Shells, Surf, and Wild Horses at Shackleford Banks

This article is part of our daily Regional Highlights series which features unique businesses, attractions and events around the South (outside of Georgia.)

Shackleford Island is part of the southern Outer Banks in North Carolina and is one of the islands that make up the Cape Lookout National Seashore. Shackleford Banks is known for its wild horses, beautiful beaches, and opportunities for shelling and observing wildlife.

Shells, Surf, and Wild Horses at Shackleford Banks

Shackleford Banks is special because it’s an unincorporated barrier island managed by the National Park Service.

You can only get here by water… Island Express Ferry Service (run by the NPS) out of Beaufort or Harkers Island is the easiest way to get there.

There are also a number of cruises and tours  that will take you on shelling or horse viewing trips. Additionally, you can take your own boat, or you can kayak. Just be aware this is about a 2-mile kayak ride over the ICW so it’s not an adventure for the unexperienced rower.

Shackleford Banks is well known as an exceptional shelling destination, as the undeveloped and pristine beaches are completely uninhabited, with tons of shoreline to go around. You’ll find a wealth of whelks, Scotch bonnets, olive shells, augers, sand dollars, colorful scallops, and moon snails.

While the beach is beautiful and the shelling is sensational… the island is best known for hosting the Cape Lookout National Seashore’s “Banker Ponies” — feral horses thought to be descendants of Spanish Mustangs that survived shipwrecks in the late 1500s.

This herd of more than 110 wild horses is now protected by The Foundation for Shackleford Horses, Inc. They provide health and behavioral studies, genetic testing, administer birth control, and educate the population about the herd. Still, the horses are wild animals and are not fed, watered or housed with human interference.

Remember, these are feral horses. You are welcome to watch and/or photograph them, but be sure to stay at least 50 feet from the horses.

If you’re visiting for the day, remember there is nothing on the island – no hotels, no convenience stores, no restrooms, no restaurants. You’ll want to pack everything you need for your adventure… and of course, be sure to pack up all your things and trash on your way out.

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Shells, Surf, and Wild Horses at Shackleford Banks