmington and Beaches

New Hanover County 

Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and Wrightsville Beach rent beach wheelchairs, free of charge. Carolina Beach has a seasonal wheelchair beach mat to get wheelchair users closer to the ocean.

Stay in an accessible room at the Hampton Inn & Suites Oceanfront. The ocean-side boardwalk at Carolina Beach, and the area’s restaurants and shops are close by.

Life Rolls On has an adaptive surfing event on July 29 in Carolina Beach.  Indo Jax Surf School hosts surf events for children with disabilities including diabetes, cancer and visual impairments.

Author

  • Vanessa Infanzon

    Vanessa Infanzon moved from New York to NC for college and never left. When she’s not writing, she’s paddle boarding at the Whitewater Center.

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