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Nags Head, North Carolina
Nags Head town welcome.png
Location in Dare County and the state of North Carolina.
Location in Dare County and the state of North Carolina.
Country United States
State North Carolina
County Dare
Incorporated 1923 and 1961
Named for Tied lanterns around the necks of ponies
 • Total 6.6 sq mi (17.2 km2)
 • Land 6.58 sq mi (17.0 km2)
 • Water 0.07 sq mi (0.2 km2)
3 ft (1 m)
 • Total 2,757
 • Estimate 
 • Density 451.30/sq mi (174.24/km2)
Time zone UTC-5 (Eastern (EST))
 • Summer (DST) UTC-4 (EDT)
ZIP Code
Area code(s) 252
FIPS code 37-45880
GNIS feature ID 1021599

Nags Head is a town in Dare County, North Carolina, United States. It is a busy vacation spot because of its beaches and sand dunes of Jockey's Ridge. The population was 2,757 at the 2010 census.


Early maps of the area show Nags Head as a promontory of land characterized by high sand dunes visible from miles at sea. The origin of the town's name is obscure, but it is likely to have been named after any one of the Nag's Heads on the English coast.

A folkloric explanation claims that mules or horses (nags) would have lights hung on their heads by nefarious wreckers in order to trick ships into running aground and then loot the ships of their valuables. The town's emblem depicts one such equine accomplice from the tale.

Around 1830, Nags Head became known as a resort area, and so remains today. Jockey's Ridge is the last vestige of the sand dunes seen by the first explorers, as the area is now highly developed. The town incorporated in 1961.


Nags Head is located at 35°55′55″N 75°36′54″W / 35.93194°N 75.61500°W / 35.93194; -75.61500 (35.932004, -75.615085).

According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 6.6 square miles (17.2 km2), of which 6.6 square miles (17.0 km2) is land and 0.1 square miles (0.2 km2), or 1.15%, is water.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1970 414
1980 1,020 146.4%
1990 1,838 80.2%
2000 2,700 46.9%
2010 2,757 2.1%
2019 (est.) 2,975 7.9%

2020 census

Nags Head racial composition
Race Number Percentage
White (non-Hispanic) 2,891 91.26%
Black or African American (non-Hispanic) 23 0.73%
Native American 5 0.16%
Asian 25 0.79%
Other/Mixed 108 3.41%
Hispanic or Latino 116 3.66%

As of the 2020 United States census, there were 3,168 people, 1,302 households, and 861 families residing in the town.

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 2,757 people, 1,223 households, and 741 families residing in the town. The population density was 413.2 people per square mile (159.4/km2). There were 4,884 housing units at an average density of 634.9 per square mile (244.9/km2). The racial makeup of the town was 94.6% White, 1.6% African American, 0.15% Native American, 0.3% Asian, 1.4% from other races, and 1.5% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.44% of the population.

There were 1,223 households, out of which 23.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 49.2% were married couples living together, 7.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 39.4% were non-families. 29.0% of all households were made up of individuals, and 8.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.19 and the average family size was 2.65.

In the town, the population was spread out, with 19.2% under the age of 18, 5.1% from 18 to 24, 30.7% from 25 to 44, 28.0% from 45 to 64, and 17.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 43 years. For every 100 females, there were 98.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 99.4 males.

The median income for a household in the town was $53,095, and the median income for a family was $61,302. Males had a median income of $33,289 versus $30,139 for females. The per capita income for the town was $30,157. About 4.4% of families and 6.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 7.9% of those under age 18 and 4.3% of those age 65 or over.

Nags Head, North Carolina beach houses
Beach houses along the Atlantic Ocean in Nags Head


Located in Nags Head is the largest sand dune on the East Coast, Jockey's Ridge. The sand dune has migrated over the years from wind and erosion, and has buried a miniature golf course along the way. The old Nags Head Hotel is buried, too. The area surrounding Jockey's Ridge is good for biking, or hiking. Jockey's Ridge has been popular with hang-gliders since the advent of the sport, as well as kite flyers and sand gliders. The Ridge includes an informative museum with exhibits on sand, weather, and area animals. The creatures outside are numerous and includes bird species, foxes, mice, squirrels, occasional deer and friendly wild rabbits.

One of the most exciting features of the Ridge is its capriciousness. Annual visitors find that lagoons can spring up, and the sand can shift, making for a fresh experience every time. From the top of the Ridge, the ocean as well as the sound can be seen. Jockey's Ridge has a sound beach on the Roanoke Sound side that visitors can swim in.

The Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve is 1,092 acres (4.42 km2) and lies North of Jockey's Ridge and east of Roanoke Sound. It was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1974.

As in any other beach town, the ocean and shoreline are the major attractions, providing beaches for swimming, sunbathing, and a variety of water sports. A series of historic cottages overlook the beach in sections. There are three piers popular for fishing: Nags Head Pier, Jennette's Pier (destroyed by Hurricane Isabel in 2003, bought and renovated by the North Carolina Aquariums, reopened in May 2011), and Outer Banks Pier. The town also features miniature golf courses and small amusement centers with go-karts and bumper cars for family entertainment.

Nags Head was the location of a CIA fake defectors program.

Other attractions include various National Register of Historic Places in or near Nags Head, such as the following:

Landmark name Image Date listed Location Notes
Bodie Island Lifesaving and Coast Guard Station Bodie Island Lifesaving Station February 9, 1979 S of Nags Head on NC 12
35°50′11″N 75°33′33″W / 35.83639°N 75.55917°W / 35.83639; -75.55917 (Bodie Island Lifesaving/Coast Guard Station)
Bodie Island Light Station Bodie Island Light July 4, 2003 Off NC 12
35°49′12″N 75°33′49″W / 35.82000°N 75.56361°W / 35.82000; -75.56361 (Bodie Island Light Station)
First Colony Inn First Colony Inn January 21, 1993 6720 S. Virginia Dare Trail
35°55′6″N 75°36′13″W / 35.91833°N 75.60361°W / 35.91833; -75.60361 (First Colony Inn)
Markham-Albertson-Stinson Cottage January 13, 2006 4300 W. Soundside Rd.
35°56′45.51″N 75°37′45.93″W / 35.9459750°N 75.6294250°W / 35.9459750; -75.6294250 (Markham--Albertson--Stinson Cottage)
Destroyed by Hurricane Irene
Mattie Midgett Store and House December 23, 2004 4008 S. Virginia Dare Trail
35°57′23″N 75°37′28″W / 35.95639°N 75.62444°W / 35.95639; -75.62444 (Midgett, Mattie, Store and House)
Nags Head Beach Cottages Historic District August 19, 1977 U.S. 158
35°57′50″N 75°35′49″W / 35.96389°N 75.59694°W / 35.96389; -75.59694 (Nags Head Beach Cottages Historic District)
Sea Foam Motel Sea Foam NRHP Dare Co NC.jpg December 23, 2004 7111 S. Virginia Dare Trail
35°54′37″N 75°35′47″W / 35.91028°N 75.59639°W / 35.91028; -75.59639 (Sea Foam Motel)
USS Huron (1875) November 15, 1991 Address restricted wrecked in the area, 1877
  • Webcams: Nags Head - East and Nags Head - West from


Residents are in Dare County Schools. Zoned schools include Nags Head Elementary School, Manteo Middle School, and Manteo High School.

Nags Head Elementary opened in August 2005.

Previously First Flight Elementary School in Kill Devil Hills served elementary levels while First Flight Middle School, also in Kill Devil Hills, served middle school.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Nags Head (Carolina del Norte) para niños

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