While it is possible to find the Outer Banks wild horses on your own, the best bet for seeing them is to book a tour with a reputable guide operating out of Corolla. We have some suggestions, below.
How to See the Wild Horses of Corolla
Before attempting to see the majestic NC wild horses, bear in mind that there are a few laws in place regarding your interaction with the wild animals:
- Do not feed the wild horses
- Do not pet the wild horses
- Do not come within 50 feet of the horses
- Do not bait or entice the horses
These laws are in place to protect the horses but they’re also for your safety. Although the horses are usually calm and peaceful, they are still wild animals and could get spooked and injure you or your family.
Keeping these guidelines in mind, it is possible to embark on a self-guided tour to spot the horses. You’ll need a car with 4-wheel drive. Many Outer Banks tourists get stuck in the sand each year attempting to spot the horses (getting towed out of the sand could be a little humiliating and cost a small fortune).
From Corolla, head North on NC 12. You’ll pass the Whalehead and Currituck Beach Lighthouse. Eventually, you’ll reach a point where the paved road ends. Use that four-wheel drive to head out onto the sand and continue heading north on the four-wheel drive beach. Most people report that you’ll need to drive about 6 miles before you start spotting horses.
Know Before You Go
If you don't have a 4-wheel drive vehicle, book one of the wild horse tours, below! You must have a 4-wheel drive vehicle as law enforcement will stop 2-wheel drive vehicles before leaving the paved road in Corolla. If you have your heart set on driving on the beach, you can rent Jeeps and other 4-wheel drive vehicles (you'll find better rates in Kill Devil Hills and Kitty Hawk). Deflate your tires slightly before driving on the sand. You can inflate your tires on your return at air stations around Corolla (look for the signs). Pack your snacks and drinks there are no food service options once you leave the road. Other good stuff to know…
- The speed limit on the beach is 35, unless…
- You are within 300 feet of another person, then the speed limit is 15
- Fill up the gas tank! There are no gas stations after you leave the pavement
- Beach parking passes (see below) are limited to 300 per week
- Stay up-to-date on beach travel rules and recommendations from Currituck County
IMPORTANT: You must have a Currituck County permit to park on the beach! It's a lot of fun and lots of people do it, but you must have a permit. If you are renting a house in the 4-wheel drive area, ask for your beach parking pass (each rental unit has 2 passes from the county). Everyone else must purchase a Currituck County Beach Parking pass for $50 (updated for the 2023 season). Passes are good for a week.
Origin of the Wild Horses of Corolla
Descended from the Spanish Mustangs, the Corolla wild horses were the first settlers of the Outer Banks. The horses have been residing along the North Carolina coastline for nearly 500 years. Meaning they were among the first residents of the area, second only to the Native Americans.
Although it’s not possible to trace the horses back to a specific origin, historians have used ship’s logs and journals to try to pinpoint a possible answer. Many believe that the horses came from early Spanish explorers.
There are two commonly accepted stories. The first story shares that the Spanish settlers were forced to abandon their ramshackle homes and livestock when fleeing from the local Native American tribes during attacks. The horses were left behind to roam the coast. In the second story, a Spanish boat attempting to conquer the new world started to sink. The boat was required to let go of extra cargo and the horses were released, forming their own herd in the Outer Banks.
At times, the horses roamed the length of the Outer Banks from Cape Lookout to Ocracoke Island and on to Corova. With the development of these lands and paved roads, the horses have been kept to a smaller area. Today, the beautiful horses roam freely along the dunes of Corolla. Part of what makes them appear so magical is their unknown origins.
Corolla Wild Horses Tours and Guides
While it is possible to do a self-guided journey, the best bet for seeing the wild horses of Corolla is to book a tour with one of the reputable companies in the OBX. Reservations are recommended, especially during peak tourism season in June and July.
Book A Wild Horse Tour Online
Super popular with our readers is the 2-hour Outer Banks Wild Horse Tour by 4WD. During this guided, 2-hour tour, you'll see the wild horses from an open-air 4-wheel drive vehicle as it drives along the sand dunes and the coast. You'll also learn about the island's history and ecology, stop for photo opportunities with the horses and other areas of interest, and enjoy exclusive entry to the Wild Horse Conservation Area.
Corolla Wild Horse Tours
Corolla Wild Horse Tours offers knowledgeable guides. Their tours focus on family and are safe for any age. Car seats are welcomed in their vehicles as well. The tour takes place in a 15 passenger open-air safari truck. The guide will take you through the dunes and through neighborhoods for a 25-mile journey that will last 2 hours. Corolla Wild Horse Tours has more than 20 years of experience and knows exactly how and where to spot the wild horses.
Bob’s Wild Horse Tours
Since 1996, Bob’s Wild Horse Tours has been helping tourists spot the Corolla horses. Their knowledgeable guides will take you through the four-wheel-drive beaches, sharing OBX history and folklore. Bob’s Wild Horse Tours was the first tour company to offer open-air horse tours in the area. Their vehicles seat up to 15 people and can accommodate car seats. The tour lasts two hours.
Corolla Jeep Adventures
Corolla Jeep Adventures offers several different kinds of exciting tours in the Outer Banks including ATV tours and kayak tours. One of their most popular is the ‘Wild Horse Safari’. This guided tour will take you and your family on a 2-hour journey to spot the wild horses. Their customized safari-style trucks provide open-air viewing. The tour guide will drive you to the top of “Penny Hill” to take in the beautiful view. The hill will also give children the chance to explore and jump down the side of the steep dune.
Wild Horse Adventure Tours
Wild Horse Adventure Tours provides a unique experience with an off-road tour in an open-air, customized H1 Hummer. The vehicles have room for 13 passengers with individual seats and plenty of room. Wild Horse Adventure Tours has also been granted exclusive access to the Wild Horse Sanctuary in Swan Beach. This means that you’ll be able to view the horses in a hidden, natural environment. All tours are a little over 2 hours.
Corolla Wild Horse Fund
The majestic wild horses have become an important neighbor to many Outer Banks residents. This is why the laws have been put into place to help protect the animals. The Corolla Wild Horse Fund was created as a not-for-profit charity that is responsible for protecting and caring for the wild horses. The Wild Horse Fund monitors the herd and checks on individual horse health daily throughout the year.
Wild Horse Museum
The headquarters includes a store and an educational museum detailing the history and the cultural significance of the horses. Visit the museum at 1130 Corolla Village Rd., Corolla, NC 27927. Phone 252-453-8002. There may be a small fee for activities.
You can support the Wild Horse Fund by sponsoring a horse, providing hay, making a one-time donation, or becoming a member. Find more details here.
Round Out your Corolla Experience
Aside from the incredible experience of viewing the wild horses along the beach, Corolla has a lot to offer. Check out our Corolla 3-day weekend recommendations and enjoy the Outer Banks!
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