Ultimate Guide to Nature and Outdoor Activities in Emerald Isle, NC

North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks is a haven of natural beauty, offering a wide range of outdoor activities that appeal to adventurers young and old. This coastal destination stands out with its varied offerings from serene nature trails to exhilarating water sports.

Follow along and discover 15 activities that allow you to engage deeply with the outdoors, whether it’s cycling by the ocean, visiting historic lighthouses, or exploring wildlife-rich areas. Perfect for family outings or a few adventures, these activities connect you with the environment and leave you refreshed and invigorated by the natural surroundings.

1. Bike down Coast Guard Road to the Pointe in Emerald Isle.

The Emerald Path takes you on a visually pleasing journey along Coast Guard Road to The Pointe. It’s a route offering avid cyclists and casual riders alike a splendid path that skirts the coastal line. As you pedal down this scenic trail, you’re surrounded by lush flora, leading you to the westernmost section of Emerald Isle, where the coast tapers off into a sandbar. The ride culminates at The Pointe, a well-known local secret for some of the most breathtaking sunset and ocean views on the Crystal Coast. This spot is ideal for photographers, nature lovers, or anyone looking to soak in the spectacular end-of-day hues reflecting over the waters. To enhance your experience, bring along a picnic to enjoy as you relax on the soft sands, watching the sky transform into a canvas of vibrant colors.

2. Play a round of golf at Star Hill Golf Club.

Located in the coastal community of Cape Carteret, Star Hill Golf Club is celebrated for its well-maintained 27-hole championship course, a beloved part of the Crystal Coast’s golfing heritage since 1967. The course offers three distinct nine-hole layouts, each providing its own challenges and scenic views catering to golfers of all skill levels. Feel the satisfaction of hitting a smooth drive under the clear, blue sky.

Seasoned players can test their skills against the strategic layouts, while beginners will find the courses forgiving, making for an enjoyable round. Whether you’re looking for a fun round with family or a challenging game with friends, Star Hill’s beautiful setting and enduring legacy make it a top choice for a day on the greens.

3. Climb to the top of the Cape Lookout Lighthouse.

For those who relish a physical challenge with a rewarding view, climbing the Cape Lookout Lighthouse is a must. With active renovations taking place on the lighthouse, climbing is expected to be available starting in 2025. Ascend the 207 steps to the lighthouse’s gallery, and you’re rewarded with one of the most spectacular panoramas of the Southern Outer Banks. The climb is perfect for adventure seekers and history enthusiasts alike, offering a rare glimpse into maritime navigation history coupled with stunning views of the surrounding shores and deep blue sea.

4. Go shelling at Hammocks Beach State Park.

Hammocks Beach State Park, situated on the untouched Bear Island, is a sheller’s paradise. This 4-mile-long barrier island, accessible only by passenger ferry, private boat or kayak, offers miles of unspoiled beaches laden with various shells. Each visit promises a discovery, as the tides offer up treasures from the deep. It’s an idyllic spot for those who enjoy tranquility apart from the bustling beach crowds, with opportunities for kayaking, picnicking and wildlife observation enhancing the experience.

The park also provides designated camping areas that invite you to extend your stay overnight, allowing you to wake up to the soothing sounds of the ocean and perhaps even catch a sunrise.

5. Enjoy cool breezes and breathtaking scenery on a sailing cruise.

Embark on an unforgettable sailing adventure with Lookout Cruises, departing from historic Beaufort. Aboard a comfortable 45-foot catamaran, sail up the Newport River, explore the barrier islands, spot dolphins, or enjoy activities like swimming and shelling near Cape Lookout Lighthouse. With options for sunset and moonlight cruises, each outing offers a unique way to experience the breathtaking scenery of North Carolina’s Crystal Coast. Accommodating up to 38 passengers, these cruises are perfect for a tranquil escape or an exhilarating sea adventure.

6. Go on a sport fishing trip to catch Wahoo, Mahi Mahi or Tuna.

Join Energizer Sportfishing for a thrilling full-day charter deep into the Gulf Stream, where sport fishing enthusiasts can battle some of the ocean’s most sought-after game fish. Their 45-foot custom charter boat is fully equipped with air conditioning, restrooms, tackle, and licenses provided, ensuring a comfortable, exhilarating and accessible experience. Whether you’re an experienced angler or trying deep-sea fishing for the first time, this trip offers the excitement of reeling in a big catch and the tranquility of being out on the open water.

7. Play a round of disc golf at the Emerald Woods Disc Golf Course.

Set within the serene maritime forests near Bogue Sound shoreline, the Disc Golf Course at Emerald Isle Woods Park provides a serene backdrop for a round of disc golf. This 9-hole course weaves through the natural landscape, offering challenges that are enjoyable for players of all skill levels. As you aim and release the disc, there’s a moment of anticipation, hoping it curves just right to navigate through the trees and land near the target. Whether you’re competing with friends or enjoying a reflective solo play, the course blends sport with the tranquility of the outdoors. Disc golf sets are available for checkout at the Emerald Isle Parks and Recreation Community Center, ensuring you can easily partake in the fun during your visit.

8. Take the ferry to Shackleford Banks to see the wild horses.

Take the ferry to Shackleford Banks, where you can witness the majestic beauty of more than one hundred wild horses roaming free. These horses are part of a historic herd that has lived on the island for centuries, adding a touch of magic to the already stunning landscape of pristine beaches and maritime forests. Spend your day exploring the island’s 9 miles of shoreline, observing the horses in their natural habitat, and enjoying a refreshing dip in the ocean to cool off from the sun’s warmth.

