Cape Lookout National Seashore Camping Overview
|Cape Lookout Lighthouse (Bill Russ/North Carolina Tourism)|
Cape Lookout National Seashore Camping Travel Tips
- Cape Lookout Island offers two choices for people who want to spend the night there: rustic cabins and barebones, tent-and-hand-spade camping. Bring your own water, toiletries, and whatever else you need to be comfortable, because you won't find it here.
- You may bring your car or ATV to the island via ferry. You'll need a rig with high clearance, four-wheel drive, and a full tank of gas.
- To stay on the island you'll need to request a free camping permit from the visitor center or pick one up at the self-serve permit station. The permit allows for a stay of up to 14 days.
- The NPS allows campfires below the high water mark, but only ones made of driftwood. As driftwood can be scarce, you'll want to bring a camp stove.
- Most folks prefer camping amongst the dunes during the summer: the dunes themselves provide a windbreak while the sand provides a break from the insects.
The Cape Lookout National Seashore is three undeveloped barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina. There are no designated campgrounds in the park; however, primitive camping is allowed. You may camp anywhere except within 100 yards of a structure or ferry dock. From May to October (the insect season), camp near the beach in the open dunes where you can enjoy a bit of breeze and protection from high winds. At other times of the year, you will find the shrub and grassland areas pleasant.
Campfires are allowed below the high tide line. Firewood on the islands is scarce and using a stove is recommended. Make sure your tent is strong and able to withstand wind. Carry extra-long pegs for use in sand. Unless you particularly like insect bites, make sure that your tent has mosquito netting.
Camping is not permitted in the following areas:
- Within 100 feet of shade shelters, bulletin boards, or other structures
- In Concession Cabin areas
- Portsmouth Village Historic District
- Cape Lookout Light Station Complex
- Cape Lookout Coast Guard Complex
- Areas of reserved private rights (leases and life estates)
- Harkers Island Administrative Site
- Turtle and Bird Closure Areas
Camping is limited to 14 consecutive days.
Firearms are not allowed at the National Seashore except during hunting season.
Camping on Shackleford is allowed, except within 100 feet of any structure. Consideration should be given to minimize the impact to the environment. Fires are allowed only below the high-water mark. Only dead and down wood may be burned as fuel. No cutting of vegetation is allowed.
Since this island has little drinking water and human sanitation facilities available, personal needs should be considered before an extended outing.
Weather conditions can rapidly change on the islands. During the summer months, afternoon thunderstorms can occur. These storms may pass quickly, but lightning can strike dunes, beach, and water. Hurricane season begins on June 1 and ends on December 1. The park will be evacuated and closed if a hurricane threatens the area. Please check the visitor centers for the latest watches and warnings.
Extreme high and low tides occur during the year and may affect camping and hiking. Areas can fill quickly with water. You may want to get a copy of tide tables before going out on the islands.
Food and Water
Food is not available on the seashore. Fresh water is very limited. Campers should bring enough to serve their needs. If you plan to do long-distance camping, please contact the visitor center for additional information on water storage.
Please carry out everything you carry into the park. Do not bury trash, since sand is constantly moving and buried trash resurfaces quickly. Also trash can injure the turtles and birds. Plastic bags look like jelly fish to sea turtles and they will eat them. The bag will then harm or kill the turtle.
Proper disposal of human waste is important to avoid water pollution and minimizes the possibility of spreading disease. Human waste should be disposed by using catholes. The cathole should be above the high-tide line. Select a site where other people will unlikely walk or camp. With a small trowel, dig a hole about 6-8 inches deep and 4-6 inches in diameter. When finished, the cathole should be covered.
Biting insects such as mosquitoes, greenhead flies, ants, deerflies, and gnats can be found throughout the seashore from May through October. Chiggers and ticks can also be found. Insect repellent should be carried with you.
Driftwood campfires are allowed below the high-tide line. A permit is not required. Only dead and down wood may be collected. Since this source of wood is extremely limited, cold camping with a self-contained stove is recommended.
Pets are not allowed on the seashore. Animals have chased birds and destroyed nests; some of these birds are endangered/threatened species.
Other Helpful Hints
- Swimming is not recommended on the seashore. There are no lifeguards at the park. Swimming hazards such as strong tides, cross-currents, waves, and rip tides can occur without warning. These hazards can result in drowning.
- Sturdy walking shoes are recommended. Walking in soft sand can be difficult without proper shoes.
- A hat and sunscreen would be helpful for your trip.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication