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The Wild Horses On Shackleford Island (Banks). Where To See Them From?

The question “Where is the best place to see the wild horses on Shackleford Island” is one of the most common questions locals get about the area. Although most locals identify the banker ponies as being from Shackleford Banks, this article will give a visitor to the area some ways in which to see these majestic creatures up close and personal. At the end of this article, we ask readers to give us their experiences on this topic via the comment form located just after the last sentence.

Readers are encouraged to share this on Facebook and Twitter so that others can learn more about Shackleford Banks when visiting the barrier islands of Eastern NC. Additionally, we hope you will take us up on our offer to use the form below to ask questions about the herds of wild horses that live on the nearby island.

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Also, if you did get to go over to this island, please tell us what passenger ferry service you used so that other visiting this page can learn about those services as well.

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It is important to note that the wild horse herds that live on the Outer Banks are very susceptible to food fed to them by tourist and causes many health conditions for them. Please admire them, but do not feed them.

Take a boat ferry to the banks

Whether from Harkers Island, Beaufort, or the waterfront area in Morehead City, there are many boat ferries that charge visitors a minimal fee to take people over to Cape Lookout and Shackleford and pick them up. If you decide to do this, your results in actually seeing one (or many) of the ponies is not always guaranteed.

Like most humans, they seem to have their good days and bad days, some days they are up walking around and some days they isolate deep in the dunes of the island.  If you do get the opportunity to get up close and personal, it will be an awesome experience for sure.

Carteret County Information
From the Beaufort NC waterfront

During low tide, many of the wild horses of Carrot Island (banker ponies) can be seen from Front St in Beaufort grazing on the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge. However, it is important to note that the Shackleford horses and the Rachel Carson Reserve horses are part of a different herd.

It is very common to see the ponies grazing along the beach of Carrot Island from Beaufort. But, if you have a kayak (or rent one), then it is a easy trip over to try your luck. Again, your mileage may vary depending on their mood or mating season.

As seen from the graphic below, there is considerable distance between the reserve and banks.

How to see them

By taking a air tour

For me, this is the best way to see the Shackleford Island wild horses because it is always a guarantee. Sure, it’s not up close and personal, but from the air you are not only assured in seeing the entire herd, you also get a pretty amazing view of the Cape Lookout and the many barrier islands and shoals that these ponies live on.

The Beaufort airport and other places in Carteret County offer airplane and helicopter air tours.

Discussions and Comments

What are your experience in seeing Cape Lookout and banks? Did you get to see any of these animals? Did you take a ferry to the main island, kayak over to Carrot Island, or take a air tour?

What time of the year (if any) is the best time to see them? Where on the banks did you find them? What guidance can you give someone who is planning to take a half day or full day trip over to the banks?

What do you know about the history of these wild horses?


December 2019: In partnership between Cape Lookout National Seashore, the North Carolina Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve and the Foundation for Shackleford Horses Inc, a program is being started called “pony patrol” where volunteers to the program will help raise awareness and protect the wild ponies that call this island home. Volunteers will also help ensure compliance by visitors. The “pony patrol” program is open to anyone 18 years of age or older, and volunteers will work a 4 hour shift four times a month. Additionally, volunteers will receive 1 day of training on the history of this herd of horses and safety.

October 26, 2019: Cape Lookout horse biologist will host a tour of Shackleford Banks wild horses to teach the public about the management of this herd along with their behaviors. The tour will take place October 26, 2019 at 1:15 pm. There is no cost except for the ferry ride to the island.

More from the National Parks Service

Michael Sharp

Native of Carteret County NC, Father to Makayla and Savannah. You can add me on Facebook. Interest include web development, encryption, and other technologies.

4 thoughts on “The Wild Horses On Shackleford Island (Banks). Where To See Them From?

  • May 6, 2021 at 6:11 am

    Where are some other places to observe these horses?

    • May 6, 2021 at 6:13 am

      While this article is specific to this island, other places to observe them are Carrott Island which is where the Rachel Carson Wildlife Reserve is and directly across the water from this land mass, and there is a herd near Cedar Island which is to the Northwest along the Core Banks.

  • September 28, 2018 at 7:00 pm

    I read that there are 4 herds of wild horses in Eastern NC, the Corolla herd, Rachel Carson Reserve herd and Cedar Island herd, and the Shackleford Banks herd, and that the first 3 herds were found to safe after Hurricane Florence as of September 23rd 2018.

    Does anyone know if the Shackleford Banks horses were found to be safe?

    • September 28, 2018 at 7:03 pm

      Yes, officials with Cape Lookout National Seashore said on their Twitter that they are seeing most of the horses on Shackleford, but that it could take months to survey the entire island to account for the full total.


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