Hiking Jockey’s Ridge State Park

Roanoke Sound side of Jockey's Ridge State Park showing dense maritime forest.
Roanoke Sound side of Jockey’s Ridge State Park showing dense maritime forest.

We seem to be lucking into some absolutely exquisitely beautiful weather here on the Outer Banks. It’s been a great time to get out and explore, to see some of the hidden wonders of the area before the summer heat comes.

Jockey’s Ridge State Park

With bright shushing, nice breeze from the northwest and temperatures in the mid 60s, today was a perfect day to check out Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Nags Head.

Jockey’s Ridge is the largest sand dune on the East Coast and most visitors to the Outer Banks probably know it as an amazing place to fly a kite or learn how to hang glide. And the view from Jockey’s Ridge is spectacular.

However, there is a whole other world waiting to be explored at the park.

The 1.5 mile Tracks in the Sand nature trail winds it’s way across the dunes to a narrow beach bordering the Roanoke Sound.

Trail Description

There is a tendency to think of Jockey’s Ridge as a gigantic pile of sand. Although there is a lot of sand, this is a dynamic environment where small groves of maritime trees come to life in pockets of earth where the dunes give protection from the wind.

Sand sculpted by the wind at Jockey's Ridge State Park.
Sand sculpted by the wind at Jockey’s Ridge State Park.

But the sand is a mutable force and as it migrates, it encroaches on the root systems of the trees, strangling them over time. Along the edge of every copse of living trees, there is a swath of dead and dying vegetation.

The wind is a constant and as it blows the loose sand away, compressed sand is exposed and carved into the most amazing patterns.

Along the Roanoke Sound, protected for centuries from the harsh salt winds of the Atlantic Ocean, a dense maritime forest has taken root. It exists along a very narrow strip of land, perhaps 200 yards at it’s most wide, before the barrier of the sterile sands of Jockey’s Ridge begin to dominate.

But that narrow strip is remarkably verdant; raccoon tracks can be clearly seen. he sound of birds is a constant, and the forest is dense, almost impenetrable in places.

Although the Tracks in the Sand trail is only 1.5 miles, it is across loose sand and there are some steep sections. Anyone who walks from time to time should have no problem with it, but it’s a level trail across a well packed surface.