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The coast of North Carolina offers an ideal setup both for short getaways and week-long vacations. No matter where you decide to head to, you will find scenic beauty, but if you are looking for the most crystalline waters and clearest sand, you came to the right place as the beaches we included in this article are the clearest ones in NC.
If you are in a hurry, here is the list of the places we recommend visiting:
- Best Clear Water Beaches In North Carolina
- Shackleford Banks
- Wrightsville Beach
- Emerald Isle Beach
- Ocean Isle Beach
- Kitty Hawk Beach
- Carova Beach
- Corolla Beach
- North Topsail Beach
- Freeman Park – Carolina Beach
- Nags Head
- Kure Beach
- Atlantic Beach
- Frisco Beach
What beaches have the clearest water in North Carolina?
Many beaches in NC offer a stunning coastal experience, but if you are specifically looking for spots with crystal-clear, blue-hued waters, you will want to visit Shackleford Banks on Cape Lookout National Seashore, Wrightsville Beach, and Emerald Isle on Crystal Coast.
Welcome to the raw, wild side of Cape Lookout National Seashore! This barrier island system located off of Carteret County’s coast is a wonderland full of natural treasures that come together at a meeting point of Back Sound, Beaufort Inlet, and the Atlantic Ocean where you find the clearest water in North Carolina; in fact, the water is so turquoise some days here that it rivals the Caribbean!
The big draw is the population of feral horses running wild along this pristine white sandy beach! Visitors also delight in crabs, scallops, and loggerhead turtles. If you want to spend even more time in the water, stop by Beaufort and rent a canoe or kayak to paddle out.
Shackleford Banks can only be accessed by boat. The easiest way to get here is to take a ferry from Beaufort. Plan to camp for a few nights to get a real taste of one of the best clear water beaches in North Carolina!
Wrightsville Beach is continuously named one of the clearest beaches In North Carolina! Famed for its crystalline waters and spacious beach, this spot attracts people who love surfing, swimming, and other water sports. National Geographic even named it one of the country’s top surf spots. Rent a board and ride the waves at this top-notch surf destination!
Visitors also get the perk of staying in a fun, walkable beach town full of shops, restaurants, museums, resorts, spas, and open-air attractions. Plus, as one of those North Carolina’s beaches with fishing piers, Wrightsville Beach has Johnnie Mercers Pier to get you closer to the Atlantic Ocean. Enjoy the bluest water and most fantastic views while strolling on this long pier!
Emerald Isle Beach
At the edge of Bogue Banks on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast, Emerald Island Beach offers 12 miles of crystal clear waters! This is a perfect beach for families looking to surf, swim, or simply bond while taking in views!
While the Third Street Access Point has a small parking lot steps away from the beach, the Western Regional Access Point is a better choice. You’ll find outdoor showers to get the sand off your feet, a gazebo for picnics, and clean bathrooms. With more than 160 parking spots, you can easily find a spot on the busiest of days.
For a more private beach experience, go to The Point at the western end of Emerald Isle Beach. This quiet, secluded spot offers unspoiled water views. It’s also a top spot for fishing, surfing, catching a sunset, or getting your wheels sandy with a little beach driving. For swimmers, bathing in the warm water here is a real treat.
Other North Carolina Beaches with Clear Water
Ocean Isle Beach
With its pristine white sand lined with hip restaurants and resorts, Ocean Isle Beach in the Brunswick Islands is one of the most picturesque beaches in North Carolina. Its proximity to Raleigh, the capital city of North Carolina, makes this beach an easy choice when planning a quick getaway.
Families love Ocean Isle because of its gentle waves and interesting marshlands. The area around the beach is home to arcades, museums, zipline adventures, and so many more attractions that create a memorable holiday! Remember to snap a family photo showing off the views at the gorgeous Ocean Isle Beach Pier!
Kitty Hawk Beach
Considered the heart of the Outer Banks, Kitty Hawk Beach embodies everything tourists look for in a great American beach town! With some of the best restaurants in the Outer Banks within its town limits, Kitty Hawk is the best place to sit down for a traditional seafood boil.
You don’t need to be an OBX native to make the most of your trip though! Kitty Hawk Beach has 12 access points, some with showers and walkways. Sandy Park Run offers a multi-terrain boardwalk that loops into some wooded trails. This is the spot to hit if you want to see scores of yellow-bellied slider turtles!
Of course, some people visit Kitty Hawk for reasons beyond just wanting to see a clear water beach. Kitty Hawk is famous for being the place where Orville and Wilbur Wright conducted flight experiments after determining that its secluded location, coastal winds, and soft landings created the perfect environment for launching gliders.
Carova Beach is a spot to know if you want a secluded beach experience. Far from paved roads in the Northern Outer Banks, Carova Beach can only be accessed by 4×4 vehicles.
Those who make the journey are treated to breathtaking views of the best clear water beaches in North Carolina where wild horses roam free! Families and friends find that Carova Beach offers a great spot for bonding and making memories without the “noise” of popular beach towns.
Just be prepared to “rough it” a bit as you make do without any restaurants or shops. You won’t find any chain hotels either, but you can rent a cabin close to the water. Even during the busy season when tourists flock to North Carolina, Carova Beach has some gorgeous and clean strips of sand!
