Natural Environment

Wake up with the sunrise … Watch the Shackleford Ponies while kayaking near Carrot Island … Catch a glimpse of dolphins crest the surface of Taylor’s Creek … Beaufort is a natural wonderland just waiting to be explored.

Anole Lizard

The green anole lizard is found all throughout the south, reaching as far north as the North Carolina-Virginia border. They are 5-8 inches long and can change from green to brown for camouflage. They like the woods, but are often seen on fences and rooftops as well.

The male has a pink throat fan which it puffs out when challenged by another male or sometimes while courting a female.


There are a variety of birds who live in and visit the Beaufort area. Some of the more common:

Laughing Gulls have distinctive black hoods with white over grey bodies. They have white around their eyes and a reddish beak and legs. Named for their distinctive call, which sounds like a person laughing, they congregate wherever there is food. Laughing gulls are year-round residents of Beaufort.

Great Egrets are large and white with up to 5 foot wingspans, long necks, and yellow beaks. They often nest in colonies with ibis and herons, either in trees or on dry ground near a marsh. (see photo)

White Ibis are bigger birds with long curved yellow beaks and longer legs. They can be found in trees or digging in the mud and marsh grasses.

Belted Kingfishers are big birds with large crested bluish grey heads, long sharp beaks, white bands around the neck, and white bellies. They are solitary and can often be seen watching the water for fish.

Brown Pelicans have characteristic long necks, large bills and stretchy throat pockets for catching fish. They often fly in groups in formation, sometimes very close to the water, skimming the tops of the waves, looking for fish.

Sanderlings are the little whitish sandpipers with a shoulder patch and black legs and bills that you see on the shore running up and down, probing the sand just above the waves. They are common on beaches around the world in the fall and winter. In the summer most migrate far north to breed in the arctic.

Photograph of pelicans by Pat Harms, other photos by Julianne Fontenoy

Cape Lookout

Explore the Undeveloped Islands of Cape Lookout

A boat ride three miles off-shore brings you to the barrier islands of Cape Lookout National Seashore. Horse watching, shelling, fishing, birding, camping, lighthouse climbing, and touring historic villages–there’s something for everyone at Cape Lookout. Be sure to bring all the food, water, and supplies you need (and carry your trash out of the park) when visiting these remote beaches.

Core Banks

Core Banks are divided into North and South by Ophelia Inlet. South Core Banks is a short ferry-ride from the down-east town of Davis, and North Core Banks can be reached by ferry from the town of Atlantic.

Named after the Coree tribe, but now uninhabited, the banks provide opportunities for camping, fishing, shelling, birding in relative solitude for those who visit. There are cabins available for rent from the National Park Service with plumbing and gas stoves, but no electricity. There are no roads but vehicles are allowed and can drive on the sand. Four wheel drive recommended!

South Core Banks

The Cape Lookout lighthouse, Cape Lookout Historic Village, and Great Island cabins are all located on this southeast facing island. This island is separated from Shackleford by Barden Inlet and from North Core Banks by Ophelia Inlet.

North Core Banks

Portsmouth Village, the northernmost point of the Cape Lookout National Seashore is on southeast-facing Portsmouth Island, which can be reached from North Core Banks at low tide. North Core Banks also contains the Long Point cabins. It is separated from Ocracoke, part of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, on the north end by the Ocracoke Inlet.

Fiddler crab

While waiting for one of the ferries on the Beaufort waterfront you may see fiddler crabs among the marsh grasses, with one extra large claw. The male waves his one big claw as a way of attracting a female for mating. He may also use it to fight other males. The size of the claw indicates the size of the dwelling and the female can choose the optimum mate with the right size dwelling for warmth and humidity. She can also tell which is the healthier male by how well the males wave the claws.

Fiddler crabs are found all around the world in various habitats. These are marsh fiddler crabs, who make their homes between the high and low tide lines. Their life span is about two years.

Hoop Pole Creek

Hoop Pole Creek Nature Trail is one of the most accessible trails near Beaufort. It leads one mile through the maritime forest into a salt marsh estuarine system. The 31 acres of Hoop Pole Creek have been listed as a natural heritage site and wildlife refuge. Sights along the way include beautiful old live oak trees and other local species leading to marsh grasses and salt shrubs.

The trailhead can be found on the right at the far eastern side of the parking lot at Altantic Station Shopping Center.


The over 100 wild horses on Shackleford Banks have been determined to be related to Spanish horses, and may be descendants of horses that swam ashore from shipwrecks. These hardy animals subsist entirely on Spartina marsh grass, sea oats and water found on the islands, and can swim between islands but not to the mainland. More about the Shackleford horses

The smaller herd of 33 horses on the four islands that make up the Rachel Carson Esuarine Reserve (including Carrot Island) are known to be descendants of a group of horses left there by Dr. Luther Fulcher in 1947. They are feral (have reverted to the wild) and can be seen eating the cordgrass along the shores across Taylor’s Creek from Beaufort.

Marine Mammals

Marine Mammals can sometimes be seen in Taylor’s Creek off Front Street in Beaufort. They can often be seen in the sound and offshore. Some of the more common include:

Bottlenose Dolphin – These are the most common marine mammals in the waters near Beaufort. They are light grey to black with white bellies. They range from 6 to 12 feet long, and congregate in groups. They are highly adaptive and will hunt whatever fish is most abundant.

