Beach camping

Ah, camping at the beach. Sea, sand, sun, brilliant sunsets and dark skies. Swimming, surfing, fishing, clamming, crabbing and evening campfires. These are the things that memories are made of. The following information will insure that your camping trip to the seashore is a safe and enjoyable one.


Jeff Lovett, NC Outward Bound


All camping within the park is primitive beach camping: there are no designated campgrounds. Permits are not generally required for camping, but overnight groups of 25 or more are required to obtain a Special Use Permit. Group permit applications can be downloaded from the Camping Permits page. All camping is limited to 14 consecutive days.

Campsites must be at least 100 feet from wells, shade shelters, bulletin boards, docks or other structures and at least 100 yards from the lighthouse and from any cabin or house. Camping is not permitted on Harkers Island, in Portsmouth Village, in the Cape Lookout Light Station complex, in the Cape Village (including the Cape Lookout Coast Guard Station), in long term parking areas, or on property held under private lease. Because it disturbs vegetation, do not camp on top of the dunes.

Visitors are welcome to camp with their vehicles, but vehicles, including any style trailer or pop-up camper, or vehicles with a rooftop tent or truck bed camper, must be kept on the oceanside beach seaward of the primary dunes, not between or on top of dunes. In addition, no vehicle is allowed to camp on the trail behind the dunes known as the "back road" unless there is a designated signed spot. Drivers must follow the regulations for off-road vehicles (ORVs) outlined on the Beach Driving section of the website and must have an ORV Beach Driving Permit. Vehicles, including bicycles and E-bikes, are not permitted on Shackleford Banks. Special use permits for Long-Term parking are required for vehicles located in long-term parking lots. No vehicle may be left unattended for over 24 hours without a permit.

Facilities and Amenities

There are no camp stores within the park. Campers should bring all the food and fresh water they will need during their visit. During the summer months, drinking water is available at the restrooms near the lighthouse and from a spigot on the back road near the boardwalk to the beach. At the cabin camps, drinking water is available in the public restrooms. These sources of water are turned off during the coldest part of the winter to prevent busted pipes. During the off-season do not depend on this water as your primary source. No drinking water is available on Shackleford Banks or in Portsmouth Village.

There are restrooms open seasonally in areas of high visitation including the lighthouse area on South Core Banks, Wade's Shore on Shackleford Banks, and Portsmouth Village on North Core Banks. Restrooms, water and public shower facilities are available seasonally in the Great Island and former Long Point cabin areas. In other areas, human waste should be buried above the high tide line in a location where other people will be unlikely to walk or camp. Dump stations for vehicle campers are located in the Great Island and former Long Point cabin areas and near the point of the cape.

There are no trash cans on the islands. Visitors must take all their trash out of the park when they leave. Do not bury any trash as the sand is constantly moving and buried trash re-surfaces quickly. For more information on the Trash Free Park program, visit the Leave No Trace page.

There are no Recreational Vehicle (RV) hookups available within the park. In addition, there are no roads on the islands and all driving is in loose sand, which generally makes the park unsuitable for RVs and camping trailers.

Campfires and Grills

Open campfires can only be built below the high tide line (in damp sand) and be no wider than 3 feet in diameter. NO BONFIRES. Remember that you are the fire department when you are on the island and you are responsible for the actions of your fire.

Visitors may want to check the tide predictions in advance to determine when they can build fires. Loose dead wood on the ground within 200 feet of the shore may be used for campfires. Wood from shipwrecks or historical or archeological sites and wood from standing trees may not be used. Campers are encouraged to bring their own wood because the amount of wood available in the park is extremely limited.

Cooking receptacles which are enclosed on the bottom and sides, such as grills, are permitted in all areas of the park except for Portsmouth Village, the Cape Lookout Village, on cabin or house porches, and wooden structures (including boardwalks and shade shelters) associated with the lighthouse. These grills should be used carefully and with consideration for the surrounding vegetation. All food waste and trash must be taken out of the park: there is no garbage pick-up.

Additional Information

  • Hammocks may only be used if they can be made free-standing. Hammocks may not be hung in shade shelters or attached to other structures or strung between trees.
  • Park and federal regulations on camping and other activities can be found in the Rules and Regulations section of the Laws and Policies page.
  • It is recommended that tent campers use tents with insect netting and bring tarp or a rain fly and which are able to withstand strong winds.
  • Longer tent stakes, about one foot in length, are better suited to anchor tents in the soft sand and high winds in the park.
  • Weather conditions can change rapidly on the islands. Information and weather predictions can be found on the Weather page.
  • Be aware of the predicted tide times and heights. More information can be found on the Weather page.
  • Sunscreen and insect repellant should be carried with you. Biting insects such as mosquitoes, greenhead flies, ants, deerflies, and gnats can be found throughout the seashore during the months of May through October. Chiggers and ticks can also be found.
  • Sturdy walking shoes are recommended for walking in the soft sand.
  • Kayakers and canoers who are camping in the park are asked to leave a float plan with the park. More information is available on the Kayaking and Canoeing page.
  • Pets are required to be on leashes at all times.

Other Camp Sites

Arriving late? Winds too strong? Need a place to stay on the mainland?

Check out the private campgrounds listed on the Crystal Coast Tourism Authority's website and the campgrounds in the Croatan National Forest.

Last updated: April 10, 2021

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Mailing Address:

131 Charles St
Harkers Island , NC 28531


252 728-2250

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