The Cape Lookout National Seashore is a narrow ribbon of sand and barrier islands, running 56 miles in length, that stretches from Beaufort Inlet up to Ocracoke Inlet.
The National Park Service headquarters on Harkers Island is where you can catch one of the ferries that will take you on a 15 minute trip to the Cape Lookout Lighthouse, one of four brick tower lighthouses along the Carolina coast.
The current lighthouse is the second one that has stood at this location and was completed in 1859. It is 163 feet to the top, equal to a 12 story building, with a light powerful enough to be seen for 19 miles, which flashes every 15 second to warn mariners about the dangerous Lookout Shoals.
After an extensive restoration project, which included new steps and handrails, the Park Service is again allowing visitors to make the trip to the viewing platform, all 207 steps up, but only for a limited time.
"In 2003, the Coast Guard transferred the light to the National Parks Service, and we had it opened a few times a year for four years, but then decided we needed to make some safety changes at the light, so it was closed for a few years," said Wouter Ketel of the National Park Service.
"When you start your visit at the Harkers Island Visitors Center, we have a film that gives you a great overview of the whole park and some nice aerial views, and then you can look at the exhibits and get information about your plans and refine your plans", said Ketel. "And when you come here, the light station's visitors center, there is a keeper quarters museum that tells about the light station and the light keepers that manned the station during the times that people were here."
While the lighthouse is a big reason many people visit this part of North Carolina, the National Seashore is home to many wild horses, called Banker ponies, descendants of Spanish Mustangs that run free on the nine mile long barrier island of Shackleford Banks, between Beaufort Inlet and Cape Lookout.
With so much water, there is excellent boating, surfing and scuba diving in the area.
"We also have some tremendous fishing, which is sometimes longer than a day trip, but if you have more days that just one, people camp out on the beach and they take advantage of the tremendous surf fishing out there," said Ketel.
The National Park Service is allowing visitors to climb the lighthouse on certain days, but only until mid-September.
The Park Service office, where several of the private ferries are located, is on the eastern end of Barker's Island, about 20 miles from historic Beaufort.
There are many health and safety requirements that visitors need to be aware of before attempting the trip to the top. So if you are hoping to take the trip up to the top, make sure you do your research on what days the lighthouse is open, and what the National Parks Services says you should do before taking that first step.
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