Tips for Seeing Wild Horses in Corolla, NC

The wild horses of Corolla, NC (the northern tip of the Outer Banks) are as iconic to the town as the ocean waves! Trying to catch a glimpse of these horses is a popular activity for visitors. Learn more about the wild horses and how to (safely!) try to see some on your next trip.

For horse lovers and non-horse enthusiasts alike, the wild horses of Corolla are a neat sight to see. But before you decide to go traipsing up and down the beaches and dunes, there are some important things to know. And while sightings are never guaranteed, there are some tips you can try to improve your chances of a glimpse.

History of the Wild Horses of Corolla, North Carolina

The wild horses of Corolla have called the beach area home for several centuries. They are believed to be descendants of the Spanish mustangs brought from Europe by early settlers and explorers. It is unclear how the horses actually ended up on land, but there are a couple possible explanations. Perhaps they were left by the European explorers once their expeditions ended. Another theory is that the horses swam to shore after a shipwreck. (Shipwrecks were incredibly common along the Outer Banks thanks to the shifting sands and inlets.)

Present day, the island is still home to several herds – more than 100 horses total. The horses live in Carova Beach in the North Corolla Beach area.

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Who cares for the wild horses?

The wild horses are protected and managed by the Corolla Wild Horse Fund. This non-profit group works tirelessly both with the herd and also to educate the general public on ways to keep the horses safe and healthy.

The Corolla Wild Horse Fund does not receive any state or federal funding. It relies on donations to further protect and conserve the wild mustangs. You can help by attending their events, making straight donations to the Fund, or by donating to specialty programs including Hay for a Day or by Sponsoring a Horse.

What are some general safety tips to keep horses and humans safe?

First of all, it is crucial that you remember the following: the wild horses in Corolla, NC are protected by law.

I know that you might be tempted to approach one of these cute horses to give it a pat or a treat. DON’T.

These horses are wild. You should never approach them or get within 50 feet of the horses. The horses are wildly unpredictable (ya know, because they’re WILD) and will kick and bite. Plus, when you get too close, you are infringing on their natural habitat. Oh, it’s also illegal. You can face bigtime fines and possible jailtime for getting too close to the horses. Even if the horses approach you, you must do everything in your power to maintain a minimum 50 foot distance.

Never ever ever feed them. The horses live on the natural vegetation that grows on the island. To introduce them to things like carrots and apples puts them in real danger. Not only can different foods make them sick, but they can actually choke to death on them.

Stay on designated footpaths and enjoy these amazing creatures from afar.

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Where are the horses most commonly spotted?

We have gone looking for wild horses in Corolla on a few occasions. On at least one of those expeditions, we came up empty and didn’t spot a single horse. The other times, we lucked out and caught a glimpse of them hanging out in the sand dunes.

The northern beaches of Carova and Corolla are home to the herds of wild horses. These areas are all only accessible by four wheel drive vehicles. You have to drive on the beach to get to the these areas (more on that below).

Can you drive on the beach in Corolla to look for horses?

Yes, you actually HAVE to drive on the beach if you want to head to the northernmost beach areas of the Outer Banks. Listen up: the signs are not exaggerating. YOU MUST HAVE A 4×4 vehicle to drive on the beach. This is not a suggestion. If you do not have a four wheel drive vehicle, you have NO business even attempting to drive on the beach. The deep sand will suck your car right into the ground and an expensive tow truck will be the only option for removing it. Avoid adding that pricey event to your vacation expenses and just listen to the signs.

If you DO have a 4×4 vehicle and you DO decide to take a drive on the beach, you need to let a bit of air out of your tires. After you finish your beach drive, follow the signs to a pull-off area that offers air compressors to fill your tires back up again.

When is the best time of day to spot a wild horse?

Believe it or not, there isn’t really one best time to spot the horses. Spotting a wild horse is never guaranteed, as they wander and can travel where your vehicle cannot. However, they have been seen at all times of day and night. I have a few different friends who stay in Corolla for a week every summer and they all agreed that random horse sightings happen at any given time (and place!).

We usually end up on the 4×4 beach in the afternoon and have lucked out a couple of times by seeing some horses relaxing in the dunes.

Wildlife Guided Tours for Horse Spotting

If you prefer NOT to drive on the beach, or don’t have a 4×4 vehicle, or are simply looking for a fun Outer Banks activity, consider a wildlife guided tour! There are a bunch of tour companies that offer daily wildlife tours.

Here are some options for tours:

Wild horses corolla

Corolla Wild Horse Fund Museum

The Corolla Wild Horse Fund operates a small museum and gift shop in Old Corolla Village. This is a great spot to learn more about the wild horses on the Outer Banks. You can find horse themed gifts in the shop and 100% of the profits from all shop sales are donated directly to the wild horse fund.

Best of luck to you as you set out to see some of the wild mustangs on the Outer Banks! These beautiful creatures are certainly a local treasure. Remember to practice the safety tips mentioned above, both for the horses’ safety and your own. If you rent a house for vacation on the northern shores, you are definitely likely to have at least one horse sighting during your stay! Driving up along the beach hoping for a glimpse like we did is hit or miss depending on the day… but if you do luck out and see some ponies, boy is it worth the drive!

Have you ever visited the northern beaches of the Outer Banks to look for wild horses? How did it go? Did you take a tour? If so, which one and did you like it? We’d love to hear about your experiences – drop us a comment and tell us about them!


2 thoughts on “Tips for Seeing Wild Horses in Corolla, NC”

  1. This may be an unusual question but I live in hurricane prone territory also. With all the hurricanes and tropical action in the Atlantic this year, I am wondering what you do for the wild horses when a hurricane is predicted to touch your area. How are they protected from the hurricane winds and flying debris?


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