Motors Allowed?
Moderate / Class B
5.50 mi (8.85 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

The only way to reach Shackleford Banks' pristine shore is by boat. Most visitors take a ferry, but paddling your own craft across the sound and landing on a deserted beach is by far the most rewarding route. The island is rich with wildlife including wild horses, which you are likely to see with a little effort. As part of Cape Lookout National Seashore, camping is allowed on the island. There are no designated sites and no facilities other than a couple of toilet buildings. You will need to come prepared with all your own food, water, and other supplies to sustain the duration of your trip.

The typical starting point is Beaufort's public boat ramp on Lennoxville Road. From there the distance is more than 5 miles roundtrip, but it varies based on the route you take and where on the island you land. The journey requires crossing Back Sound, which has a deep water channel, shallow bars, and funny tides. There is no way to travel with the tide the whole way because of cross currents from various inlets. Navigation is straightforward, but the sound is susceptible to strong currents and wind waves, and is also a shipping channel that large boats sometimes use. For these reasons, the trip is not recommended for novice paddlers.

Once on Shackleford, you can easily find a stretch of beach all to yourself. The island is frequented by private motorboats during certain times of year, and ferries arrive at docks located on either end, but there is plenty of space to find your own slice of solitude. There are no real trails on the island, but walking along the beach is simple, and sandy paths lead among the dunes. Traveling to the interior is more difficult. There are a few passable routes crossing middle of the island near the toilet building, however. Keep your eyes peeled for the island's diverse wildlife. Birdwatching, dolphin spotting, and finding the wild horses are favorite activities here. These remote shores are also great for beachcombing by day and stargazing by night.

If you plan to camp, choose a spot carefully. The sound side is more sheltered from wind and sun, but it is also buggier during the warm months. The ocean side is more glamorous, but it is also more exposed. You can burn dead and downed wood collected within 200 feet of the shore, but fires are allowed below high tide line only. As always, observe all other Leave No Trace principles when staying in this wild place.

There is no fee for paddling to Shackleford or for camping, but you should fill out a float plan at the Beaufort Visitor Information Center before departing. This is obviously for safety in case you don't report back on time, but also for the benefit of information on tides, weather, and other helpful tips that park staff will readily share. The office in Beaufort is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. from April to November, but it is closed in winter. The office on Harkers Island is open year round, but not on Sundays in winter.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass


Open Year-round



Wild horses. Overnight options.


Crosses channel. Strong tides.

Pets allowed

Allowed with Restrictions

Put-in location (lat, long coordinates)

34.709832, -76.631932

Take-out location (lat, long coordinates)

34.709832, -76.631932

Water Temperature

70.00 °F (21.11 °C)


Backcountry camping
Whale watching
Vault toilet
Bird watching

Trail type




Shuttle required


Site characteristics: Water


Portage required



Nearby Adventures

Cape Lookout National Seashore
Tidewater + Outer Banks, North Carolina

Nearby Lodging + Camping


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