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Everyone loves a good beach – Enough to make some beaches unbearably crowded, especially during the hot summer. Although North Carolina’s Coast fills up quickly in the peak season, some of its most beautiful beaches still fall under the radar.
13 Most Secluded Beaches In North Carolina
- Ocracoke Beach
- Bear Island – Hammock Beach State Park
- Frisco Beach
- Pea Island Beach
- Nags Head Beach
- Emerald Isle Beach
- Shackleford Banks
- Carova Beach
- Topsail Beach
- Ocean Isle Beach
- Cape Lookout National Seashore
- Holden Beach
- Masonboro Island
What Are the Least Crowded Beaches In North Carolina?
The business of North Carolina beaches is constantly changing depending on the time of the year or if there is any event nearby. Still, Ocracoke Beach and Bear Island are the two seaside locales that offer the most secluded beach experience year-round.
You’ll need to stray off the beaten path to find this one, but that’s part of the appeal. Ringed by 16 miles of rugged coastline off the Outer Banks, Ocracoke Island is home to some of the least touristy beaches in North Carolina.
The atmosphere here is very laid-back. From the moment you step off the ferry, you’ll be enveloped in the mellow island vibe. If you plan on swimming – a delightful activity from mid-May to October, when the ocean is warmest – be forewarned that the current can sometimes be quite strong.
I recommend visiting in the shoulder season, as the island does see an influx of tourists in high summer. You might not be the only people on the beach, but spring and fall are typically uncrowded.
Bear Island – Hammocks Beach State Park
Bear Island is one of the best things that Hammocks Beach State Park offers. If you’re in the Swansboro area and looking for a peaceful day at the beach, consider making this 4-mile island your next destination.
You can access the island using your own boat or kayak, but the park offers a ferry service if you don’t have one. Overnight camping is permitted, although there are a limited number of sites. Check with the park service if you need clarification on the rules for camping on the island.
Nature lovers will appreciate the opportunity to observe the nesting habits of the loggerhead turtle and other turtle species. Because this is a prime nesting ground, Bear Island has a strict “leave no trace” policy.
Other Hidden Beaches in North Carolina To Note
Cape Hatteras National Seashore is home to some of the best-known beaches on the North Carolina coast. Despite the area’s popularity, Frisco Beach manages to fly under the radar.
Frisco Beach is characterized by delightfully warm water due to its proximity to the Gulf Stream. Peaceful and family-friendly, it’s a great place to take your kids to swim because the water is calmer than at some nearby beaches. Even showers and changing rooms are available so you can hose off after a refreshing dip.
Pea Island Beach
This hidden gem can be found on the north tip of the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and makes a marvelous stop on a North Carolina beach vacation. The island stretches over 13 miles and is home to freshwater ponds, salt marshes, and gorgeous views in every direction!
Stop at the Visitors Center to get information on the local wildlife or to schedule a canoe tour. Or you can find a quiet place to take a walk and observe the beauty unassisted. There’s no admission cost and no shortage of gorgeous scenery.
Nags Head Beach
Nags Head Beach is one of the jewels of the Upper Banks region. Rich in history and home to some truly stunning vistas, this is one of the best small beach towns in North Carolina.
Try casting your line off Jeanette’s Pier, which has been rebuilt by North Carolina Aquariums and now includes an exhibition space. If fishing isn’t your passion, you can fly a kite, go hang-gliding or sandboarding (yes, that’s really a thing!), or soak in the orange-and-ruby sunset.
Tip: Don’t forget to stop by Sam and Omie’s, a charming seaside shack serving burgers, sandwiches, and fried seafood classics.
Emerald Isle Beach
Since Emerald Isle has been voted as North Carolina’s number-one beach by more than one travel magazine, it’s not exactly the best-kept secret in the state. But as white sand beaches in North Carolina go, we agree with the assessment that this one is tough to beat.
Family-friendly options like the North Carolina Aquarium (located minutes away in Pine Knoll Shores) and walking trails make this an attractive destination for travelers with young children. If your kids are older, try a paddle boarding lesson or kayak trip around Bogue Sound.
And be sure to watch the sunset from The Point; it is the westernmost beach section of Emerald Isle, which offers one of the most amazing vantage points you’ll likely find anywhere.
Those seeking clear water beaches in North Carolina should add Shackleford Banks to their shortlist. In addition to being a quiet spot for families looking for a serene beach vacation, this island paradise is renowned for its pristine clear waters.
