Tips for Planning a Field Trip

The undeveloped islands of Cape Lookout National Seashore offer pristine examples of barrier island ecology while the historic lighthouse and villages provide a glimpse into the lives of the people who have called these islands home. A field trip to the park can be an excellent way to connect classes to these subjects. However, the remote nature of the park means that class trips require advanced planning. The following information is designed to aid teachers and school administrators in their preparation for school trips to the park.

Class Safety | Accessibility | Transportation | Bus Parking | Lunches and Snacks
Suggested Packing List for Students
Other Activities to Consider


Class Safety

Plan to bring one adult (teacher or chaperone) for every nine students.

There are no lifeguards on Cape Lookout. Unless you plan on providing your own lifeguards, swimming is not recommended as a class activity.

It is important for students and chaperones to bring plenty of drinking water. This is especially important for trips planned for May through August or for trips where a significant amount of hiking will be required. A water bottle filling station is available at the Light Station Visitor Center near the lighthouse and at the Harkers Island Visitor Center. For groups headed for Shackleford Banks, be sure to refill your water bottles at the Visitor Information Center in Beaufort before getting on the ferry.

For more safety information, download the “Beach Safety and Survival Guide” from the brochures page.



The Harkers Island Visitor Center is accessible to wheelchairs, as is the Soundside Nature Trail (almost a mile round-trip), located just behind the visitor center. ‘Ribbon of Sand’, the park’s film which is available for viewing at the visitor center, is open-captioned with the captions appearing on a reader board beneath the screen. The film's audio description and soundtrack are broadcast for use with assistive listening devices. These devices, with either a headphone speaker or an induction loop, are available upon request at the visitor center information desk.

The barrier islands are only accessible by private ferry. Passengers often need to climb up and down ladders or step off the boat into shallow water. There may also be limitations to the size and type of wheelchairs that can be transported. Please contact Island Express Ferry Service ((252) 728-7433, via email: ) for more information.

Visitors with accessibility concerns can check out a beach wheelchair for use in the sand or marsh. The Beaufort Visitor Information Center, Light Station Visitor Center, Great Island Cabin Office, Long Point Cabin Office, and Theodore and Annie Salter House Visitor Center each have a single beach wheelchair. For more information about borrowing a beach wheelchair, please contact the park at (252) 728-2250 ext. 0.



Many groups underestimate the travel time necessary for bussing to the ferry port / visitor centers. Give yourself at least a half hour more than you think you need for travel. Directions to the visitor centers and information on visiting the barrier islands can be found on the Park Directions page.

If you are using a GPS unit or navigational app, use this address for the Harkers Island Visitor Center’s main parking lot:

1800 Island Road
Harkers Island, NC 28531

Please arrive at the ferry at least half an hour before your scheduled departure time to allow for use of the restrooms before boarding the ferry. The ferries leave promptly as scheduled. When it’s time for you to return from the islands, please be at your departure point at least fifteen minutes before your scheduled pick-up time. Ferry rides can take approximately 20-minutes to go from the mainland to the park, and vice-versa.

Whether you are participating in a ranger led program, or seeking to bring your class over to a Cape Lookout National Seashore location to conduct your own lessons, we ask that you fill out a program request form, as we might be able to make the ferry arrangements for you.

Depending on available funding, and if you meet the requirements, we may be able to help your educational group with the cost of transportation, even if you intend to lead a self guided program.

Bus Parking

Bus drop off/pickup points are located on the north side of Front Street in front of the Beaufort Visitor Information Center (701 Front Street) as well as in front of the Inlet Inn (601 Front Street) and the North Carolina Maritime Museum (315 Front Street). Busses may not be parked on residential streets or in the downtown parking lots. Free bus parking is available in the gated parking lot at Front Street Village (2400 Lennoxville Road). A courtesy shuttle is provided for drivers from the parking lot to downtown Beaufort. Call ahead to 252-504-4799 or 252-838-1524 to make arrangements for parking and the shuttle. See the Town of Beaufort parking page for more information.

Harkers Island
Bus parking is available in the Harkers Island Visitor Center parking lot. Additional space is available in the park’s picnic area and in the Core Sound Decoy Museum’s parking lot.


Lunches and Snacks

All food and drinks will have to be brought with you. There are limited food options in the park.

We suggest scheduling your stay so that you eat in the picnic areas located near the visitor centers. Food items, and coolers will need to be carried from the ferry dock to where you plan to eat.

Cape Lookout National Seashore is a Trash Free Park. There are no garbage cans or trash-pick up on the islands. Please plan ahead and bring the appropriate amount of trash bags needed to clean-up and take trash back to the mainland for recycling and disposal.

Do not feed the wildlife (including the sea gulls). Besides being against park rules, A Fed animal is a Dead animal as they eventually lose their fear of humans.

Suggested Packing List for Students

  • Water
  • Lunch and/or Snacks
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent
  • A towel and an extra pair of shoes if class activities require wading
  • An extra set of clothing in case of rain or cold weather

Other Activities to Consider

On Harkers Island

  • Visit the Harkers Island Visitor Center and watch the park film Ribbon of Sand (26-minutes).
  • Explore the Soundside Loop (4/5 mile) and Willow Pond (1/3 mile) trails behind the visitor center.
  • Visit the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center (252-728-1500), located next to the visitor center, to learn about maritime history and traditions such as decoy carving, boat building, and commercial fishing.

In the Lighthouse area

  • Visit the Keepers' Quarters Museum and discover life on Core Banks in the 1800s and early 1900s.
  • Take the beach shuttle (additional fee) to the point of Cape Lookout for shelling and more exploring or on a drive-through tour of the historic Cape Lookout Village. Check with the tour operator for pricing and availability.

In Portsmouth Village

On Shackleford Banks

  • Search for wild horses on Shackleford Banks. (Please remember that these are wild animals; Give them about a bus length of space.) Safety tips for watching wild horses can be found on the Horse Watching page.

Last updated: December 22, 2017

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

131 Charles St
Harkers Island, NC 28531


(252) 728-2250

Contact Us