See the Corolla Wild Horses on a Humvee wild horse tour

by Oct 18, 2022North Carolina


Perhaps the most famous of the wild horse herds, the Corolla wild horses number approximately 100 and can be seen on a wild horse tour into the 8,000-acre sanctuary protecting them north of Corolla in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

There is no forgetting the first time seeing a wild horse herd in the Outer Banks. Michael’s first time seeing wild horses was in the Shackleford Banks, sitting chest-deep in seawater as a stallion and two mares galloped by. The second time seeing wild horses was much different and perhaps more easily accessible: from the seat of a Humvee on a fantastic, guided group tour with Wild Horse Adventure Tours in Corolla, North Carolina.

The Corolla wild horses, like the ones on Shackleford Banks, are descendants of Spanish mustangs brought to the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the 16th century. While they all used to roam freely, the Corolla mustangs are now contained by a fenced barrier within the nearly 8,000-acre sanctuary (actually a mix of public and private lands) located just north of the town of Corolla up to Virginia.


The Corolla wild horse herd, which numbers approximately 100, is arguably the most popular attraction in the area, despite Currituck County’s miles of sandy beaches, numerous seafood restaurants, and historic sites such as the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and the Whalehead Club. In fact, we have heard that over 50,000 people come to see the horses every week during peak summer months.

Corolla wild horses protected by the Corolla Wild Horse Fund

The Corolla Wild Horse Fund is a nonprofit created in 2001 that monitors the herd to keep it healthy. Plus, it responds to rescues, emergencies and rehabilitation 365 days a year. It also operates a museum and store in the historic town of Corolla (pronounced “Ko-RAH-la”). The museum is worth a visit to learn more about the wild horses, especially with its new educational signage telling the story of the horses in words and photos. Of course, little historic Corolla village also offers a pleasant stroll.

The group’s formation was necessitated by the paving of a stretch of road between the town of Duck and Corolla in 1985. The road led to a major increase in development, tourism, and traffic in the area. In the decade following, 20 horses were killed or seriously injured by vehicles.

That prompted a group of citizen-volunteers to come together and look for ways to prevent horses from being killed on Highway 12. In the end, it became clear the only permanent solution was to move the wild horses farther north and into a sanctuary area. By 1997, the southern “sound-to-sea” fence was completed at the end of the paved road and the start of the 4×4 area. There is also a northern fence on the North Carolina and Virginia border. Today, it is a dedicated bunch that protects the horses with astounding passion. One docent told us, she was “optimistic about the future of the horses since the marsh land can’t be developed.”

Egret With Gecko On A Corolla Wild Horse Back

HITT Tip: Did you know that another common name for the Corolla wild horses is “Banker” ponies. Banker for Outer Banks … get it?

Carova Beach and houses within the wild horse sanctuary

While Google Maps shows neatly laid out streets and a beach access road on Carova Beach north of Corolla, it is important to understand the road grid is more of a suggestion and the road surfaces are soft sand. There are private homes and holiday rentals throughout Swan Beach, North Swan Beach, and Carova, all within the wild horse sanctuary, bordered by the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge lands and the Currituck Sound to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east.


The beach is recognized as a public road: In theory, anyone can drive a vehicle (4WD with at least 7.5 inches of ground clearance required) into the sanctuary area. However, if you are planning to park and leave your vehicle for any reason – such as getting out to walk to view and photograph wild horses — you need a permit. Permits are not necessary if you are fortunate enough to be staying in one of the many vacation rentals in Carova.

You can certainly walk into the sanctuary area, but it is not recommended or so easy. First, there is no parking area outside the southern fence just before the beach access road that will allow parking for longer than two hours … and you’ll need much more time than that if you want to hike to see wild horses. Second, the Carova Beach area is approximately 11 miles long and one mile wide and the horses can be anywhere on the beach or surrounding neighborhoods. Meaning you could spend much of your day walking in soft sand and not see a single horse.

HITT Tip: When viewing wild horses, you must stay at least 50 feet away (this is a Currituck County Wild Horse Ordinance). If a horse approaches you, you need to back away to maintain the 50-foot distance. Also, feeding the horses is against the law and carries a substantial fine. Corolla wild horses have a very specialized diet and are only used to digesting the natural beach grasses and plants. Feeding can and does put the horses at risk for painful and sometimes fatal colic.