Shackleford Banks is a beachcomber’s dream come true. Visit at low tide after a storm, and you’ll find sand dollars, olive shells, whelks, moon snails, and much more. It’s also a prime destination for anglers. Other activities include kayaking, surfing, swimming, and body-boarding.
You can only access Shackleford Banks by boat, so if you don’t have your own, plan ahead by checking the Island Express Ferry Service schedule. Departure points can be found in downtown Beaufort and Harkers Island.
As the northernmost community in Outer Banks, Carova Beach has a special cachet among locals and visitors alike. It’s not a town exactly, but a collection of a few neighborhoods, and it’s accessible only by an unpaved stretch of sand. As a result, the community is home to some of the quietest beaches in North Carolina.
In this secluded paradise, you can relax and enjoy the peace. This is a great place to bring that novel you’ve meant to read but need help finding the time. Don’t be surprised if you see wild mustangs roaming the beach.
You won’t find any hotels here, but a few vacation rentals should be available. Be forewarned that it’s a primitive spot – travelers looking for posh resorts will do better elsewhere. However, if your goal is to find a crowd-free beach, you can’t go wrong at Carova Beach.
Wilmington area is a popular vacation spot in North Carolina. While most people visit Wrightsville, one of the state’s most popular beaches with a boardwalk, restaurants, and shops, let me give you a hint on where to head if you want peace; the nearby 26-mile-long barrier island, Topsail Island manages to hold its old-world charm.
There are only two ways to access the island: via bridges in Surf City and North Topsail Beach. Once on the island, there are several beach access points to get to the shore. Rent a surfboard, swim, or lay down on the soft sand with your favorite beach read. Those who want to fish can do it at the Seaview Pier.
Tip: Don’t miss the fish tacos at Shaka Taco – they’re the quintessential Topsail Island culinary experience.
Ocean Isle Beach
You’ll know it’s vacation time when you venture to Ocean Isle Beach, located in the southernmost corner of the state. If you go any farther south, you’ll end up in South Carolina – but there’s no need, as this hidden gem might be the least touristy beach in NC. To be honest, it is my favorite spot on the whole coast for a slow-paced atmosphere.
Ocean Isle Beach is clean and very family-friendly. Start the day watching the jaw-dropping sunrise, then spend the rest of the morning swimming or bodyboarding in the gentle surf. When you get hungry, visit the grill or ice cream parlor to grab a soft-serve cone.
Toward the late afternoon, thirsty adults can grab a beer or Duplin Winery Wine Slush drink and stroll along the coast to take in the sunset. Beachcombers will appreciate the nice seashell selection!
Cape Lookout National Seashore
Though the name makes it sound as though this should be a top tourist destination, Cape Lookout National Seashore has some of the most secluded beaches in North Carolina.
No bridges connect the mainland to the islands, meaning they can only be accessed by boat. There are ferries from Harper’s Island and Beaufort, though, so anyone can find these treasures if willing to put in the effort. You can even drive on this seashore but note that you need a 4-wd vehicle and must purchase an off-road permit.
Don’t expect paved roads, concession stands, or even trash cans – this is unspoiled wilderness at its finest. Hunt for seashells, cast a line, tour Portsmouth Village, or take a dip in the lovely clear waters of the Atlantic. For something more strenuous, see if climbing the Cape Lookout Lighthouse during your visit is possible.
Tucked within the Brunswick Islands, Holden Beach is on the shortlist for the least crowded beach in North Carolina. This quaint, peaceful seaside community provides the ideal opportunity to rest, recharge, and reconnect. The vibes are so laid-back at Holden Beach that sometimes it is called the retirement beach!
Though it may be difficult to pull yourself away from the powdery white sand, in case you want more excitement, you’ll be just a 15-minute drive from Shallotte, which offers golf and shopping opportunities in addition to show-stopping restaurants.
Five miles southeast of Wilmington, you’ll encounter Masonboro Island. This is the largest undisturbed barrier island on the southern North Carolina coast and is part of the NC Coastal Reserve & Estuarine Research Reserve. This beautiful uninhabited island offers pristine beaches and peaceful boating, paddle boarding, and kayaking.
You’ll also find plenty of sand dunes and tidal flats to go with the sand beaches – all teeming with local flora and fauna. Keep an eye out for loggerhead turtles and diamondback terrapins, which can be found in the salt marshes along the Intracoastal Waterway side of the preserve.
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