Beach camping

Dave'spics-090_tent

Jeff Lovett, NC Outward Bound

 

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 ensure that your camping trip to the seashore is a safe and enjoyable one.

Camping at Cape Lookout National Seashore is a different experience from camping at other national parks or state park areas. There are no established campgrounds in the park and few other amenities, such as water pumps or toilets, available within the park’s boundaries. You must bring everything with you need and take all trach with you.

Camping is permitted on all islands, expect Harker’s Island, within Cape Lookout National Seashore. 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. Vehicle and tent camping is allowed on North and South Core Banks. Only tent camping is allowed on Shackleford Banks. Read island specific information below.

Vehicle Camping I Tent Camping I North Core Banks Camping I
South Core Banks Camping I Shackleford Banks Camping I
Campfires I Frequently Asked Questions

 

Vehicle Camping

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. 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.
 

Tent Camping

Tent campers may set up among, but not on, the dunes just behind the ocean beach as well as on the sound-side of the island. For adequate shelter, a tent that has insect netting and is designed to withstand strong winds is recommended. To anchor the tent properly, use stakes that are about one foot in length. Standard stakes may not hold in the sand under high wind conditions.
 

Areas Closed to Camping

  • Park Service Property on Harker’s Island
  • Wildlife protection zones
  • Designated longterm parking lots/areas
  • Portsmouth Village Historic District
  • Cape Lookout Light Station, inlcuding Cape Lookout Historic Village
  • Within 100 feet of any docks, shade shelter, restrooms or other structures
  • Within 100 yards of the lighthouse or any cabin or house on the barrier islands
  • Within the boundaries of the rental cabin areas
 
Sand beach will blue sky in the background
Old Drum Inlet on North Core Banks

NPS Photo

North Core Banks Camping

22 miles of primitive beach is available for camping for vehicles and tents.

Amenities:
  • Restrooms and public shower facilities are available seasonally in the former Long Point Cabin area. There is currently no available drinking water on the island.
  • There is a dump station for vehicles located in the former Long Point cabin area.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.
 
Cape Lookout Lighthouse on the left, with beach to the right. Blue sky in the background.
Cape Lookout Lighthouse and Keeper's Quarters on South Core Banks

NPS Photo/Sabrina Godin

South Core Banks Camping

24 miles of primitive beach camping for vehicles and tent camping.

Amenities:
  • South Core Banks has restrooms, public showers, and drinking water available seasonally. 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.
  • Dump stations for vehicle campers are in the Great Island 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.
 
One horse chases three horses through the grass on Shackleford Banks. Sand is in the foreground and a blue sky is in the background
A stallion chases three mares on Shackleford Banks

NPS Photo/Nate Toering

Shackleford Banks Camping

8 miles of primitive beach camping for tent camping only.


Amenities:
  • Shackleford Banks has restrooms open seasonally at Wade Shore. Water is not available on the island.
  • All campers should bring enough food and water for their entire camping trip.Proper food storage, including fish bait, is a must. Sea gulls, horses, and racoons are very adept at raiding your camp.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.
 

Campfires

Open campfires can only be built below the high tide line (in damp sand) and be no wider than 3 feet in diameter. Bonfires are not allowed. 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.
 

Frequently Asked Questions

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.

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.

There are no camp stores within the park. Campers should bring all the food, fresh water, and firewood they will need during their visit. Firewood is not available to be purchased on the island.

In areas where there is not a restroom, human waste should be buried above the high tide line in a location where other people will be unlikely to walk or camp. With a small trowel, dig a hole about 6-8 inches deep and 4-6 inches in diameter. Cover the cathole when finished. Using this method minimizes the possibility of spreading diseases.

Weather conditions can change rapidly on the islands. Be aware of the predicted tides. Information and weather predictions can be found on the Weather page.

Park and federal regulations on camping and other activities can be found in the Rules and Regulations section of the Laws and Policies page.

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. More information about pet regulations can be found on the Pets page. 

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

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Contact Info

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131 Charles St
Harkers Island , NC 28531

Phone:

252 728-2250

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