Wild Horses of Corolla: A Little 4WD Adventure
is possible to find the wild Spanish mustangs along much of the beach
from Corolla to Carova. But most of the nearly 11 miles of beach from
the ramp at Corolla to the Virginia line at Carova looks pretty much
the same. It is very difficult to know where you are. There are very
few distinctive landmarks to go by, and there simply are not any road
signs other than some hard to spot mile markers. You will quickly
find that having some frame of reference to judge your location relative
to the Corolla ramp or the Virginia line will bring you peace of mind.
You should be
mindful of the tide when driving this stretch of beach. Depending
on the time of year and the weather, high tide can come very far up
on the beach, near the dunes, putting you in deep loose sand with
little room to drive. Being able to judge how long it will take to
reach Carova or Corolla is extremely useful. Remember, driving along
the beach is a lot slower than on the open highway, and you must take
that into consideration when judging distance and time. The seemingly
short eleven mile drive can often take from 30 minutes to an hour.
tide charts to plan your best opportunities for traveling along
this beach. At times low tide opens much of this beach to a very wide
and hard packed surface, reminiscent
of Daytona Beach. At other times, even low tide will give minimal
berth, and you must grind your way for miles in soft sand. Also keep
in mind that there are no public facilities north of Corolla. No stores,
no gas stations, and no public restrooms are to be found. The closest
thing to a public facility is the Carova
Beach Volunteer Fire Dept. and Rescue Squad, located back off
the beach between MM21 and MM22.
There is one other
hazard you should be aware of that you won't find on most beaches.
There used to be an ancient maritime forest where the beach is now.
The salt water has preserved many of the stumps
from that ancient stand of trees. These are visible at low tide, and
can be far enough up on the beach that they could be driven into.
These stumps are easily visible in daylight, but may not be so obvious
at night. Just be aware that they are present in several places, especially
along the southern end of this beach area, and be sure to avoid them.
You can read more about this phenomenon at "Stumps
In The Surf".
The list at right
provides some information and locations of markers you might find
useful, but a couple of these mean little without the photos associated
with them. Keep in mind also that the "mile markers" and the "miles
North of the Corolla Ramp" (noted as "NoCR")
do not correlate with each other. It is unclear just where the distances
on the "mile marker" signs are measured from. You can only use the
mile marker signs as a relative location, to calculate your distance
from any of these other mile markers.
some handy GPS coordinates and mileages for the trip
- Ramp at end of Hwy. 12- Corolla: N 36.39574
- mile marker 15 - Penny's Hill (see notes in text and photo)
- mile marker 16 - not found
- mile marker 17 - N 36.45350
W 075.84490 A prominent landmark dune is at
this mile marker (see
- mile marker 18 - N 36.46793
- mile marker 19 - N 36.48636
- Small watch tower near the dunes (see
photo) N 36.49689 W 075.85718
( 7 miles NoCR)
- mile marker 20 - N 36.49856
- mile marker 21 - N 36.51014
- Carova Beach Volunteer Fire Dept. and Rescue Squad - (not
visible from beach) N 36.51748
- mile marker 22 - N 36.52133
- mile marker 23 - N 36.53558
landmarks are measured in "miles north of the Corolla
ramp" or "NoCR".
- 1.4 miles NoCR - 1st house visible from beach beyond the
wildlife preserve area
- 2.7 miles NoCR - 3 houses on the beach beyond the dune
line (see image)
- 7 miles NoCR - small watch tower near the dunes (see
photo) N 36.49689 W 075.85718
- 8.3 miles NoCR - house with 2 white verandas / gazebos
near the dunes
- 10.8 miles NoCR - the Virginia line, fence and gate blocks
farther travel north
The first interesting
sight you come to north of Corolla is Penny's Hill. The problem is
it's not visible from the beach. This large dune is located at Mile
Marker 15, where there is a ramp. But this ramp is marked private,
and leads to a large home (far left in photo) in front of Penny's
Hill appears to be the largest unvegetated dune north of Jockey's
Ridge. The road in this photo leads left to the first ramp north
Just 200 yards
north of MM15 is another ramp closest to Penny's Hill, and then another
ramp 200 yards north of that one. Either of these will let you navigate
the paths back southward to reach the location shown in the photo.
These ramps and roads are clearly visible in the NOAA
aerial photo below. It is not clear whether Penny's Hill is private
property, or only next to private property. You cannot drive on this
dune, but it might be possible to hike it.
one half mile north of Penny's Hill and Mile Marker 15 is the first
obvious landmark on your way north. Three beach
homes sit at the dune line where they jut out onto the beach.
At high tide you have to drive around behind these houses to keep
out of the surf. The NOAA aerial photo at right shows the three houses
on the lower right of the photo (look for their shadows on the beach)
and Penny's Hill to the upper left.
more miles north up the beach you will reach the next major landmark.
vegetated dune projects out onto the beach with a house behind
it. The eastern base of the dune nearly hides the
Mile Marker 17 sign. You can't miss the dune, but you can miss
the marker if you don't look carefully.
and large dune is a prominent landmark. Nearly hidden at the
eastern edge (right) of this dune is the Mile Marker 17 sign,
shown in the close-up photo below. N 36.45350
The next easy
to spot landmark is the watchtower pictured at right. It sits in front
of a building marked "US Coast Guard Station No. 166", which is located
about seven miles north of the Corolla ramp. From here there is only
another 3.8 miles to the Virginia line. This is one of several places
along the beach where high tide can reach well up to the dunes, as
evidenced by the dark color of the damp, packed sand in the foreground
of the photo.
landmark watchtower is part of an old Coast Guard station moved
here to use as a residence. N 36.49689
The last easy
to spot landmark is a pair of bright white verandas, or gazebos, and
a boardwalk out at the dunes. These belong to a house that is 8.3
miles north of the Corolla ramp. Once you reach this area, you are
getting into prime wild horse territory, as evidenced by the photo
of this colt
with the white boardwalk steps in the background.
Another 250 yards
north of this landmark is the ramp leading to the Carova Beach Volunteer
Fire Dept. and Rescue Squad. Both can be identified in the aerial
photo from NOAA linked at right. This ramp, or any ramp north
of here will take you into Carova. There is a good chance you will
find wild mustangs grazing almost anywhere in the area between this
ramp and the next four ramps northward. You don't really have to worry
about getting lost. You can't go very far in any event. If you come
to a dead end, just turn around and go back. The roads generally run
in a north/south - east/west grid, with frequent crossroads. You can
always work your way east until you reach a beach ramp.
Though the author
had good luck finding horses in the area of Carova, that is not to
say the horses cannot be found south of Carova. They range from the
Penny's Hill area northward, and are sometimes seen walking up or
down the beach along the surf, or grazing on the dunes. With a little
planning using the information given here, and a little luck, you
can see these wonderful wild horses for yourself.
mare stopped as she was strolling by the camera and took a roll
in the sand, then rolled onto her back and stared at the camera
as if to say "Well, is this cute enough for you, or what?"