9. Enjoy scenic views of the marshes and Shackleford Banks.

Explore the tranquil beauty of the marshes and Shackleford Banks from the Carrot Island Boardwalk, situated within the Rachel Carson Reserve. As you stroll along the wooden pathway, the serene ambiance of the environment surrounds you, offering a moment of respite from the bustle of daily life. Encounter a diverse array of wildlife during your walk, from the graceful presence of a small herd of wild horses to the captivating calls of over 200 species of birds. The reserve serves as a sanctuary for nature enthusiasts, providing opportunities for birdwatching and wildlife observation. Marvel at the vital role played by the marshes, acting as crucial breeding and feeding grounds for migratory birds. Whether you’re an avid birder seeking rare sightings or in search of serene natural beauty, the Carrot Island Boardwalk offers fascinating wildlife experiences in the heart of the Southern Outer Banks.

10. Get up close and personal with nature at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores.

Delve into the captivating world of marine life at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, a below-the-surface experience perfect for families, romantic dates, or even solo adventures. Discover the vibrant colors of clownfish darting among swaying sea anemones. Feel the smooth texture of a passing stingray gliding beneath your fingertips. Marvel at the graceful movements of sea turtles as they navigate their watery realm. Encounter the ancient horseshoe crab, a living fossil with a lineage spanning millions of years. From the sleek elegance of sharks to the whimsical antics of playful otters, each exhibit offers a glimpse into the fascinating diversity of ocean life. So come, explore, and immerse yourself in the wonders of the underwater world.

11. Stroll down the quiet trails that wind through the maritime forest at Emerald Isle Woods Park.

Take a peaceful stroll through the winding trails of Emerald Isle Woods Park, a serene 41-acre sanctuary bordered by the tranquil waters of Bogue Sound. This idyllic retreat offers a mix of walking trails, natural birding paths, and boardwalks providing access to the pristine sound. With a floating dock and kayak launch available, it’s the perfect spot to enjoy a waterborne adventure or simply soak in the beauty of the surroundings.

The park is also dog-friendly, so feel free to bring your furry companion along for the journey, just be sure to keep them on a leash. Rated as easy to moderate, the trail features gentle inclines and declines, suitable for all skill levels. Don’t forget your camera, as you may encounter a variety of wildlife along the way, including white-tailed deer, osprey, egrets, woodpeckers, and an array of shorebirds.

12. Plan a dolphin-watching cruise.

Sailing around the islands of the Crystal Coast is a beloved pastime, offering boundless opportunities for adventure, exploration, and romance. From dolphin watching to sunset cruises and shelling excursions, there’s something for everyone on these scenic boat tours. Join a lunch cruise for a catered meal amidst wildlife sightings, or savor themed buffets on sunset cruises, featuring Cajun, Southern, BBQ, Italian (with wine tasting), Hawaiian, Seafood, and Captain’s dinners. Families can embark on interactive pirate adventures with Beaufort Pirates Revenge, complete with sword fights, singing, a chase on the high seas, and water cannon battles for treasure. These voyages promise endless adventure amidst stunning vistas, with the chance to encounter playful dolphins frolicking in the waves adding an extra touch of excitement to your journey.

13. Get a close-up view of the sea turtle nesting process during nesting season.

Witness the ancient ritual of sea turtle nesting during the annual migration to North Carolina’s serene shores. From May to November, the coastline becomes a nursery for these gentle giants of the sea, as they return to the beaches where they were born to lay their precious eggs. Join a guided tour led by knowledgeable naturalists, who illuminate the fascinating lifecycle of these endangered creatures. As you watch a mother turtle laboriously dig her nest and deposit her clutch of eggs, you’re filled with awe and reverence for the wonders of the natural world. Through conservation efforts and public awareness, we can ensure the continued survival of these majestic creatures for generations to come.

14. Spend a day at Cape Lookout National Seashore.

Cape Lookout National Seashore beckons with its untamed beauty and remote tranquility, offering a sanctuary amidst the endless expanse of sky and sea. Here, where the horizon stretches to infinity, time seems to stand still, and the cares of the world fade into insignificance. Spend a day wandering along beautiful beaches, where the only footprints in the sand are your own, and the only soundtrack is the rhythmic crash of waves upon the shore. Pack a picnic lunch and savor the simple pleasures of life, as you bask in the warm embrace of the sun and feel the cool caress of sea breeze upon your skin. Whether you’re an avid angler casting a line into the surf or a devoted birder scanning the skies for rare avian species, Cape Lookout offers endless opportunities for exploration and discovery.

15. Discover the hidden natural treasures of the Crystal Coast on an ecotour.

Explore the secluded barrier islands with their endless pristine beaches, and navigate the winding waterways that weave through vibrant, wildlife-rich salt marshes. Led by experienced naturalists from Crystal Coast Ecotours, you’ll encounter a rich diversity of flora and fauna, from elusive marsh rabbits to majestic ospreys soaring overhead. Gain valuable insights into the delicate balance of this unique ecosystem and learn about ongoing conservation efforts to preserve its beauty for future generations. Choose from a variety of hands-on activities such as shelling, crabbing, snorkeling, and more, tailored to suit your interests and preferences. Or opt for a leisurely two-hour boat tour to admire the natural beauty and historic landmarks of the Crystal Coast, including the Rachael Carson Reserve and Fort Macon.

With various outdoor activities awaiting your discovery, Emerald Isle, NC, promises an adventure-filled escape like no other. From the tranquil beauty of the marshes to exhilarating dolphin-watching cruises, there’s a thrilling experience for every nature enthusiast.

Pack your sense of wonder and embark on a journey to uncover the hidden treasures of the Crystal Coast today. And if you need accommodations, explore our selection of over 600 vacation rentals for the perfect home base during your Emerald Isle adventure.

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