Bordering the Atlantic Ocean and the Currituck Sound, Corolla Beach is another place on North Carolina’s Coastline famed for its clear blue waters and “chill” vibe. The local terrain is slightly more magical than the rest of the Outer Banks because of a thick maritime forest that adds a “wild” quality.
The most famous residents of Corolla Beach are wild horses belonging to a herd of Spanish mustangs that have been running in the sand since being shipwrecked back in the 1500s! Beachcombers will have a great time here as there are shells and sea glass to collect.
You’ll also want to bring or rent a vehicle with FWD to see the beach in a new way. Rent a cottage ahead of time to ensure you have a place to stay as the community doesn’t have any hotels!
North Topsail Beach
The spacious North Topsail Beach is a perfect pick if you’re looking for a pristine beach with crystal clear waters.
A favorite of families, North Topsail Beach offers 12 miles of beautiful beachfront terrain to explore. Kids love collecting the abundant seashells that line the shore while their parents tell stories of the pirates who once roamed the tides. In fact, North Topsail Beach is believed to be a favorite treasure-hiding spot of the infamous Blackbeard.
The BA13B access point on New River Inlet Rd is the best place to start and end your visit as it features clean, maintained outdoor toilets and showers. As a pet-friendly beach, it welcomes visitors who bring their pips.
Freeman Park – Carolina Beach
A beautiful spot called Freeman Park is tucked away in Carolina Beach’s northernmost coastal region. Those who make the trek here enjoy access to a 100% undeveloped barrier island with beautifully clean waters.
The park allows driving any 4×4 vehicle on the beach; daily passes can be purchased at the entrance using a 24-hour pay station. However, most visitors prefer to walk or cycle along the inlet waterfront to enjoy more intimate views.
One perk for fishermen and shell collectors is that the inlet-facing beach here draws in the catches. Sea mullets and Atlantic croakers are also pretty abundant. There are also some beautiful dunes you can explore and spots for crabbing.
If your idea of a heavenly vacation includes camping, this is the perfect beach to choose! Not only can you pitch a tent right on the white sand, but you can also hold your own bonfire – as long as you clean up before leaving. Just make sure you book your spot online before you go because the beach only offers a small number of camping permits every night.
Visiting Nags Head is a tradition that families have been enjoying for generations! In fact, this beach holds the distinction of becoming the first “tourist colony” in North Carolina back in the 1800s.
With nearly 12 miles of soft white sandy shores, Nags Head beaches offer the ideal backdrop for a short getaway and weeklong vacation. Moreover, if you’re looking for a pet-friendly beach in North Carolina, you’ll be happy to hear that dogs are allowed on the beach all year long as long as they’re restrained by a leash shorter than 10 feet.
While Nags Head is full of great restaurants, shops, and other beach attractions, the real draw is the Bodie Island Light Station located on Bodie Island in Nags Head. This beautiful landmark on the northern end of Cape Hatteras National Seashore dates back to 1837. With a beauty that makes it seem like a relic of a simpler time, the Bodie Island Light Station remains fully operational.
Located between the well-known Carolina Beach and the quiet shorelines of Zeke’s Island Coastal Reserve, Kure Beach is a jolly joker destination in North Carolina with something to offer for all vacationers.
The shoreline’s nice array of beaches makes it excellent for water sports lovers; you can go swimming, surfing, boating, and kayaking here, or just lay down on the soft sand and enjoy the views. Scuba diving is also a popular activity thanks to the extremely clear waters. Local guides offer introductory classes and help you become certified.
Kure Beach has a fishing pier too, where you can go fishing, see pelicans and maybe dolphins too! The nearby Ocean Front Park and Pavilion has restrooms, a playground, swings along the boardwalk, and an open-air pavilion where events are held throughout the year. Kure Beach is a place I would definitely consider staying at for a family vacation!
Situated on a barrier island on the Southern Outer Banks, Atlantic Beach is one most visited beach towns on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast. Whether you are coming for a day trip or a full week’s getaway, its crystal clear, blue-hued water will provide you with the perfect backdrop for your vacation.
The best place to enter is at the Circle Regional Access Point, which has showers and more than 60 parking spots. It is located in the center of Atlantic Beach; therefore, it is also known as Town Beach access. The beach offers miles of fun to its visitors; there are soccer fields and volleyball courts to keep sporty ones active, while foodies can discover lovely coastal restaurants.
Though you must pay for parking during the busy season, it’s free during the off-season. Alternatively, you can also try the Picnic Street Park beach access; it has a more expansive parking area known as “The Bathhouse” plus well-kept showers and restrooms.
If you are looking for clear water beaches in North Carolina that are lesser known, consider visiting Frisco Beach, which offers all of the peace you want on a relaxing beach day.
It is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, a 70 miles long national seashore on the Outer Banks that includes North Carolina’s most secluded beaches. Personally, I love this beach mainly due to the seclusion of the area.
Frisco Beach has many comfort facilities such as bathrooms, foot wash stations, and showers. Lifeguards are on duty in the summer, making it a safe place for families. Plus, it is wheelchair accessible too!
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