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Crystal Coast

"Southern Outer Banks Natural Beauty"

The Crystal Coast, with brilliant beaches and beautiful clear waters, is certainly the perfect name for this string of North Carolina barrier islands.

 The Name Alone is Very Inviting! 

crystal-coastIt is 85 miles of unspoiled beautiful coastline in the center of the North Caroina coast and is also known as the Southern Outer Banks.

The funny thing about this area is, just ask ten people what makes up the Crystal Coast and you will probably get ten different answers. 

These boundaries are disputed quite often, but the fact of the matter is, geographically the area comprises the Cape Lookout National Seashore, Beaufort, Morehead City, Atlantic Beach, Emerald Isle, and other coastal towns in Onslow and Cateret counties. 


As you can see in the Crystal Coast map above, the Bogue Sound separates the island from the mainland.  The island runs east to west, which gives a display of absolutely amazing sunrises and sunsets on the horizon. 

The unspoiled shoreline of the beautiful Atlantic Ocean is on one side, with the Bogue Sound and Intracoastal Waterway on the other. 

Bogue Banks, the central point of the Crystal Coast, is a 25 mile long barrier island with Emerald Island on the west end, Atlantic Beach on the east end, and Indian Beach, Pine Knoll Shores, and Salter Path in the middle of the island.  Not only does the Crystal Coast have beautiful clear beaches, it also includes the great historic cities of Beaufort and Morehead City! 

The island is located in Cateret Country and is only accessible by one of two bridges that cross the Bogue Sound at the eastern and western ends.

atlantic-beach-bridgeAtlantic Beach is connected to the mainland by a high-rise bridge from Morehead City.  Emerald Isle is connected to the mainland by the Cameron Langston Bridge at Cape Cateret/Cedar Point on NC Highway 58.  You won't find traffic congestion, so getting on and off of the island is easy, even in the summer vacation months. 

Even though the Crystal Coast is isolated, it is fairly easy to get to.  If you plan on traveling by air, the nearest airports are in New Bern and Jacksonvile, North Carolina. 

If you plan on driving, you will take NC Highway 58, which stretches the length of the island.  The closest major city is Raleigh, North Carolina and is about a three hour drive. 

Driving Time from Area Cities

  • Raleigh, North Carolina - 3 hour drive US-264 East and US-70 East
  • Wilmington, North Carolina - 2 hour drive US-17 South
  • New Bern, North Carolina - 1 hour drive US-70 North
  • Charlotte, North Carolina - 6 hour drive US-74 East
  • Myrtle Beach, South Carolina - 4 hour drive US-17 North
  • Roanoke, Virginia - 6 hour drive US-70 East

Crystal Coast Accommodations

crystal-coast-housesThe island offers a large selection of hotels, motels, historic bed and breakfast inns, private homes, and beach cottages.  Many are oceanfront and convienent to beaches, restaurants, and attractions. 

You can even pitch a tent if you want to enjoy the great outdoors!  You will find affordable rates and great views at the best vacation spots along the Crystal Coast!  Check out great vacation rentals here!

Wild Horses of Shackleford Banks

Across the Bogue Inlet from Atlantic Beach is a 2,500 acre barrier island, Shackleford Banks, where you will see wild horses roaming freely in their natural habitat
The island is only accessible by ferry or boat, and the ferry services take passengers to view the horses daily.                                                       
shackleford-horsesHow the horses got here is a mystery, but most believe they are decendants from horses that swam ashore from wrecked ships of early explorers about 400 years ago

There are around 110 horses that call Shackleford Banks home, and it is their very own island with no human habitation.

The horses are closely observed on the uninhabited island by the Park Service and the Foundation for Shackleford Horses. 

It is about a 15 minute  ferry ride to the island from Morehead City, Harkers Island, or Beaufort.  If you are looking for a rare opportunity and a memorable vacation moment, don't miss your chance to see the famous Shackleford Wild Horses!  And, don't forget to take your camera! 

Fort Macon State Park

Have you ever been inside an old Civil War fort?  Here's your chance!  Fort Macon State Park is the most visited state park in North Carolina. fort-macon-state-parkThe construction of Fort Macon began in 1826 and was built to guard the Beaufort inlet and Beaufort Harbor. 

North Carolina took control of the fort from the Union forces at the beginning of the Civil War.  The Union forces took control of the fort once again after an attack in 1862.  In the summer you can see reenactments of the Civil War and free guided tours several times a day. 

You will find a wonderful museum with exhibits and a bookstore.  The  park opens a 8 am and the fort opens at 9 am.  It is located on the Crystal Coast near Atlantic Beach.  Enjoy swimming, surf fishing, nature trails, and concerts on Friday evenings during the summer. There is no charge for admission or parking. 

Cape Lookout Lighthouse

cape-lookout-lighthouseCape Lookout can light your way to a great vacation adventure!  Because of the many shipwrecks off the coast of North Carolina lighthouses were constructed to warn ships of the shifting sands in the Atlantic.

Located on Cape Lookout National Seashore, Cape Lookout Lighthouse, built in 1812, had numerous problems. 

The constuction of a new lighthouse was approved by Congress to replace the original one.  The present Cape Lookout Lighthouse was built in 1859, stands 163 feet, and is painted in a black and white checkerboard pattern.  The beacon flashes 24 hours a day, every 15 seconds, day and night. 

You can tour the keeper's house and visit the museum.  Tickets are required to climb the 207 step lighthouse from mid-May to mid-September on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  Cape Lookout can only be reached by boat or ferry. 

Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier

bogue-inlet-pierWant to get in a little fishing on your vacation?  Crystal Coast fishermen can enjoy great fishing at the 1,000 foot lighted Bogue Inlet Fishing Pier.

It is located at the western end of the island at Emerald Isle.  They offer a snack bar, bait and tackle, fish cleaning station, and a great arcade next door!  You can catch tuna, red drum, sea trout, striped bass, sailfish, and wahoo.  Outer Banks Fishing means there's always something biting!

marlinThe Crystal Coast also host one of the largest fishing tournaments every year, the Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament

Want to learn more about fishing?  The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores offers workshops.  A surf fishing workshop is taught in October and "Hooked on Fishing" workshop is taught in March by experienced fishing guides.  

Go ahead, come join us at the pier. The weather's wonderful, the view is awesome, and the fishing is some of the best around! 

North Carolina Aquarium

nc-aquariumYou have the opportunity to explore the beautiful Crystal Coast underwater and not even get wet! 

The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, five miles west of Atlantic Beach, offers the Living Shipwreck exhibit of a World War II German submarine shipwrecked off the coast of North Carolina in 1942. 

You will see sand tiger sharks, sea turtles, stingrays, gray moral eel, and other sea animals.  They also have a jellyfish gallery, a stingray touching pool, and a river otter exhibit! 

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