Light on the shore

The Cape Lookout Lighthouse lights the way for a boat making its way to shore. Lighthouse climbs and night programs that allow participants to see the light up close and lit, along with ranger-led events, are all part of summer at Cape Lookout National Seashore. (Dylan Ray photo)

Cape Lookout National Seashore is the place to be this summer to experience the Cape Lookout Lighthouse, Shackleford Banks and more.

The national seashore offers many different ways to spend a summer outdoors. Those who visit the seashore can experience the view from atop the Cape Lookout Lighthouse.

The lighthouse, which is located on South Core Banks, is open to the public through Sunday, Sept. 15.  

Climbing hours are 10:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, with ticket sales from 10 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.  The lighthouse will also be open for Labor Day Monday, Sept. 2.

Tickets to climb the iconic lighthouse are $8 for adults, and $4 for senior citizens (62 or older) and children (11 and under).

Tickets are available on a first come, first served basis and can only be purchased in-person the day of the climb.

For safety, children 12 and under must be escorted by a person at least 16 years old and also be at least 44 inches tall.

Visitors should prepare for their trip to the lighthouse by bringing sunscreen, bug spray, water and snacks, and plan to take back any trash, as the park is a trash-free zone.  

Also, visitors should check the weather ahead of time and dress accordingly.  Climbing the lighthouse can be “strenuous,” as the climb is 207 stairs, equaling the ascent up a 10-story building in often hot and humid conditions.

As well as checking out the lighthouse, visitors can join a ranger program.

Ranger programs are a way to learn more about the park and are scheduled through Labor Day weekend.

The Light Station Visitor Center will host programs at 10:15 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. Wednesday through Friday.

While at the beach, take a moment to find out more about the plants, animals and people of the Southern Outer Banks.  

Rangers will highlight the Crystal Coast’s scenic beauty, rich culture and history, along with the challenges ahead in a 20-minute presentation at 10:30 a.m., and a 45-minute beach walk or interactive demonstration at 2:30 p.m.

Those interested in the programs should check the ranger activity board when they arrive at the park for more information.

At the Beaufort Visitor Information Center, an Art of the New Deal program meets in Beaufort town hall at 1:45 p.m. Sundays beginning June 23.

It will continue through Sept. 1.

Visitors can discover the art of the New Deal era through the nationally treasured murals of Simka Simkhovitch, which capture moments of local maritime history.  

Locals who have grown up with the murals are encouraged to attend and share their memories.

The Rove with a Ranger program meets at the Island Express Ferry Service ticket booth in Beaufort at 9:15 a.m. Fridays beginning June 21 and running through Aug. 30.

Ferry fees apply, so call the vendor for ticket prices.

Participants can explore Shackleford Banks for a morning walk with a park ranger and spot some of the wild horses or discover one of the many sea birds that reside or stop by on their migration.  

Those participating should come prepared for the adventure by bringing water, snacks, binoculars/camera, sunscreen, bug spray and a pair of water-walking shoes.  

Evening at the Cape dates are Thursday-Saturday, June 13-15, Thursday-Saturday, July 11-13, Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 8-10, Friday-Saturday, Sept. 6-7 and Friday-Saturday, Oct. 4-5.

Participants can take a 3-mile ferry ride across Core Sound at dusk and arrive at the Cape Lookout Lighthouse dock to experience the life of a lighthouse keeper and the island ecosystem as the sun sets.  

This ranger-led program is a way to connect to the iconic lighthouse and the natural barrier-island around it.

Each tour accommodates 40 people, and reservations are required.  More information on the program and how to make reservations are available at

Horse Sense and Survival, dates are Saturdays, June 15, July 13, Aug. 24, Sept. 28, Oct. 26 and Nov. 9.  

This four-hour tour offers visitors the chance to go with park resource ranger, Dr. Sue Stuska, over to Shackleford Banks and hike along the beach, through sea grasses and mucky marshes, for a chance to witness the wild horse population.

More details on this program, including how to make reservations, are available at or by calling the Harkers Island Visitor Center at 252-728-2250, ext. 0.

There are a few different ways to gain access to the Cape Lookout National Seashore.

The Cape Lookout National Seashore Harkers Island Visitor Center is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Cape Lookout National Seashore Beaufort Visitor Information Center is open seven days a week from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Cape Lookout National Seashore Light Station Visitor Center on South Core Banks is open seven days a week from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Island Express Ferry Service, the park’s authorized concessioner passenger ferry, is available seven days a week from the Harkers Island and Beaufort locations.  

On Harkers Island, the ferry departs from the visitor center at 1800 Island Road.

 In Beaufort, the ferry will depart from the town docks at 600 Front St.

More information on the ferry service can be obtained by calling 252-728-7433 or via the internet at

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