Just a few miles off the mainland of the Crystal Coast are the isolated and well-preserved islands of Cape Lookout National Seashore – protected by the National Park Service (NPS).

While all these islands are home to beautiful wildlife, one of the most popular islands is Shackleford Banks, home to more than 110 wild horses.

One of few places in the United States where wild horses still roam free, Shackleford Banks is at the top of most visitors’ “must-see” lists and must be carefully navigated to ensure the protection and preservation of this incredible herd.

Similar to the famous western mustangs, east coast horses were reintroduced to North America by European explorers and have lived on the Outer Banks of North Carolina for centuries, most likely from Spanish descent.

Much to visitors’ surprise, the Shackleford horses rely exclusively on the resources of the island for their survival, although NPS staff and volunteers monitor the herd closely throughout the year to ensure its safety and success.

Horse watching can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Once you reach the island – by way of either private boat or official ferry service – visitors lucky enough to find the horses are advised to remain at least 30 feet from the group, or “harem,” for the safety of both the horses and you!

Visitors should also bring binoculars to enjoy the intricacies of the horses seen at this safe distance. Bug repellant and water-friendly shoes are also recommended.


Location: Shackleford Banks, Cape Lookout National Seashore, NC

Website: www.nps.gov/calo/naturescience/horses.htm

Contact: 252-728-2250