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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Crystal Coast Day Trip: Cape Lookout National Seashore

So many great Crystal Coast day trips; so little time. There is so much to see and do here during your Emerald Isle vacationin addition to enjoying our beautiful beaches, sun-kissed shorelines, and blue-green crystalline waters. Pencil in some of these worthwhile day trips, and then plan ahead for next year to come back and see some more!

Cape Lookout National Seashore encompasses over 55-miles of undeveloped beach that includes several barrier islands from Ocracoke Inlet to Beaufort Inlet. 

The only section of Cape Lookout National Seashore that is accessible by car is the Visitor Center located on the eastern end of Harkers Island (which is approximately 30 miles east of Beaufort, NC). 

Most visitors arrive on the seashore via passenger ferry services and then walk to their desired destination. Passenger ferry services are available from Harkers Island, Beaufort, and Morehead City locations. Part of your adventure begins on the ride over! And yes, you should expect to get a bit wet.

Cape Lookout
The Cape Lookout Lighthouse and Assistant Keepers' Quarters Museum are a quarter-mile from the ferry landing. There is a boardwalk for ease-of-access that begins at the ferry landing and continues across the island.

Many people enjoy visiting the Keeper's Quarters Museum (open seasonally from April through October) and viewing the lighthouse, as well as soaking up the sun on the natural beauty of the sandy shores.

Shackleford Banks
The island of Shackleford Banks has few amenities. There is a dock located on the west end but there are no boardwalks, so all walking is done in the soft sands that contour the island.

Composting toilets are available at the west end where the ferry landing area is and at Wades Shore. Visitors enjoy the benefits of secluded natural beaches as well as observing and  photographing the wild horses that roam the banks.

Portsmouth Village
Portsmouth Village has limited public facilities with unpaved paths of soft sand. A few of the historic buildings are open to the public seasonally which include the Theodore and Annie Salter house, the general store/post office, the school, the church, and the historic U.S. life-saving station.

Restrooms are available in the Salter house and compost toilets are available on the far side of the village beyond the life-saving station. The beach is a 1.2 mile walk from the village across a tidal sand flat (depending on wind and tide conditions, that sand flat may be covered in water that is ankle to knee-high deep).

Harkers Island
The Shell Point area of Harkers Island has paved parking and walking areas and is home to the Harkers Island Visitor Center. Here you can view the park's movie shown on a large screen and view the various exhibits. The Soundside Trail is located behind the visitor center and offers a fairly flat trail with some rough surfaces and soft soil. Half of this trail contains a wooden boardwalk. 

If you happen to be in the area this weekend, Saturday, July 21 is one of the park's Family Fun Days entitled: Take Your Parent Outside Day. The event is free and occurs from noon to 4p.m. at the Harkers Island Visitor Center.

It's a chance for the kids to get parents out into nature and to participate in and learn about some outdoor activities that are family-friendly. Activities include how to set up an environmentally friendly campsite, fish with poles and nets, go on nature hikes, and complete a GPS scavenger hunt.

The Cape Lookout National Seashore offers great opportunities for day trips during your time here on the Crystal Coast. These day trips require a little advance planning to factor in ferry schedules, destinations, and what to bring, but they are well worth it. 

Remember that these are remote islands and they require you to bring the food, water, and other necessary supplies during your visit. The Cape Lookout National Seashore's Frequently Asked Questions are a helpful read before planning your trip.

Have you taken a day trip to the Cape Lookout National Seashore? Tell us about your adventures! We always love hearing from our readers.

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