While visiting Emerald Isle on your next vacation, you might consider taking a day trip to the Cape Lookout National Seashore, a set of barrier islands just an hour to the east of Emerald Isle and a 40-minute drive from Atlantic Beach. Each island contains its own charm and attractions, including Harker’s Island and Shackleford Banks.
Harker’s Island is the closest to shore and accessible by car, which makes it a great place to start your adventure. It is also home to the Cape Lookout National Seashore Visitors Center a federal park service facility that provides a good introduction to all the islands and their unique flavor. An interactive map about the park, children’s ecology exhibits, and seasonal ranger adventure programs provide great opportunities to learn about the area around you.
More recently, Harker’s Island has become known for its extensive community of decoy carvers that live there. The Core Sound Waterfowl Museum details the tradition of decoy carving and gives a great view of the waterfowl found along the national seashore.
Moving south via water, you arrive at Shackleford Banks. Shackleford is the southernmost island of the chain and is only accessible by the ferry systems that run between Beaufort, Morehead City and Harker’s Island to its shores. The Banks are best known for its more than 110 wild horses that live there, descendants of Spanish horses that swam to shore from shipwrecks in the 16th century. The horses survive on native vegetation and freshwater provided by the Banks and are protected by federal legislation to ensure their continued presence on the Banks for years to come.
And finally no trip to the National Seashore would be complete without a visit to Cape Lookout and the Cape Lookout Lighthouse. Built in 1859, the Cape is another island area best experienced by ferry which lands within site of the lighthouse. The park service has guided tours of the facility including the keeper’s quarters, mid-May through late September during certain week days so it’s important to plan ahead for a guided experience.
A trip to the National Seashore area is one part of your next vacation that won’t soon be forgotten. Be sure and include Harker’s Island, Cape Lookout and Shackleford Banks in your next vacation plan.