Corolla Wild Horses – Highlight of Your Outer Banks Beach Trip

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Seeing the Corolla Wild Horses is one of the most unique and amazing beach experiences I’ve ever had. If you’ve never been to the Outer Banks, it’s worth a trip for this alone!

Corolla Wild Horses

Not For Horse Lovers Only!

Oh my, where do I begin? How can I ever find words to make you understand what it was like to see the wild Spanish Mustangs that live on the beaches of the Outer Banks? What magnificent creatures they are, bold and beautiful, untamed and gloriously free, grazing in the sand dunes, running along the edge of the ocean.

Trust me, this is not just for devout horse lovers. Fact is, horses have never played a significant role in my life. Some of my childhood friends owned horses, and I got to go riding with them on a few occasions. I enjoyed that, but otherwise I’ve never had any sort of fascination with horses.

As a beach lover, though, the Outer Banks wild horses piqued my interest. Needless to say they are a unique sight that you won’t see on any other beach. What I didn’t know is how special they are in so many other interesting ways. The more I read about how they originally came to this country and how they have survived all these years, the more determined I was that I absolutely had to see them for myself.

The downside was that my OBX trip was in December. North Carolina temperatures that time of year are considered moderate by most, but I’m a deep south girl. Louisiana can have some frigid days in winter, but they are usually short lived and interrupted by days in the 70’s that give you a nice warm break.

I also happen to be the most cold natured person on earth, and that’s been true all my life. I’m pretty sure chemo actually made it worse, but that’s a whole other story for some other time.

I mention my strong aversion to the cold just to put things in perspective. I don’t do anything outdoors in the bitter cold, yet somehow I had a feeling this was going to be worth it. I was right, but I couldn’t have dreamed how truly special this experience was going to be.

Planning Our Not-So-Perfect Tour

Can you see wild horses in Corolla on your own? Yes, you can, but it’s not simple. You must have a 4-wheel-drive vehicle and obtain a permit, and as explained in my Corolla Beach Travel Guide you must comply with a number of very strict rules about driving on the beach. Then, you have to know where to look for the horses, and they are not always easy to find. No matter what time of year you go, you really have a much better chance of actually seeing horses if you have an experienced guide.

My group chose to hire Corolla Outback Adventures, and I highly recommend them. They were extremely nice, and in the politest way possible they actually tried to discourage us. They warned it would be cold, possibly raining, and that the chances of finding the horses in such conditions was very slim.

We were not dissuaded. Personally, I knew I might not have another opportunity to go to the Outer Banks. For me it could very well be the chance of a lifetime.

As for the rest of our party, there were a total of nine friends on this trip. Six of us were crazy enough adventurous enough to do this in the dead of winter. Mind you, this group was all women, and frankly, we aren’t exactly “spring chickens” anymore. We know that, but you’re only as old as you feel, right?

Besides, we were prepared. We dressed warm – lots of layers, heavy coats with hoods, scarves and gloves. We even carried blankets (because the guy who took our reservation suggested it). We knew exactly what we were getting into.

Or so we thought.

The Weather, The “Shuttle”, and The Guide

We showed up at 10:30 in the morning on December 6, 2023. It was 44° with 79% humidity, misting rain, and 15 MPH winds. Our tour guide was delightful. When he got a look at us I’m quite sure he thought we were nuts, but he had the good manners to not say so. However, he did tell us right off that we have no real friends – because, he said, if any of us had real friends they would have told us not to come!

We laughed, but as we climbed aboard the open-air shuttle on that windy misty morning, the reality was beginning to sink in.

Corolla Outback Adventures
Corolla Outback Adventures – the 4WD Shuttle

I’m sorry I didn’t get a better photo of what they call a “4×4 shuttle”. Basically it was a large 4WD pickup truck with seating mounted along each side of the truck bed. Each seat was one long bench with a sturdy back and seat belts. Note that the seats are mounted on top of the truck bed sides, which means you’re sitting high enough to see over the top of the cab. Obviously that’s perfect for getting the best view of the horses and scenery.

As you may be able to see in the photo, the seating area is covered. That green fabric you see is mesh. I suppose it might provide a bit of shade from the sun, but I can attest that it does precious little to shield you from rain.

As we settled in and got seat belts buckled, our guide told us all about these particular horses – their history, today’s population, and current methods of tracking, protecting, and caring for these wild animals. Most impressive was that this was not just a job for this guide. He obviously cares very much about the well-being of these wild horses and protecting them and their natural habitat.

He also had a great sense of humor. After his educational and entertaining talk, he climbed into the vehicle’s nice warm cab, with his dog sitting on the passenger side, and our adventure began.

A New Definition of the Word “Cold”

Corolla Outback Adventures is several miles from the entrance to Currituck beach. I don’t know how far, but I’ll never forget taking off down that highway, sitting up high in the back of that truck, picking up speed. Within minutes I thought that was the coldest I have ever been in my life.

I was wrong.

