Cape Lookout National Seashore is a 56-mile stretch of untouched, natural beach at the southern tip of the Outer Banks and considered to be a part of North Carolina’s Crystal Coast. There are no trash cans. No showers. No food (other than what you bring), and no electricity. It’s just you and nature. I guess technically it’s not a deserted island, but it sure felt like it.
That said, it’s absolutely beautiful. But there’s only one problem. You can’t get there by car.
To get to Cape Lookout, you need to drive down to a little known island called Harker’s Island. Here you can book a ferry from Island Express Ferry Service ($20 round trip each). The ferry will take you past Shackleford Banks to see the famous wild horses, and then drop you off on Cape Lookout…Then they turn around.
That’s right. Once the ferry leaves for the last time at sunset, you are on your own. There aren’t any amenities aside from a bathroom, a ranger station, and during the summer season, a little shop that sells water.
Now, this might be terrifying to some. But it wasn’t for us. Not because we’re some brave, self-sufficient couple that can survive in all the elements. Nope. It wasn’t terrifying because we really didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into.
We heard about camping at Cape Lookout from a friend, and decided, yea, let’s take the dog and do it. So we packed a small cooler with water, a pack of hot dogs and some chips. Along with a backpack filled with sunscreen, a lighter and some fire starter cubes. We brought our tent, a blanket and two pillows. Then we took off.
First off, pack light, because when you get there, it’s a hike to the beach. We thought we had done this, but after the 15 minute walk in the blistering sun, we wished we would’ve packed even lighter or brought a beach wagon of some sort.
Second off, be ready. If you camp right on the beach, it can get super windy. This is great to keep away mosquitos but it can take down your tent pretty easily. However, go too far up in the dunes and the mosquitos and ants are everywhere.
Oh, and there aren’t any camping grills, so we dug a hole in the sand (below the high tide mark), found some dry driftwood, lit the starter cubes, and made a nice little beach fire where we cooked our hot dogs on a stick (full disclosure: We dropped the dogs in the sand numerous times and had to wash them off).
Lucky for us, the weather was really perfect and we nestled up to a dune just enough to limit the wind. We fell asleep under the stars, to the sound of the waves. It was probably the most peaceful sleep of my entire life. And waking up to this view wasn’t too bad either.
We spent the morning on the beach. Gave our pup, Bixby a long walk and then headed back to catch the ferry.
It was amazing. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But please note, I said it was a ONCE in a lifetime experience. Because while I’ll never forget how beautiful and serene it was out there. I won’t lie, it was kinda scary when it all set in.
You’re on your own. Cell service wasn’t working for us (although it was for some others) so if anything happens you better be able to get to the ranger station fast, and even then, help is still a long ways away.
That said, if you have the nature chops to pull this off, then by all means, do it. There aren’t many places left on the east coast where you can just drop a tent on the beach and stay the night.
But if you’re like us, you probably want to do some better planning. For instance… check the weather!! If there is ANY chance of bad weather, don’t go. Bring some kind of beach wagon to haul your camping gear and your food/drinks. Bring a trash bag for any trash you have. Bring mosquito spray and sunscreen (there is no shelter). Bring an axe to chop up the driftwood you find (or bring a little wood in your wagon). And bring a tent with some big stakes that can handle heavy winds.
If you plan accordingly, this is a once in a lifetime experience. If you don’t, your probably going to have a bad time…orrr you could go in naive and get extremely lucky by having everything work out perfectly for you, as it did for us.