Deserted Island: Shackleford Banks

At the southern end of a 200-mile string of barrier islands off the North Carolina coast known as the Outer Banks is Cape Lookout National Seashore. And at the southern end of that is an uninhabited island called Shackleford Banks. I spent the day before Thanksgiving there with my parents.

The island is only accessible by boat but there are a couple of ferry services on the mainland in Beaufort. Beaufort itself is a cool little town established in 1709. It’s rich in history and very picturesque but its biggest claim to fame (and my favorite thing about it) is the fact the Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge ran aground just off its coast in 1718. The wreck was discovered in 1996 and is the subject of an ongoing archaeological research project.

You can view artifacts from the QAR in the NC Maritime Museum in Beaufort  which happened to be right across the street from our ferry service. So while we waited for our departure time, we got to wander about the museum examining artifacts from straight pins and tiny glass beads to cannon that had been buried under the shifting shoals of Beaufort Inlet for 300 years. To me, that’s a lot of fun and I tried to read every sign in the 45 minutes we had before our boat left.

Our ferry was a flat-bottomed skiff that offered no protection from the frigid late November wind which I thought it was invigorating. My parents looked slightly less thrilled, but 15 minutes of cold wind and spray seemed a small price to pay.

Leaving Beaufort in our wake.

We were plenty warm enough once we arrived at the island and hiked the half a mile through the dunes to the ocean side.

The sound side of the island where the boat dropped us.

My parents hiking across the island.

And when we got there, it was delightfully deserted.

There were just two people on the other side when we arrived and they were just leaving to catch the boat back.

The Gulf Stream passes at it’s closest just off shore here before swinging away to the east bringing with it plenty of shells more common to shores farther south.

I haven’t picked up a Florida fighting conch (lower right) since I was a kid beachcombing in Florida.

A broken queen’s helmet, also not common this far north.

There were also plenty of shorebirds…

…and a lone shrimp boat being swarmed by gulls.

And to my delight, a bonus. To visit the Cape Lookout Lighthouse (and take a photo of it making my collection of Outer Banks lighthouses almost complete), we would have to have taken another, longer boat ride and our mini-vacation just didn’t allow time for both trips. But when I took a closer look at this photo, I realized the Cape Lookout Light is just barely visible on the horizon.

See the tiny tiny lighthouse on the horizon? I say this counts.

And even more delightful, on the walk back across the island, we got to see some of the wild horses that have lived on the island for about  400 years.

Locals say the “banker ponies” are shipwreck survivors. You can find a more detailed history here.

So I’ve added another island to my mental list of favorite places, and I’ll be going back first chance I get.

How about ya’ll? What’s one of your favorite places and why?

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  1. Those were really awesome pics… Tammy always talks about wanting to be at the beach during this time of the year… I can’t say that I blame her… Beach or Chicagoland winters… hmmmm… hahaha…

    • Thanks, JWo. The cool thing about going in the off season – it might be too cold to swim but you’ll have the place to yourself. I can’t imagine winters up there. This is as far north as I ever want to live. Stay warm!

  2. Just beautiful — what a great way to spend time with your parents! And that is absolutely a lighthouse — so it certainly does count!

    • Thank you, Elyse! I needed a little validation about my tiny lighthouse. And I think my parents had fun, even thought they drove 800 miles to see me and I made them drive 175 more. My partner deserves a lot of credit for handling things at home so I could get away with my folks for a couple of days.

  3. Score!! This is right up my shoreline :-). Thank you for the wonderful photographic tour!

  4. I definitely have to go to the Barrier Islands some day! Beautiful. One of my favorite places is Loch Coruisk in the Isle of Skye, but I have yet to scan those slides.

    • Wow, I googled it and found a lovely travel article that described it in the most magical terms – an ancient magma chamber polished by glaciers and filled with rainwater… You definitely need to scan those slides. (I figure when it comes to traveling vicariously, I’m a degree less removed if someone I know has been there (and has good photos).)

  5. Awesome! I’ll add this to my places to go. We go to Nags Head every year but we’ve never been to Beaufort. I’ve been wanting to go. This past summer I used your post about the shipwreck and we hunted it down. It was mostly covered again but still cool for the kids to see–and now we know where it is.

    • You went to see the shipwreck – that’s so cool! Maybe next year it will be uncovered more again, or the next. It’s amazing how much sand the tides can shift, and so quickly. We’ve been to the Outer Banks twice now – once to Avon and once to Frisco – and we loved it. Don’t know if we’ll get to go this year – money is so tight. Beaufort is definitely worth the trip. I wish we had had more time.

  6. hello, Tori… ahaha, am happy for you. you’re able to take a trip with your parents and in an interesting and picturesque island, too. btw, both your narration and the pics are wonderful. thanks for sharing… i have had my share of visiting islands in our country, too. each time, an splendid experience – the shores, the waves, the wind… have a great week ahead 🙂

  7. Banker ponies–how very cool.

  8. WOW, just beautiful… And those ponies! Omigosh. Thanks so much for sharing such a beautiful trip. I’d love, love, LOVE to visit.


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