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“Best place to find perfect shells”
Review of Shackleford Banks

Shackleford Banks
Certificate of Excellence
Attraction details
Reviewed 4 August 2013

A great experience for everyone to enjoy. The boat ride is fast and bumpy in open waters but enjoyable. A short hike is needed to reach the opposite side of the island for the best shelling but once on the trail, all is good. When on the island, you have several options: simple search for sea shells for hours, bring a picnic lunch and relax, go for a swim in the ocean or simply sun bathe in a quiet area. Recommended for all to go to. Swimsuit, towels, sunscreen, and bottled water are all a must when visiting this island.

2  Thank BJB7775
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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143 - 147 of 175 reviews

Reviewed 1 August 2013

Shackleford Banks is part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore. Cape Lookout, and the lighthouse, is over on Core Banks, the next island to the north and east. Sidenote: Shackleford and Core used to be one island, until the hurricane of 1933 cut what became Barden's Inlet. You can't get to the lighthouse without another boat trip.

Shackleford presents a good opportunity to examine a maritime forest on the soundside of the island, and a dunes/beach system on the ocean side. The island is nine miles long, from Beaufort Inlet on the western end to Barden's Inlet on the east. The only way out to Shackleford is by boat. If you don't have a boat, there are some ferry services operating from Beaufort. We have always used Outer Banks Ferries, at 326 Front Street, across from the NC Maritime Museum. Their boats and operators are Coast Guard-certified for passenger transport.

The trip out to the island takes ten-fifteen minutes, varying slightly depending on weather conditions. If the wind is up a bit there may be some chop on the water, in which case you can expect the boat to 'slap' a bit, and you can expect to get wet from spray. Hang on to your hat even if there is no 'real' wind; the Carolina skiffs Outer Banks uses will create a fair breeze on their own.

Passengers are dropped off on the western end of the island, on the sound side, a hundred yards or so from Beaufort Inlet. This general area, and just around the inlet on the ocean side, is where most tourists hang out. There is a small cove here, on the sound side, that is a good place for swimming and wading. However ... be aware that the bottom can drop off sharply - you can see the difference by water color - and the tidal currents in this area can be swift and brutally unforgiving. There are no lifeguards. This is not a prepared 'touristy' beach; it's a preservation of a natural wild environment. This is true of the entire island.

About 3/4 to the east, along the sound side, you will find another shallow cove that is mostly uncovered at low tide. This is a great place for viewing clusters of oyster beds, sea and shorebirds, fiddler crabs by the millions, marsh snails, blue crabs, small fish such as mud minnows, spots, jumping mullet, and others. You need sandals. Good ones, like Keens or LL Beans, not flipflops. Oyster shells will cut your feet to shreds otherwise.

There is a dock at the eastern end of this cove. There are now a couple of composting toilet facilities here. These are the only toilet facilities on the island. This also marks the beginning of the maritime forest, which runs along the sound side to the marshes near Barden's Inlet. You can walk along a narrow beach, which may be non-existent at high tide in some places. However, the water here is shallow and you can wade so long as you pay attention to where the bottom drops off. The maritime forest is fascinating, offering an opportunity to see a marvelous variety of plant, bird, and furry critter life. You'll see mostly birds rather than the furries, unless you have time to lurk quietly. You may also see some of the famous Shackleford ponies in the forest. Because of the density of the forest, you may smell their 'horsiness' before you see them, or actually hear them breathing or snorting. You can tell where they have been because of the piles of horse poop. You may even step into a pile of horse poop. Fortunately, the sound is nearby.

Our favorite hike has been to walk along the sound side past the Mullet Pond, a marshy area perhaps 300 -400 yards past the dock, then cut through the forest into the back approaches to the dunes on the ocean side. Depending on the time of year, this area is likely to be well populated with wild flowers. Gallardia are as common as grass in some spots. There is also a little cactus, something like a prickly pear only much smaller and with really vicious little spines. These things seem to leap off the ground and attach themselves to shoes or sandals. This alone is reason not to go barefoot. That the sand can be scorching in the summer is another reason.

The dunes drop off with cliff-like abruptness onto the ocean beach. At low tide, this beach is a treasure trove for shellers. In fact, you won't be able to walk on the beach without sandals due to the shell content. From here, we walk back to the inlet, and around the point to the ferry pickup point. The ocean side near Beaufort Inlet is a good place to find whelk shells. Low tide is best.

The route as described is about five or six miles, length determined by side forays into the forest and dunes.

You may see horses at any point. They seem to like that shallow cove area, as well as the interior of the island. The island is only about a thousand or so yards at its widest.

Mosquito repellent is a must, especially if the wind is light or you go into the forest. Sun screen is also a necessity. Do not underestimate the importance of taking enough water. For the route described above, on a four hour trip, we pack four liters each. A first aid kit, commercial backpacking type or home-grown, is useful for dealing with bug bites, cactus spines, slivers, shell cuts, blisters, and so on. Keep in mind that although you can see Beaufort and Morehead City a short distance away, if you twist an ankle, become dehydrated, suffer heat exhaustion or worse, time-wise you are much further away from help than you think. Shackleford is a magnificent example of the barrier island environment, with the exciting addition of the Spanish and English ponies, but it can be a bit unforgiving.

If you have any specific questions, ask your ferry operator. Most, if not all, are local people who know the local waters and islands well, and you should listen to their advice.

The Cape Lookout National Seashore visitor center is at the eastern end of Harkers Island. There are NPS rangers here and over on Core Banks at the lighthouse site; you will find them to be knowledgeable and helpful, and many of them are local folks too:


Here are some galleries of our visits:


http://www.writingplaces.com/imagegalleries/nctrips/NC2011Galleries/ShacklefordBanks/index.html (good horse photos in this one)

32  Thank MikeSteeves
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 27 July 2013

Was staying at Emerald Ise with my family and we decided to go to Shackleford Banks in Beaufort NC. Seen a brochure and looked up reviews and thought this would be a great experience. We were all excited about doing some shelling. The boat ride was great and my 3 yr old grandson loved it. We were dropped off at the island by ferry and all the gentlemen told us was to go right over the dunes to the ocean. Upon taking this task we had to walk through ankle deep horse feces and urine. There was no saving our shoes and as you walked horse crap was splattered all over you. It was never mentioned about the horrible walking conditions to get to the ocean side. Once we were there was nothing but trash everywhere. We did not find the nice shells you see in the wooden crate at the ticket booth. The brochure is very deceiving. If you stay in the sound area you will be alright. The guide told us to do the good shelling you had to cross to the ocean. This is not a trip for the elderly, young children or anyone with a health condition.

21  Thank Kim C
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 11 July 2013

we were staying at Emerald Isle and decided to take a trip to Beaufort and take the Outer Banks Ferry service to visit Shackleford Banks and hopefully do some shelling and see the horses. The ferry company was great and accepts visa or mastercard. The fare for adults is $15, and yes that is round trip since there is no other way you can get home.

The ferry ride is 15 minutes. and 10 of it is in inlets and smooth. Once you are in open water then it can be rough or smooth, just look at ocean conditions to know how it will be. Anyway, that portion is 5-10 minutes so no big deal if it is choppy anyway. The views of the harbor and Fort Macon are nice.

You let the ferry driver know when you would like to be picked up and are dropped off at one end of the island. There is no dock and no paths or facilities of any kind on this island, so you climb off the front of the boat and jump down. If you have any kind of mobility issue be careful about this trip.

We were there on a rainy day, actually we got drenched, but we knew it was coming and it was warm out, so that was ok. And we saw three groups of horses, which were just incredible. even though we tried to maintain a 50 foot difference twice the horses ran by our teens and one walked right past my husband and I. We got some fantastic pictures.

If you want to go there to swim you have to do that on the sound side, as the ocean side is too rough. Signs are posted but there is no one out on the island but other visitors. Oh, and tours too but they didn't show anyone any more than we saw ourselves so i would not bother paying for that.

The island is nine miles long and we stayed for three hours and barely scratched the surface. like I said there are no paths so i recommend shoes or sandals as there are sand burrs and a lot of trash there too. That was a disappointment but don't let it put you off the visit. i just wish someone was in charge and could organize a cleanup once in a while.

Also keep track of the time to meet your ferry! Leave plenty of time.

So, I am glad we went and saw the horses, as that is a special experience but I would not go just for swimming or shelling. Frankly the shelling was not that good, there are tons of shells but nothing special. Maybe low tide is much better? I am not sure.

Bring your camera and water and snacks and pack out what you bring and you will have a great time.

8  Thank beachmomGillette
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 8 July 2013

Shackleford Banks, or "The Shack" as locals like to call it. Not much I can add to what has already been written, except that during the summer months, it gets quite crowded with boats, personal water crafts and swimmers...so if you go then, be extra careful. I went there yesterday with some friends....we walked over to the ocean side. No one there but us. Gives you the feeling of being on a deserted island. However the sound side was somewhat crowded. The Shack is only accessible by boat, so you either get there on your own boat, or hire out one of the several ferry services that offer rides...all are good and reasonably priced. When you go, take your own food and drinks, as there are none for sale on the island...no snack bars or machines or restaurants. What you eat/bring, you take. If there's no wind, take bug repellent, and sunscreen. There are no trash receptacles as there is no garbage service, so please take your trash with you off the island...this island is pretty much close to being pristine...we'd like to keep it that way. Several wild horses there...supposedly descendants from horses marooned there from Spanish wrecks. Be careful around them if they get close to you... they are beautiful...but they are wild...definitely not tame. Lots of neat shells to be found there..some live. Leave them and take the empty ones. There are compost type bathrooms on the island, near the wildlife landing pier. In my humble opinion, the best time to go is in early spring, or late fall...when there is no one else there...you truly feel isolated. Shackleford Banks is my most favorite spot in the world...and I get to go whenever I want!

8  Thank Keith R
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

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