Beach days are supposed to be relaxing, but the crowds at popular North Carolina spots like Carolina Beach and Nags Head make it nearly impossible to swim or sunbathe in peace.
Fortunately, with this exclusive list of hidden gems, you can finally binge-read your smutty summer novel without a distraction in sight.
Family Destinations Guide surveyed 3,000 U.S. families to find out the best secret beaches in 2023. Although North Carolina wasn’t represented in the top 10, two of the state’s beaches did make the list, including Carova Beach, which came in at No. 25. We believe it deserves to be at the top, though, and here’s why.
According to the Outer Banks Visitors Guide, Carova is the northernmost community in this barrier-island region. It’s so remote that you can only access it by taking 4×4 vehicles across the unpaved beach. Plus, the county limits parking passes to 300 per week from April through October, so it’s guaranteed you won’t come across many visitors. Once purchased, you can pick up the pass at the Currituck Outer Banks Visitor Center in Corolla and get directions to the shore.
This marvelous beach offers miles of privacy in the form of white, sandy beaches and the wild mustangs that inhabit it. Can you think of anything dreamier?
Ocracoke Beach is another OBX gem (that’s the Outer Banks acronym, for the uninitiated). However, this one is a bit easier to get to as it’s along the Outer Banks National Scenic Highway. And even though the coastal scientist known as “Dr. Beach” named it the No. 1 beach in America in 2022, the 16 miles of natural and protected shoreline are devoid of tourist traps and crowds.
“I like this area because it has the three things that you must have to make a great beach: clean sand, clean water and beach safety,” he told CNN Travel. You can take comfort in the fact that this beach has lifeguards on duty from Memorial Day through Labor Day. There are also outdoor showers, a wheelchair-friendly ramp to the beach, and tons of parking.
The coast is divided into two beaches, with North Beach being the least crowded.
There are numerous islands to check out near North Carolina’s Crystal Coast, but Sharktooth Island is one of the most magical.
To get to the secluded beach, which starts with the Intracoastal Waterway and ends with Bogue Inlet, you’ll need to hop aboard a kayak or other watercraft. You can park up and rent one from either Wrightsville Beach or Carolina Beach.
Because of the current, it’s commonplace to find ancient shells, whalebones, and shark teeth along the shore. We recommend bringing a shark tooth identification guide and bag to collect all your treasures!
North Topsail Beach
The motto of the small town of North Topsail Beach is “Nature’s Tranquil Beauty,” which couldn’t be more fitting.
Being one of the three towns on Topsail Island, it’s known for its secluded shores, abundance of wildlife, and rich African American history. Onslow County maintains three different points of beach access (each with free parking, restrooms, and shows): two on New River Inlet Road and another on Island Drive.
The community is conveniently located between Wilmington and Jacksonville, making it the perfect place to escape bustling city life for a day or two.
Hammocks Beach State Park
Hammocks Beach State Park is one of the few stretches of beach in the state that remains undeveloped, making it the ultimate place to unplug and enjoy the wonders of nature. The beach, located in the seaside town of Swansboro, covers a total of 1,500 acres and includes three small barrier islands.
For an extra secluded but exciting experience, you can take a passenger ferry or private boat to Bear Island, where you can camp along the shore. While there, you might get a glimpse of the endangered Leatherback Sea Turtles, which the community strives to protect.
Nestled among North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands sits the secluded paradise of Sunset Beach. One of the best parts about this hidden gem is that the 1,200 acres that are protected by sand dunes make it a natural sanctuary for birds, turtles, and other animals. However, there’s one other secret hiding here.
About a mile from the closest public access point, you’ll find the Kindred Spirit Mailbox. According to local lore, the mailbox was put there 40 years ago by a man who fell into unrequited love. Other outlets claim it belonged to Claudia Sailor, who had a dream about a mailbox in that location and soon turned it into a reality. Regardless of its origins, the mailbox has since become a place where locals and visitors alike place anonymous, secret notes and read those left behind by others.
To get there, start from Sunset Beach at the public beach access on West 40th Street, then head Southwest for 1.5 miles. If you happen upon the jetty, you know you’ve gone too far.
Cape Lookout National Seashore
If you’re looking for an extremely secluded beach—as in, you’re the only human for actual miles—head to Cape Lookout in the middle of the OBX. Between Portsmouth Village to the north and Cape Lookout Lighthouse to the south, there are a whopping 50 miles of uninhabited beaches, completely unspoiled by development.
You can only get to this area by boat, as there aren’t any bridges connected to the mainland, and there aren’t even any paved roads. Therefore, you have to take one of the ferries from nearby towns. Also, you won’t find any of the expected amenities here, so be sure to pack everything you need and bring your trash with you when you go.