Sperm Whales – These range from 40 to 50 feet in length, and have blowholes on the left side of their heads and teeth only in their bottom jaws. Sperm whales feed on squid primarily and are deep divers, staying under for up to 30 minutes to an hour. They are on the endangered species list. The NC Maritime Museum exhibits a full skeleton of a young sperm whale that was found stranded on the beach near Cape Hatteras.

Humpback Whales – These are baleen whales which eat krill and small fish. They grow up to 60 feet in length and have long (up to 15 foot) pectoral fins. They are dark grey with areas of white on their fins and bellies. Humpback whales calve and feed in shallow waters and enjoy breaching and slapping the surface oif the water with their fins.

River Otter – These are often found in coastal areas, including Taylor’s Creek, and feed primarily on fish. They are stocky and streamlined, 2 to over 3 feet in length, with short legs and elongated bodies that are largest at the hips.

Manatee – More and more West Indian Manatees (sea cows) are reportedly seen in North Carolina waters each year. A relative of the elephant, they eat plants and some small fish and crustaceans. They are grey or brown, have no hind limbs, and can be from 9 to 11 feet in length.

Neusiok Trail

The Neusiok Trail runs 20 miles from the Oyster Point on the Neuse River to Pine Cliff on the Newport River. On the way it traverses cypress swamps, hardwood ridges, longleaf pine savannahs and pocosins (shrubby bogs).

Built by the Carteret County Wildlife Club, the trail is a great place to encounter local animal species such as white tailed deer, turkeys, otters and alligators, as well as birds–osprey, red-cockaded woodpeckers, and bald eagles. There are a couple of shelters for those wishing to spend the night.

USDA Forest Service Photographs

Patsy Pond Trail

In the Croatan National Forest, across Highway 24 from the NC Coastal Federation, is a trail-head for three nature trails leading through the longleaf pine open woodland area to and around a couple of groundwater interception ponds. The ponds get all of their water from the ground and thus have a dark color and few fish.

In the longleaf pine forest are red cockaded woodpeckers, which are on the endangered list, as well as low-growing herbs and shrubs. In and among the lakes are some carnivorous plants, edible berries, and other local vegetation.

NC Coastal Federation photographs

Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve

The Rachel Carson Reserve is located between the mouths of the Newport and North Rivers and directly across Taylor’s Creek from the historic town of Beaufort in Carteret County. The main part of the site, just south of Beaufort, is a complex of islands which includes Carrot Island, Town Marsh, Bird Shoal, and Horse Island. These islands are more than three miles long and less than a mile wide.

More than 200 species of birds have been observed at the site, which is located within the Atlantic Migratory Flyway. Many species are considered rare or decreasing in number.

Horses were brought to the site by a local citizen in the 1940s and eventually became wild or “feral,” thus they are considered non-native inhabitants of the islands. The horses are valued by locals and tourists alike as a cultural resource and symbol of wildness and freedom.

The Rachel Carson site is only accessible by private boat or passenger ferry. Motor boats can be launched from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission boating access area located at 2370 Lennoxville Road in Beaufort. Canoes and kayaks can be launched from designated areas along the Beaufort waterfront. Ferry services are located along the Beaufort waterfront.

Roosevelt Nature Trail

The Roosevelt Nature Trail traverses part of the 265 acre Theodore Roosevelt Natural Area in Pine Knoll Shores. It can be reached from the parking lot at the NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores and stretches 1.4 miles over a dune ridge, through an old growth maritime forest, past inland marshes and sound side beaches ending at a picnic area by the inland salt marsh.

Sand Dollar Island

Sand Dollar Island is a small island on the far side of the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve from Beaufort. It has very low elevation and no shade and can only be explored around low tide. As its name suggests, it is a prime location for finding sand dollars, both live ones (leave those ones be!) and the shells. It has no development whatsoever and makes a nice out-of-the-way place to get some beach time in. Bring your own everything!

You can get to Sand Dollar Island by boat, either your own or a ferry. Ferries can be found at Island Ferry Adventures on Front St.

Shackleford Banks

Shackleford Banks, the southern-most barrier island in Cape Lookout National Seashore, is home to more than 100 wild horses. Venture out by boat or passenger ferry to enjoy the rare privilege of watching horses that live without the help of man. Appreciate the horses’ tenacity and watch their social behaviors. Respectfully stay far enough away to avoid disturbing the horses or endangering yourself, your children, or your pets.

Shackleford Banks also boasts miles of beach on the sound side as well as the ocean side. Shelling and nature walks are popular activities.

Taylor’s Creek

Taylor’s Creek is the waterway that parallels Front Street in downtown Beaufort, separating it from the islands of the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve. There are docks, moored boats, and a deep water channel for bigger boats. Enjoy Taylor’s Creek from the boardwalk in Beaufort or book a tour or rent a kayak and get out on the water for more spectacular views of our natural area.

It is not uncommon to see wild horses across the creek on Carrot Island. Dolphins, manatees, river otters and many waterbirds are local inhabitants of the creek and surrounding marshes.