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Jockey's Ridge: Breathless Oasis

 have left the plain, and each sinking step brings my wandering mind back to that realization. The grains of sand pivot around your skin until you’ve sunk ankle deep; from the bottom of the dune, you look like a human growth on the East Coast's largest sand dunes. From the bottom of the first dune, I felt that I was about to climb a short mountain. Breathless at the top, the trail of footprints looks like I stumbled, but no one would pay much attention to my footprints here. The expanse of sand and the lack of a beaten path make my leftover markings unremarkable to other people.

There are people here; at one count I spotted 28 people, but from where I stood, each individual was an ant. A football stadium full of fans could walk onto Jockey’s Ridge, go in separate directions, and not meet their friends again for at least 24 hours. To me this is better than being at the beach; the quiet where I can only hear wind whistles and use the nearest American Beach Grass as an alternative instrument. The reeds are sparse in number overall, nestled close to the small puddle-shaped lakes coming from heavy rain in the valley of the dunes.

The plant life was a surprise when I walked up the first dune. I paused in at the patch of forest areas spread out in front of me and exclaimed: “Oh my gosh, there are trees! There’s like this random patch of trees.” Inside the forests, live oaks, red cedars, wax myrtle, bayberry, and read oaks only make up a portion of the maritime thickets. As typical of the aerial perspective, the patches looked more like broccoli bits separated on the plate. Expanses of dunes shorter than the one where I stood mesmerized were filled with the potential adventure I didn’t have time for.

A person can go to Jockey’s Ridge every day of the week for years and never experience it the same way. My experience was that of a wanderer. Turing left for ten minutes and then right for thirty, zigzagging up one dune and down to the valley of the other side. A windmill marked the entrance of my journey, like an enormous flag without marring the ocean view. The sand dunes change, constantly blowing over and being built up by the wind current coming off the Atlantic Ocean, although that in and of itself makes the exploration of the sand dunes an exceptional joy. 420 acres of sand may never be walked over.

I spotted a couple who were dog walking, there was no leash, and in the space allotted, no peace the barking dogs could bother. A family with five kids uses a sand dune closer to the entrance as a water slide. All members lined up to watch one another slide down wetted beach sand into the shallow lakes below, cheering at the splash and no doubt enjoying nature’s toy and the lack of lines that come with the territory of a manmade water slide. It’s a very safe, kid-friendly adventure. The lakes barely reach up to the shoulders of a nine-year-old boy lying down. The vantage point of being on a sand dune rather than a flat beach is the ability to see the actions of little kids from whatever direction they are headed easily.

I was able to observe their adventure and wade in the water as well; up to my ankles without the fear of a current taking me by surprise or kids tossing water up and splashing me by accident. I’m also not in the way of young and old hang gliders, coming back from a lesson two or three dunes outside of my exploration area. Free permits to hang glide are available through the park office for those who have a valid USHGA rating, but for those interested in flight but do not wish for their feet to leave the ground, the sand dunes are an ideal spot to fly kites.

--Brittney Wheatley


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