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Cape Lookout in North Carolina

by  bwarthur

A self-supported trip created by bwarthur

Trip Overview

Me and my wife have been waiting a while for the weather to be right for this trip across Back Sound to Cape Lookout Lighthouse. We couldn't have chosen a better day, light winds, clear, and temps in the 70's. After filling out a float plan with the friendly Park Rangers at the Visitor's Center, we put in at the very end of Harkers Island at Shell Point at 9:30, just in time to catch the tide heading out to make our paddle easier.

From there we paddled south alongside the channel to avoid carrying over sandbars. There are a couple of islands along the route that have been created by dredging operations that are now sanctuaries for hundreds of seagulls, cranes, and other interesting sea birds.

As we approached Lighthouse Bay, to our right we passed the Southern tip of Shackleford Island, home of the famous Shackleford wild horses. Much to our surprise there were several horses grazing along the bank and one close enough to capture a photo op while passing by. After watching the horses for a while, we continued across the Bay to the beach in front of the Lighthouse.

We beached our tandem and went for a closer look at the Lighthouse and the Lightkeeper's Quarters. Unfortunately, the Lighthouse was closed until late summer 2010 for repairs and refurbishing, but the Keeper's Quarters was open and full of interesting information and artifacts. From the Lighthouse it was just a short walk to the ocean side of the island, so we decided to enjoy a nice walk down the beach before returning to the kayak for lunch.

After lunch, we relaxed on the Sound side beach and watched a few fisherman pulling in their catch and soaked in the beautiful weather. Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the put-in so we could get there before they closed the gates at 5:00 pm. Again the 4 mile paddle was made easy with the incoming tide and Southerly breeze. A short stop in the gift shop for a souvenir then we were on our way back to the reality of the real world.


At Shell Point there is a visitor's center with a gift shop and restrooms. At the Lighthouse there are restrooms, picnic shelters, and a small gift shop with concessions.


No fees, permit required for camping (free)


Follow US HWY 70E through Morehead City and Beaufort, continue on to Otway. Turn right onto Harkers Island Rd. and follow all the way to the end of the island at Shell Point (Location of Cape Lookout National Seashore's Visitor Center).

Trip Details

  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Water Type: Open Water/Ocean

Trip Location