Welcome to the beautiful coastal state of North Carolina, where the waters are home to some of the most playful and intelligent creatures on the planet – dolphins!
I love seeing dolphins out in the wild so when I heard that they’re common in North Carolina, of course I had to head over there to check it out.
Based on firsthand experience, the best place to spot dolphins in North Carolina is in Kitty Hawk which forms part of the Outer Banks.
To see the dolphins up close and personal, I’d recommend booking onto a kayaking tour as the expert guides will show you where to find dolphins without fail.
But wait, there’s more! In the rest of this article, I’ll be revealing all of the exact locations in North Carolina where you have a great chance of seeing dolphins.
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Best Places To See Dolphins In North Carolina
There are actually many locations across North Carolina where sightings of wild dolphins are super common.
Below I’ve detailed all of these locations and included some handy tips that will drastically increase your chances of seeing them for yourself.
Where To See Dolphins In Outer Banks
The Outer Banks are a 200-mile string of barrier islands just off the coast of North Carolina that separate the Atlantic Ocean from the mainland.
Sightings of dolphins are common along the Outer Banks. Many bottlenose dolphins spend their summer in the waters of the Outer Banks and then migrate south for the winter.
As the Outer Banks covers 200 miles, there’s many locations within it where you can spot dolphins from their shores.
I’ve listed the best places below…
I found that by far the best place to see dolphins in the Outer Banks is at Kitty Hawk.
Kitty Hawk, located in the heart of the Outer Banks, is a beach town known for its woodland and variety of animal life. Dolphin sightings are outrageously common here.
On my recent trip to Kitty Hawk, I saw about 10 dolphins all within the space of 10 minutes! It was incredible and I felt so lucky.
I watched as they jumped up out of the water and then carried in their merry way to search for food.
Personally I think the best (and most fun) way to see the dolphins is to get out onto the water and luckily there’s so many different ways you can do that in Kitty Hawk.
All of the above tours give you a super high chance of seeing a dolphin as you’ll be out on the water itself and you’ll be joined by an expert guide who knows the area well.
You’ll also get a much closer view of the dolphins out on the water compared to if you were just stood on the shore.
I personally ended up booking the kayaking tour and really enjoyed it. It was so easy to stop whenever we wanted to take a look at the dolphins and the guides were really fun.
The dolphins you’ll see in Kitty Hawk are Atlantic bottlenose dolphins.
Check out the video below of some dolphins playing in the ocean at Kitty Hawk:
Nag’s Head is a beach town and popular vacation spot that is known for its sandy beaches and towering sand dunes.
Hundreds of dolphins come to Nag’s Head each year and some of the regular visitors have even been given names.
Look out for ‘Onion’ and his family who were first spotted over 20 years ago and have been sighted there almost every year since. Onion is easily recognisable due to his damaged fin.
Unfortunately I wasn’t lucky enough to spot Onion at Nag’s Head but I did see around 7 or so other dolphins who all looked like they were having a great time.
You can view dolphins at a distance from the beaches of Nag’s Head but you may get a closer view by heading out on a kayak.
I personally opted for the kayak and saw way more dolphins than from the shore.
Check out the video below to see some of the many dolphins of Nag’s Head:
Hatteras Island is a large island that forms the southwestern tip of the Outer Banks. Dolphins are frequently spotted cruising along the shore or just off the island’s inlets.
You can spot the dolphins all over Hatteras Island on its many beaches, however one popular spot is in Hatteras Village.
Check out the video below of some dolphins spotted around Hatteras Island:
Where Else Can I See Dolphins In North Carolina?
It’s not just the Outer Banks that have a huge population of dolphins. You can also see these magnificent creatures elsewhere in the state.
Below I’ve listed all of the other places across North Carolina where you can see dolphins.
There are lots of dolphins present in the Wilmington area. Whilst you can’t swim with dolphins in Wilmington, you can see them from the shore of various beaches.
Wilmington is a city located on the southeastern coast of North Carolina.
I visited several beaches in the area and found that the best place to see dolphins in Wilmington was at nearby Wrightsville Beach. I saw 3 dolphins in the ocean from this beach.
One of the best ways to see them is by booking onto a boat tour. You can enjoy the scenic views of Wrightsville Beach and catch a glimpse of the dolphins at the same time.
You could also book a private tour just for you if you’d prefer.
Dolphins can also sometimes be spotted at the nearby Carolina Beach.
Check out the video below of a dolphin spotted at Wrightsville Beach:
Topsail Island is a 26-mile barrier island located just off the coast of North Carolina. The island lies just 40 miles northeast of Wilmington.
For the best views of the dolphins, head down to Topsail Beach where you can often see dolphins swimming in groups, jumping out of the water and playing with each other.
When I visited, I was lucky enough to spot a group of dolphins playing together, splashing around happily.
There are many beaches on Topsail Island to choose from, you can hire an electric bike to easily get around the island.
You can see some dolphins just off of Topsail Island in the video below:
Beaufort is a small town on North Carolina’s eastern coast and forms part of the Crystal Coast.
Bottlenose dolphins can be seen in the waters surrounding Beaufort year-round and sightings are common.
In contrast to other locations in North Carolina, sightings of dolphins along the Crystal Coast are actually more frequent during the winter months (rather than the summer).
The best way to see them is by joining a boat tour in the area.
The same waters surround other places along the Crystal Coast including Morehead City, Atlantic Beach, Harkers Island and Shackleford Banks.
Dolphin sightings are also common in these locations too.
Check out the video below of a dolphin sighting in Beaufort:
Find out where you can see dolphins in Texas.
Cape Lookout National Seashore
The Cape Lookout National Seashore is a 56-mile stretch of islands that forms part of the Southern Outer Banks.
The islands here are largely undeveloped and attract visitors for their variety of wildlife, nature and sandy beaches. Bottlenose dolphins are frequently sighted in the area.
Best Time To See Dolphins In North Carolina
Whilst dolphins can be spotted all year round off the coast of North Carolina, the most frequent sightings occur during the summer months.
Dolphins tend to spend more time in the waters around North Carolina during the summer to raise their young.
The dolphins tend to arrive in May when they give birth to their young and they tend to remain here until late fall when they then move to warmer waters.
However, there are many areas around North Carolina where dolphins can be seen all year such as Hatteras Island.
The best time of day to see dolphins in North Carolina is in the morning and late afternoon as they tend to avoid the heat of the sun during the daytime.
Can You Swim With The Dolphins?
The dolphins present in the waters around North Carolina are wild dolphins. This means it’s not possible to swim with them.
Even though you can’t swim with or touch the dolphins, you can still get up close and personal with them and get some fantastic views either from the shore or from a boat or kayak.
Did you know you can also see dolphins in South Carolina?
And that’s it!
That’s exactly where to see dolphins in North Carolina from the Outer Banks all the way to Wilmington.
If you’re lucky enough to spend some time with these beautiful creatures then I can assure you that it’ll be something you remember for a lifetime.