Cape Lookout Lighthouse. There is no fee for parking at the visitor center, but there is a cost to ride the Ferry to visit the Cape Lookout National Seashore. Cost range from $15-$20 per person to ride the Ferry and the ferry ride is approximately 15 minutes. For more information on taking a Ferry to the Cape Lookout National Seashore, click Here.
The Cape Lookout Lighthouse is only open is open for climbing from the second week in May to the third weekend in September. Self-guided tours of up to 10 people will begin every 15 minutes during the hours of operation. The current costs for admission when we went was $8 per person, there are discounted prices for children and seniors. The lighthouse may close at any time if conditions (i.e.: temperature/humidity, lightning, or high winds) are determined to be unsafe. The climb to the top is strenuous. It may be hot, humid, noisy and dim inside the lighthouse. Climbing the 207 steps to the gallery is roughly equal to climbing a 12-story building. The stairs are narrow and groups going up will share the stairs with groups returning to the bottom. Make sure to get your tickets to climb the lighthouse early because on busy days the number of tickets can sell out. There is a set number of people able to climb the lighthouse each day and the quota exists because the lighthouse is a very old structure and can only safely accommodate so many people safely. For more information about seasonal hours of operation, click Here.
During the ferry ride over, you will have Cape Lookout Lighthouse firmly in view. The ferry docks right near Cape Lookout Lighthouse and you exit the ferry right by Cape Lookout Lighthouse. You then hike along a wooden boardwalk to the visitor center, which has a small gift shop, restrooms, and is the gateway to Cape Lookout Lighthouse and Cape Lookout National Seashore. You buy your tickets to climb the lighthouse at this visitor center. At this point you are a short walk to the Cape Lookout Lighthouse and less than a 0.4 mile hike to the Atlantic Coast. There are wooden boardwalks around the visitor center and the Cape Lookout Lighthouse, but outside of that you are walking on flat sandy trails.
Further Thoughts: A variety of activities awaits you at Cape Lookout National Seashore. From birding, to camping, to fishing, to learning about the rich history of Cape Lookout Light Station, there is something here for everyone. The main thing is you will need to pack everything you need for your visit to the Cape Lookout National Seashore, because this is an undeveloped barrier island. Ashley and I brought a full day pack with everything from lunch, sunscreen, water, and appropriate clothes. When we first got to the Cape Lookout National Seashore, we immediately purchased our tickets to climb the Cape Lookout Lighthouse. Our scheduled time was not for several hours, so we hiked over to the beach and explored the area.
We did a little shelling and then went swimming in the warm Atlantic waters, which during the summer time get over 80 degrees. One of the neat things about being at Cape Lookout National Seashore is there is no development on the island. It is a completely different experience being on an island that has no housing right along the ocean. You look down as far as the eye can see along the coast and there is not a single home on the coastline. It is truly a magnificent sight to see!
If you have more than one day to spend at the Cape Lookout National Sea Shore, there is primitive camping available on the island. Campers should prepare carefully for the natural conditions to be found at the park. We saw two groups of people that were going to be camping right on the beach.
The waters surrounding the park are feeding grounds for marine mammals and sea turtles. Four sea turtle species - Loggerhead, Green, Kemp's Ridley, and Leatherback - are sometimes seen feeding in area waters. Only the Loggerhead sea turtle regularly nests on the park's beaches during the summer months. The others are found only as juveniles or are just passing through.
Mammals are uncommon on the islands; rice rats, rabbits, river otters, and raccoons are some of the native species found here. On Shackleford Banks is a population of horses that has gone wild and adapted to their environment over the past few hundred years. Although salt and brackish water environments dominate the islands, a few fresh water habitats support tree frogs and Fowler's toads. While diamond-back terrapins prefer the salt marsh areas, the grasslands are the preferred habitat for five-lined racerunner lizards and black racer snakes. For more on the ecosystem of this area, click Here.
Rating: Little elevation gain throughout the whole Cape Lookout National Seashore. Can make your day as relaxing or as strenuous as you would like.
Time to Complete Hike: Ideally, Ashley and I would recommend spending at least a half a day exploring the area, if not a full day. We spent a half day and would have enjoyed having more time to spend on the island.