A tour is the best way to view the Corolla wild horses

The best way to see wild horses on the windswept beaches and dunes north of Corolla is to book a wild horse tour. Most wild horse tours utilize customized 4×4 off-road vehicles that will take you into the known favorite hangouts of the horses, increasing the chances of catching more than a glimpse of them. Tours typically run two hours and depart from Corolla. Expect to drive along the beach oceanfront thoroughfare (you must see it to believe it) but also be prepared to head off with your driver among the homes in neighborhoods and along sandy paths and roads where wild horses frequent.


Our driver, Ned, scanning the beach in search of wild horses.

We jumped into a Wild Horse Adventure Tours Humvee with our driver Ned, a former High School PE teacher and coach, at 7:30 a.m. on a sunny July morning with storm clouds threatening in the distance.

HITT Tip: We’d recommend booking a wild horse tour early in the morning or later in the afternoon to take advantage of the best light for viewing photography. The beach will also be less crowded early in the morning.

We quickly realized that no matter where you sat in the 13-passenger, open-air, Wild Horse Adventures Humvee, there wasn’t a bad seat in the house. The seating is tiered, making it very easy to see and to take photographs from almost any direction inside the vehicle.

As we headed out along Highway 12, it became clear Ned was going to both entertain and educate every minute of the trip: Favorite spots for a coffee and bagel (Lighthouse Bagels, if you must know) and all sorts of area history regarding the Currituck Beach Lighthouse and the Whalehead Club – both worth seeing we might add.

Before long, Ned drove us through the entrance, off the paved road, and onto the beach. We zoomed along, now in search of horses in earnest. The morning was beautiful with waves rolling up onto the beach next to our Humvee as we flew past. It had been nearly 30 minutes, and no sightings of wild horses yet. Houses began to appear to the west – some of them truly ginormous with Ned pointing out a 24-bedroom monstrosity and telling us where to find one with a pool in the shape of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Interesting, but still no horses.

Corolla Wild Horse In Yard

Suddenly, the radio crackled as a fellow driver reported he had spotted horses. Ned turned quickly up a street as the Humvee engine growled and tires spun slightly in the soft sand: There was our first horse. No matter where, how or how often you see wild horses, sighting them is always special. Before long, there were more sightings – a stallion with his mares in a backyard, several mares just behind another house, another few under a carport. It did feel a bit strange driving by people’s homes, gawking at horses (and the homes) while snapping photos. But such is the experience here. Ned knew all their names, too, pointing out Betsy, Rody, M&M or Cowboy.


We saw several horses eating garbage from trash cans they had managed to nose the lids off, including one called Cupid, who was renowned as a sly garbage thief. Ned tried to shoo them away since eating garbage can also be fatal. He made a note to report the problem to folks at the Corolla Wild Horse Fund so they could come out and talk to the owners about better securing the trash cans. Unnatural food can make them very ill.

Corolla Wild Horse Eating Garbage

Ned drove us back onto the beach as time was running out on our two-hour tour. He wanted one more chance to find horses by the water. True to his reputation as a wild horse whisperer, he found a small herd right at the ocean’s edge. Since there was plenty of room on the beach to stay well away from the horses, Ned parked so we could get out and quickly take photos, which made the experience even more special.

HITT Tip: Did you know that the largest population of wild horses in the world is in Australia? In the United States, there are currently wild mustangs in the Outer Banks of North Carolina as well as in Maryland, Virginia, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming. Nevada is home to more than half of the wild horse population.

We loaded back into the Humvee and, all too soon were zipping along the beach back to headquarters. The morning had turned into a beautiful non-rainy day, but sadly our Wild Horse Adventure Tour was over.


Now that we’ve completed a tour, we would love to come back … this time in our own 4WD to be able to spend more time. There is never enough time when looking for and watching wild horses roam.


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Disclosure: We were hosted on this trip by Visit Currituck County and Wild Horse Adventure Tours. Any reviews, mentions and opinions here are our own, and are not approved, provided, or otherwise endorsed or influenced by Visit Currituck County or any of the attractions mentioned.

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