Best known for its towering lighthouse covered in black and white diamonds, the Cape Lookout National Seashore is a 56-mile stretch of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, spanning from Ocracoke Inlet to Beaufort Inlet. Three pristine barrier islands make up the national seashore – North Core Banks, South Core Banks and Shackleford Banks. Accessible only by private boat or ferry, this incredible ribbon of sand hosts unparalleled fishing, shelling and a working lighthouse.
The undeveloped cape allows for true-to-nature camping, features a renovated lighthouse keeper’s quarters, a boardwalk to the beach, daily ranger programs and facilities in summer. There are no guarded beaches or maintained roads, as to preserve the seashore’s pristine and serene nature. For those seeking to discover the cape’s history, remnants of old gun mounts are visible on an ocean side walk between the rock jetty and Cape Point. Many visitors come to the National Seashore to view the black and white diagonal checkerboard-patterned Cape Lookout Lighthouse. A landmark since 1859, it is now maintained by the National Park Service, who has rehabilitated the lighthouse tower to allow for public access a few days a week, mid-May through September. Call the office for summer climb hours and special night climbs.
The visitor’s center, found near the South Core Banks ferry dock, has a shaded pavilion and boardwalk connecting it to the area adjacent to the Keepers’ Quarters, which has been renovated and includes new exhibits. The Cape Lookout Light Station Visitor Center and Keepers’ Quarters Museum is open to the public 9am through 5pm, April through November. Exhibits focus on lighthouse history and early shipwrecks and rescues. A bookstore features items related to the National Seashore and also carries bottled water and insect repellent.
In addition to its lighthouse, Cape Lookout National Seashore includes adjacent Shackleford Banks, site of the extinct fishing village Diamond City, with large dunes and wild Outer Banks ponies. North and South Core Banks, both noted for wonderful shelling, clamming and surf fishing, are open April through November and picturesque Portsmouth Village, found at the northeastern tip of Core Banks, is a 250-acre uninhabited island community dating from 1753 and preserved as a National Historic Site.
A visitor center located on Harkers Island is open year round from 9am-5pm (except for Dec. 25-Jan. 1). Exhibits tell the story of island communities, the Life Saving Service and other local history. An indoor theater offers two short films on a rotating schedule, and the visitor center bookstore features books, tapes, videos and children's items related to Cape Lookout National Seashore. Public restrooms and a nearby picnic area are available and wheelchair accessible.
For more information call 252-728-2250 or visit nps.gov/calo. All visitors should remember this is a remote, natural territory with no fast food, limited fresh water access and no lifeguards. Visitors and campers, remember to take whatever is needed to eat or drink, sun and insect lotions, hats and shoes and to bring out all that you carry in, including trash. FERRIES, TOURS & SERVICES: To protect Cape Lookout National Seashore from commercial development and guarantee quality access/service to the public, the National Park Service (NPS) contracts with an outside company to provide transportation to and from the island. Weather conditions may restrict ferry operation. Contact the NPS (252-728-2250) for more information. For ferry reservations, call 252-728-7433.