Cape Lookout National Seashore

Location: Harkers Island, North Carolina

Webpage: National Park

General Description: The Cape Lookout National Seashore protects 56 miles of the southern Outer Banks of North Carolina from Ocracoke Inlet to the north to the Beaufort Inlet to the south.  Three undeveloped barrier islands make up the seashore; North and South Core Banks and Shackleford Island.  Included are two historic towns: Portsmouth Village on North Core Bank and the historic Coast Guard station on South Core Banks.  Visitors can also tour the lighthouse keepers house and Cape Lookout Lighthouse on South Core Banks and the wild horses on Shackleford Island.  There are two Visitor Centers located at Beaufort and Hawkers Island on the mainland.  All other locations are accessed by ferries from either Visitor Center or personal boats.  The ferries are privately owned and schedules can be found on the website.  Travel to South Core Bank from Hawkers Island takes about 20 minutes and it is possible to be dropped off at Shackleford Island before proceeding to South Core Bank.  Access to North Core Bank and Plymouth Village is by a separate ferry.  From the landing on South Core Bank it is a short walk to the Lighthouse, the lighthouse keeper’s house, and the beaches on the Atlantic Ocean.  Travel to the southern point of the island and the historic Coast Guard Station is provided by a “mule train” that consists of a trailer pulled by a truck.



1) We did not visit the Visitor Center at Beaufort, but I was disappointed with the Visitor Center at Hawkers Island.  This Visitor Center consisted of only a small book store and a very small museum about the geology and ecology of the outer banks.  There is also a two mile nature walk at the Visitor Center through the salt marshes, which we did not take since the main attraction are the islands.  Therefore, we bought tickets for the ferry which seems to be the main purpose of the Visitor Center.  So if you are not wanting to take a ferry over to the island there is not much reason to visit the National Seashore.


2) The ferry ride was certainly worth the money.  We happened to pick a beautiful day in September with bright sunny skies and very low winds.  The ride was smooth and the ferryboat captain was full of information.  We got in close to Shackleford Islands where we saw a few of the wild horses that live on the island.  Our captain talked about the history of the horses which are descendants of Spanish horses that probably came from old ship wrecks in the 1600s and 1700s.  It was only on our return trip from the island that we learned we could have left the ferry for an hour to watch the horses before boarding a later ferry.


3)  We choose to visit on a Sunday morning taking our lunch with us to the island.  Consequently there were not very many people visiting the islands and since it was mid September, nobody was looking to swim in the Ocean.  We had a quiet lunch on the beach watching the ocean with only about 5 other people.  It was a beautiful deserted beach and we did not want to leave.


4) The museum on the bottom floor of the lighthouse keeper’s house was devoted to not only the lighthouse keepers (as expected), but also the Life-Saving Service which preceded the US Coast Guard as a uniformed service of the government.  I learned a lot about this service and wished we had stopped at some of the old stations within the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.  These men knew they had to go out and rescue people from shipwrecks during the worst weather and also knew they did not have to return.  A very dangerous occupation.  Along with the lighthouses positioned along the outer banks, they saved a lot of people.


5) The Cape Lookout Lighthouse is probably the most important lighthouse along the Outer Banks, because of the shallow sandy shoals that extend over 20 miles out into the Atlantic.  It is in fact the second lighthouse constructed at this site being built in 1859.  The previous lighthouse built in 1812 was replaced because it was about 60 feet too short to be seen far enough for ships to miss the shoals.  It also operates 24 hours a day, since its blinking light is needed by ships today to know they are approaching dangerous waters.


6) We did not take the time to take the mule train to the southern tip of the island, so I cannot comment on the US Coast Guard Station, which I understand has a good museum as well.  We also did not visit Plymouth on North Core Bank as the ferry ride was too long to do both in a single day.

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