Cape Lookout National Seashore – North Carolina

Stretching from Ocracoke Inlet to Beaufort Inlet on the North Carolina coast, Cape Lookout National Seashore is the southern-most section of the famed Outer Banks. The Cape, which gives the seashore its name, has been identified on charts dating back to the earliest explorations of the New World. Spanish, English, Dutch, and French explorers, traders, settlers, and pirates all knew and feared the Cape and its shoals. The history of the Cape Lookout region reflects its ties to the sea and its importance in the early sea-borne economy of the nation.

Today Cape Lookout is better known for its outstanding recreational opportunities. Surf fishing, sea kayaking and backcountry camping draw visitors from across the country. For the less adventurous, beachcombing and shelling are favorite pastimes.

The 56 miles of undeveloped beach also provide nesting sites for a wide variety of shorebirds including the endangered piping plovers. Loggerhead sea turtles find the dark deserted beaches ideal for nesting as well.

Cape Lookout Trivia

  • Cape Lookout National Seashore was authorized in 1966 but was not fully established until 1976 when the state of North Carolina officially transferred the property to the National Park Service.
  • The seashore contains 56 miles of undeveloped beaches on four barrier islands. The number of islands within the seashore varies with how many inlets are open or closed following storms.
  • The islands of Cape Lookout National Seashore are located between two and three miles off the mainland shore.
  • The only part of the park reachable by road is the Visitor Center on Harkers Island. A boat trip – either on your personal boat or one of the commercially operated ferries – is necessary to reach any other part of the seashore.
  • Cape Lookout National Seashore is one of the few places on the East Coast where you can experience the magnificence of a dark night sky. The stars appear to shine brighter and seem a little closer when the only artificial light source of any consequence is the periodic sweep of the lighthouse beam.
  • There are no hard surface roads on the islands. Any vehicle ferried to the barrier islands must be able to handle the deep sand of the open beach. “Beach driving” at Cape Lookout National Seashore is to be taken literally.

Cape Lookout Attractions

  • Beginning Memorial Day weekend and continuing through Labor Day, a variety of ranger-led programs are offered daily. These programs include talks on lighthouse history, surf fishing demonstrations, horse-watching hikes and guided walks through historic Portsmouth village.
  • On Shackleford Banks graze a herd of Banker Horses. These small horses freely roam the nine-mile island as their ancestors have done for centuries. The stuff of legends, their very existence sparks the imagination with stories of storms and shipwrecks.
  • Just south of Ocracoke Inlet is the Portsmouth Village Historic District. Walking the sandy lanes through Portsmouth transports you back in time to an Outer Banks village of the 1930’s. Here it is easy to understand what it was like to live by the rhythms of the tides, weather and seasons.

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