Off the Well-Worn Path: Cape Lookout National Seashore
Though summer is one of the best seasons to visit one of the national park system’s 391 units, it also can be the most crowded time to go. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be if you’re willing to take a non-traditional approach to deciding not only which park to visit, but even which sections of some parks to focus on.
For example, take a more expansive look at the national park system and you can find some oceanfront real estate to pitch your tent on.
Clam bakes and wild horses both are part of a summer retreat at Cape Lookout National Seashore found on a stretch of North Carolina’s famed Outer Banks. True, you can head to the more famous Cape Hatteras National Seashore just to the north of this seashore. But Cape Lookout is decidedly more laidback and definitely less crowded during the summer months. Oh, it gets crowded on the traditional holiday weekends, but plan a mid-week visit and you’ll be surprised by the amount of solitude you can find with a little effort.
From Harkers Island, the seashore’s gateway, you can paddle yourself or take a ferry
to South Core, North Core and Shackleford Banks islands. Too, this
stretch of barrier islands is gaining fame with sea kayakers for its
pristine, wild nature.
Combined, the islands offer 112 miles of ocean-front camping. While most folks camp within a mile of the Cape Lookout Lighthouse on South Core Island, trek a little further and you’ll find peace and quiet. Once you’ve pitched your tent, you can search for seashells and sand dollars, surf fish, swim, or flesh out your birding list by looking for some of the terns and herons that hang out here.
Head to 9-mile-long Shackleford Island and you’ll share the beaches with a herd of more than 100 wild horses that descended from Spanish equines brought to the “New World” 400 years ago. While Blackbeard the pirate made historic Beaufort his home in the early 1700s, today you’ll find the charming coastal town that lies just across from Harkers Island full of elegant B&Bs and restaurants with fresh seafood on the menus.