Nestled within the intricate web of the NC Outer Banks, Harkers Island boasts a unique geography that sets it apart as a hidden gem for those seeking a tranquil escape. Surrounded by the Core Sound to the west and Back Sound to the east, Harkers Island is a slender stretch of land, connected by a recently opened bridge, offering both historical charm and natural beauty.

Panoramic view of Harkers Island NC

Harkers Island gives the air of being worlds away from civilization. Photo credit: Harkers Island Community (Facebook)

Where is Harkers Island?

Approximately three miles long, one mile wide, and located at the southern end of the Outer Banks, this quaint island offers breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean and its surrounding waters. The island's geography is defined by a unique combination of salt marshes, maritime forests, and sandy shores, creating an ecosystem teeming with diverse wildlife. Its secluded location and rich natural beauty make it an ideal destination for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of more popular tourist spots.

Boat docked at Harkers Island NC

Harkers Island is proud of its legacy in the Outer Banks boatbuilding world. Photo credit: FV and Hard Working Commercial Fishermen (Facebook)

A fascinating history of boatbuilding and decoy-making

The history of Harkers is deeply intertwined with the maritime heritage of the region. Originally inhabited by indigenous peoples, the island saw the arrival of European settlers in the 18th century. Fishing and boat-building quickly became integral to the island's economy, with locals mastering the art of constructing vessels that could navigate the often treacherous waters of the Atlantic. The Harkers Island style of boatbuilding, renowned for its distinctive features and seaworthiness, remains an enduring legacy.

During the Civil War, Harkers played a significant role, serving as a base for Confederate troops. Over the years, the island's history has been shaped by hurricanes and economic shifts, yet its resilient community has preserved its cultural identity. Visitors can explore this rich history at the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum, which showcases the island's maritime traditions, boatbuilding heritage, and the unique relationship between the islanders and the surrounding waters.

Swamp view of the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum

The Core Sound Waterfowl Museum is one of the best places to go birdwatching on the Outer Banks. Photo credit: gojusensei (Tripadvisor)

Stay where you play: Things to do around the Cape Lookout National Seashore

This island offers a variety of activities for nature enthusiasts and history buffs alike. Let's talk a little bit more about the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum, the best place to take kids in Harkers Island and one of the best-rated Outer Banks museums.

The first floor hosts the Main Gallery, where guests can peruse a permanent exhibit of Down East Carteret County history and culture. Admire hand-carved decoys used in hunting, photography exhibits chronicling the changes to the NC coastline. Outside, kids will love climbing the Lookout Tower, which grants a panoramic view of the majestic Core Sound, Back Sound, and Barden's Inlet. You can even spot the Cape Lookout Lighthouse on a clear day! The Children's Learning Center area offers regular programming on evaluating water quality, learning about weather phenomena, and understanding the waterfowl ecosystem.

Just outside of town, nature enthusiasts can explore the pristine beaches, engage in bird watching at the Cape Lookout National Seashore, and animal lovers can take a ferry to Shackleford Banks to witness the wild horses that roam freely.

If you're visiting Harkers, chances are that you're there to do some fishing. Drop your anchor at Cape Pointe Marina, which houses a boat ramp, live bait, gas, repairs, and RV site rentals. The Harkers Island Fishing Center Motel and Marina boasts an on-site boat ramp and charter fishing trips regularly! Alternatively, for a more secluded experience, vacation rentals along the shores of Core Sound offer privacy and breathtaking vistas.

View of the bridge to Harkers Island NC

It's now much easier to access Harkers Island from the mainland. Photo credit: Balfour Beatty US (Facebook)

New accessibility: Take the bridge to Harkers Island

Harkers Island has recently become more accessible to tourists with the opening of a groundbreaking new bridge. The 3,200-foot-long, fixed-span bridge, with a 45-foot navigational clearance, is not only a feat of engineering but also a testament to the commitment of making this island more accessible. What makes this bridge unique is that it is the first in the state to be built with mostly carbon-fiber reinforced steel. This innovative construction material is specifically designed to combat corrosion in coastal environments, ensuring the bridge's longevity in the face of the challenging coastal climate.

This new bridge not only facilitates easier access for tourists but also symbolizes a dedication to preserving the island's natural beauty and cultural heritage. As visitors cross the bridge, they are greeted by panoramic views, setting the stage for an unforgettable experience on Harkers Island.

Seafood steam pot platter from the Fish Hook Grill in Harkers Island

Enjoy the bounty of the sea! Photo credit: The Fish Hook Grill (Facebook)

Who's hungry? Harkers Island dining options

Exploring Harkers wouldn't be complete without savoring the local flavors. The island boasts two hidden culinary gems that showcase the region's maritime heritage. It's time for fresh NC seafood!

  • The Fish Hook Grill 980 Island Rd,
  • Seaside 311 Harkers Island Rd — order the fried oyster and shrimp basket!
Wild horses of the Outer Banks

Spotted: wild horses of the Outer Banks, just south of Harkers Island.

A remote Spring Break escape

With its unique geography, rich history, and recent accessibility improvements, Harkers Island tands out as a perfect Spring Break destination for those seeking a remote escape. The island's natural beauty, coupled with its commitment to preserving maritime traditions, offers a tranquil retreat for those looking to unwind and reconnect with nature. Whether exploring the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum, relaxing on the pristine beaches, or savoring local seafood, Harkers Island provides a delightful blend of adventure and relaxation, making it an idyllic destination for a memorable Spring Break getaway.

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