After what seemed a good long ways, we slowed down, turned off the main highway, and drove along a winding dirt road through the sand dunes. Once we reached the beach it was wide open sand. There is not other manmade road into this area, only this very wide, flat beach.

Turning onto Currituck beach
Turning onto Currituck beach. You can see the clouds have begun to break up. Trust me, it didn’t make it any warmer!

Heading down the beach we really picked up speed. I don’t know how fast we were going, maybe 30 or 40 MPH, but add to that we were driving into the wind – which was even stronger than 15 MPH coming right off the ocean. And it was still misting rain.

Now that was the coldest I’ve ever been in my life!

Thankfully we didn’t go too far down the beach before we turned away from the ocean and headed up into the dunes. There we drove much, much slower, and the dunes blocked much of the wind.

At this point we were actually driving through a neighborhood. There are several hundred houses built among those dunes, but no “streets” and no paved or gravel roads. You have only “paths” in the sand that wind over and around the dunes from house to house. It’s truly a fascinating place to see, though I admit I can’t quite imagine living there!

Hopefully my crude video below will give you an idea of what this area looks like.

We drove along winding paths through the dunes passing houses like these for quite a long time. Unfortunately the only sign of horses we saw was a few droppings here and there.

All the while our guide kept the window on the passenger side of the cab lowered just a little. That allowed his dog to keep his nose close to the opening. He said his dog could actually smell the horses long before it was possible to catch sight of them.

After an hour or so of driving down dirt trails to explore the dunes, we stopped for a view of the Currituck Sound. There our guide gave another short talk about the area and its history and answered our questions. What a nice guy! He is extremely knowledgeable, and again listening to him was both interesting and entertaining.

View of Currituck Sound
View from the dunes looking out over the Currituck Sound

Not a Horse In Sight – But Then…

We then headed back through the dunes toward the beach. Talking among ourselves, we agreed that even if we didn’t find horses the trip was still well worth braving the cold. That beach front neighborhood with no roads is one of the most unique areas you’ll ever see. Those folks have all the beauty and conveniences of modern homes set in a natural landscape that has been left as unspoiled as possible. One question I didn’t think to ask our guide is, if you lived there how would you tell someone to find your house? Give them GPS coordinates? (I’ve since read that they actually use mile markers as guides.)

At that point we had pretty much given up on seeing horses, but what we did not know then is that our guide had too. He had radioed back to his boss that he had looked everywhere he knew to look, and the horses just were not to be found that day. He was giving it one last look as we drove to the open beach, and then he planned to head home.

And then it happened.

We drove over that last dune, and just as we turned onto the open beach there they were! We saw 5 magnificent wild horses casually strolling down the beach ahead of us!

First sight of wild horses.
First sight of wild horses. We didn’t know then that two more horses were lagging behind, just on the other side of the dunes.

Suddenly the cold did not matter. We were all so excited we were scrambling to try to capture a photo or video. Our guide kept going until we caught up with the horses. About that time the stallion ran over to the other side of the dunes out of sight. He quickly reappeared, along with two more mares.

All seven horses
At the urging of the stallion the other 2 mares caught up with the herd.

It was amazing! The guide had told us that the best you can hope for is to see 5 to 7 horses on a good day in nice weather. We had picked one of the worst possible days, yet there before us were 7 of these beautiful creatures. God was truly smiling on us that day.

Horses grazing on the dunes.
Grazing on the dunes.

The guide stopped the truck so we could unbuckle seat belts and stand to try to get better photos.

Horses walking among the dunes.

The horses kept moving, slowly making their way down the beach. Several times we sat down so our guide could drive forward a little to keep up with them.

After a good long ways the horses suddenly picked up speed and took off running. They crossed in front of us, heading toward the ocean.

Running toward the ocean
Running toward the ocean.
Where the horses led, our tour guide followed.
Where the horses led, our tour guide followed.

All this time we still had a fantastic view and were loving every minute. However, we had to stay seated because we were moving, so that made it difficult to get any decent photos or videos. That’s why you really must experience this for yourself!

At last, it was time to let these wild creatures go on their way. In this final shot you can see that we weren’t the only vehicle on the beach. That’s because for everyone who lives in all those houses among the dunes, there is no other road to their neighborhood. This beach is the road, literally.

And finally, these beautiful wild horses gallop off into the distance.
And finally, these beautiful wild horses gallop off into the distance.

At that we turned around and headed back down the beach. Thankfully this time we were driving with the wind so it didn’t feel quite so brutally cold. But then, on the return trip I was so ecstatic over the whole experience that maybe I didn’t notice the cold quite so much.

Plan Your Own Wild Horses Adventure

I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed this story and that it will inspire you to go see these beautiful creatures for yourself. Our tour was on a freezing cold rainy day in the dead of winter, and it was one of the most exciting experiences of my life. Imagine how grand it would be on a nice sunny summer day!

For general information please see my Corolla Beach Travel Guide. For specific information about the Corolla Wild Horses, check out these resources:

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Corolla Wild Horses - Unforgettable experience in the Outer Banks

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