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Cape Lookout National Seashore

Cape Lookout National Seashore - BEST Places to Picnic

131 Charles St.
Harkers Island, NC 28531

By Phone
Park Headquarters
(252) 728-2250

Explore the Cape Lookout National Seashore!

Take a boat trip three miles off-shore to the islands of Cape Lookout National Seashore. Here you can enjoy remote beaches, watch wild horses and other wildlife, or visit one of the historic districts. Be sure to bring a picnic lunch for the day. Going camping takes a little more planning.

Places to Picnic

  • Cape Lookout
  • Codds Creek
  • Great Island
  • North Core Banks
  • Visitor Center

Things to Do

A wealth and variety of activities awaits you at Cape Lookout National Seashore. From birding, to camping, to fishing, to learning about the rich history of Cape Lookout Light Station -- there is something for everyone!

Shelling: Cape Lookout is an excellent place to explore for shells. A handbook can be very helpful when less common shells are found. A limit of two gallons of shells per day can be taken off the seashore. (Two gallons is about the size of plastic grocery bag.) Please do not take shells with the animals in them. Take only empty shells.

Ranger Programs: Daily interpretive programs are offered from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. Program offerings are varied and take place at different locations throughout the park.

Swimming: There are no lifeguarded beaches in the park. All swimming is at your own risk. Swimming in the ocean is not the same as swimming in a pool or lake. Wind, waves, the change of the tide, the slope of the beach and other factors can cause strong currents to be present in the water even on the calmest days. Ocean conditions can change from day to day and from hour to hour. Before going in the water, spend a few moments watching the waves. Wave patterns are a good indicator of the presence of currents and where deep water and other "surprises" are located. Know what to expect before you go in the water.

Of special concern are rip currents (sometimes called rip tides or undertows). Certain weather conditions can make these currents stronger and more dangerous. During the summer the National Weather Service website posts a rip current forecast for area beaches. Weak swimmers and children are advised to stay out of the ocean when there is an increased threat of rip currents, and even strong swimmers should stay out of the ocean on dangerous days.

Fishing: Spring and fall at Cape Lookout offer what many consider to be the best surf fishing on the Atlantic Coast. Most of the beach and sounds are open to fishing. Fishing regulations, including seasons and licensing requirements are set by the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries

Boating: Whether enjoying a day's windsurfing, paddling a kayak or canoe, camping out in a houseboat, or enjoying the fishing, boats are a part of Cape Lookout.

Camping: Primitive camping is allowed on the barrier islands of Cape Lookout National Seashore. Campers should prepare carefully for the natural conditions to be found at the park.

Birding: Birding is a year-round activity at the seashore. Terns and herons are best seen in the summer. The spring and fall seasons are excellent times to view shorebirds, hawks, and songbirds. Ducks and geese are common during the winter months.

Horse watching: More than 100 wild horses, living in groups called harems or bands, roam free along the entire length and width of Shackleford Banks island. Since their location at any one time can't be predicted, visitors scan an area of the island with binoculars and then walk to within sighting distance. While mostly seen grazing peacefully, these wild horses can inflict serious kick and other wounds on each other and on anyone who ventures too close.

Trails/Hiking: There are no trails on the seashore, but many people do backpack or hike the islands. Be advised that walking can be difficult due to the soft sand. Sturdy walking/hiking shoes are recommended.

Hunting: A traditional use of the seashore has been waterfowl hunting in the fall. This practice continues under federal and state hunting regulations.

Did You Know?
Diamond City was a shore-based whaling community located where Barden Inlet now separates the islands of Shackleford Banks and South Core Banks. Crews would row whaling dories out from shore to chase the whales as they migrated past the island.

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