Boating in Beaufort: Stalking Wild Horses on the Outer Banks

To really appreciate my alliteration, we need to clear up that the town in North Carolina is pronounced BOW-Fort, as in bow tie (the town of Beaufort in South Carolina goes by BU-Fort, as in Buick). It’s part of the Crystal Coast (North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks) and it used to be called Fishtown, for reasons you can probably gather from the name.

Shackleford Island near Beaufort, NC.

Today, most of the old fishing vessels have been replaced by sailboats, yachts, and leisure crafts, but rest assured it is still all about boating in Beaufort. Because its location is approximately halfway between Cape Cod and Key West, it serves as a stopping point for many ships on the Intracoastal Waterway, as well as a landing point for those crossing the Atlantic.

There is a lot of local flare along the waterfront despite it being a strip mostly crafted for visitors – which we will discuss – however if you’re not getting out on the water in Beaufort, you’re missing out on what makes the Crystal Coast the Crystal Coast: The barrier islands.

A fifteen-minute boat ride via the Outer Banks Ferry Service and you’re on Shackleford Banks, a 9-mile island that contains campgrounds and herds of feral horses. At $15/person round trip, it’s a nice option for those that want to explore the island on their own (they also have guided historical boat tours, including the Water Bug, which will clue you in to the pirate-related history of the area… I will also do this in the next post). Many people bring kayaks and rafts, others anchor their private boats just offshore.

Horses on Shackleford Island.

People told me to keep a safe distance from the horses, but I just couldn’t resist after spotting a pack grazing along the shoreline. I was able to get within about ten yards of them when it was all said and done. I must say, the horses barely flinched, and to be honest I had more problems with the small sparrows.

The entire island is wide open and beautiful, trails leading across the center. I must have stumbled upon a breeding ground – it soon became very clear that I had a bird problem. I can’t believe I’m going to admit this, but I literally went into a karate stance in reaction to a dive-bombing bird. I know this sounds like a story I’m concocting to make you laugh, but I’m telling you those sparrows seriously do not mess around. The good news is that it means they aren’t used to humans, that I was in a rather remote place.

I’ll save my thoughts on the experience since I’ve already written about it, but the aerial photos below are from my parasailing adventure with Beaufort Inlet Watersports – one of the only ways to take in the coastline from the air. It’s simply a stunning view and I really recommend getting up in the air to take it in.

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Shackleford Island off the coast of Beaufort, North Carolina.
Shackleford Island off the coast of Beaufort, North Carolina.
Shackleford Island off the coast of Beaufort, North Carolina.
Shackleford Island off the coast of Beaufort, North Carolina.
Shackleford Island off the coast of Beaufort, North Carolina.
Boaters and sunbathers hanging out on Shackleford Island.
Wild horses on Shackleford Island.
Horses and scenery on Shackleford Island.
Horses and scenery on Shackleford Island

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