One of the most natural island settings in North Carolina which is free from development is Shackleford Banks. Visitors to this uninhabited island can enjoy white sand beaches and an abundance of wildlife that roams freely. The journey to and from the island is equally as exhilarating as time spent on the banks. What is Shackleford Banks?

Where Is Shackleford Banks In North Carolina

The banks are part of Cape Lookout National Seashore, off the mainland of Beaufort, North Carolina. 

Although Beaufort is the closest city, other populated areas include Morehead City and Atlantic Beach. As a result, visitors and residents of these populated areas can venture out to Shackleford Banks.

As far as proximity in the state of North Carolina is concerned, Shackleford Banks is positioned centrally along the coast. Situated to the south is Wilmington and to the north is the Outer Banks.

How Do I Get To Shackleford Banks

There are two methods of traveling between the mainland and Shackleford Banks. The first is by private boat from a marina or boat ramp. Secondly, you can reach the island by traveling on the Island Express Ferry.

To board the ferry, enter the Harkers Island ferry terminal. The boat will travel to the eastern end of the banks. As far as cost is concerned, it depends on the passenger’s age, and remember that leashed pets come at an additional fee.  

How Long Is The Ferry Ride To Shackleford Banks

The journey from Harkers Island to the banks is approximately fifteen minutes. Along the peaceful boat trip, enjoy sights of dolphins, birds, and other sea life. 

Keep in mind that sun exposure will be high, so pack a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Fortunately, the ferry offers ample shade as a result of the overhead roof. 

Can You Swim At Shackleford Banks

Swimming is allowed on the majority of the barrier island. However, some areas are prone to strong tides, and as a result, swimmers are not allowed to enter the water in designated areas.

At the most western end of the banks, swimming is not allowed. The purpose of the swimming ban is the current flow in and out of the Beaufort inlet. Unfortunately, during tide changes, the water moves swiftly. As a result, swimmers can be pulled away from the shoreline.

What Is There To Do When Visiting

Shackleford Banks has an abundance of nature to explore. Should you plan to shop, dine, and enjoy luxurious amenities, this isn’t the trip for you. 


As a result of the bank being surrounded by water with the Atlantic on one and the sound on the other, a wide variety of fish species are caught. 

Surf fishers have the opportunity to mackerel, sea trout, croaker, redfish, and even blue crabs. Remember to pack plenty of bait and tackle because you will not have the option to purchase supplies on Shackleford Banks.

Live bait is your best bet at catching fish. Bring along a cast net to catch mullet and shrimp to place on the hook because the fish are more likely to bite either of the options. Lastly, obtain a saltwater fishing license before casting a line. 

Pony Spotting

The banks are home to Banker ponies. Believe it or not, these horses are believed to have arrived in the 1500s from a shipwreck. 

As if visiting the island isn’t enough, on top of that, you have the opportunity to view wild horses wandering about Shackleford Banks. Remember that these are wild animals. Remain at a fifty-foot distance. 


Considering how close the banks are to the open ocean, the shoreline is susceptible to storms. Passing storms saturate the beach with a fresh deposit of shells for beachgoers to explore when looking for a treasure.

The best method to find a one-of-a-kind shell is to walk the beach where the waves reach the highest point. Remember to bring along a bucket to collect your findings. 


The pristine waters are ideal for kayaking, standup paddleboarding, and skimboarding. Despite needing to lug the gear from the ferry or private boat to the beach, the effort will be well worth the reward.

Keep in mind that lifeguards do not monitor the beach. Use caution to avoid becoming caught in swift currents. Paddling with the tide can lead to a challenging return trip fighting the strong flow of water. Lastly, remember to wear a lifejacket when participating in watersports.  

Plan A Trip To Shackleford Banks

The next time you’re in Beaufort or the Atlantic Beach area of North Carolina, take a ferry or private boat to Shackleford Banks. We all look for opportunities to escape to nature away from computers, work, and other distractions. While on the banks, take the time to listen to the birds, seas, and wind blowing through grasses on the dunes and enjoy the peacefulness.