Scenic Emerald Isle is an Ideal Destination for Summer Fun

Photo courtesy of VisitNC/Chip Henderson

Emerald Isle has a population of only 3,797. During peak season, however, that number climbs to around 50,000 with sun-seeking tourists and families who visit the small barrier island, which is about 13 miles long and a half-mile wide. The reason? Emerald Isle offers a pristine shoreline and is part of North Carolina’s magnificent Crystal Coast, which offers a variety of family-friendly activities and attractions for all ages.

When you aren’t soaking up the sunshine or building sandcastles with the kids, here are few suggestions for summertime adventures in the area.

The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores is a short 15-minute drive from Emerald Isle and should top your must-visit list. While there, your family can learn about a variety of sea creatures through interactive touch pools; a submarine tank; and exhibits featuring otters, sharks and more. Check out the recently renovated Loggerheard Odyssey to learn about loggerhead sea turtles. Also new is Caretta’s Cove, a digital puppetry theater exhibit featuring a 29-year-old sea turtle named Caretta who has traveled throughout the Atlantic Ocean.

The aquarium also offers a Little Minnow Play Area for toddlers and preschoolers, where young ones can play dress-up and climb on cushioned toys. Admission is $10.95 for ages 3-12 and $12.95 for ages 13-61, and free for ages 2 and younger. Be sure to check the aquarium’s website for special events and a daily calendar of activities.

For even more animal adventure, hop aboard a ferry with Island Express Ferry Services to see the wild horses of Shackleford Banks. The service offers daily departures from Beaufort and Harkers Island. Children’s rates start at $9, adult rates start at $16. Buy a combo ticket if you’d also like to visit Cape Lookout National Seashore, where you can explore the notable Cape Lookout Lighthouse, which is open for climbing through mid-September. Children must be at least 44 inches tall to scale the 207 steps to the top. Lighthouse tours are $4 for ages 12 and younger and 62 and older, and $8 for ages 13-61.

Rent a paddleboard or kayak from Hot Wax Surf Shop to go on a water adventure in either the ocean or sound. Equipment rentals start at $20 for a half day. Guided tours are also available for a variety of skill levels to explore the region’s small barrier islands and wildlife.

History buffs will want to explore Fort Macon State Park in nearby Atlantic Beach. There’s no cost to explore the Civil War-era fort that features a coastal education center as well as indoor and outdoor exhibits. Enjoy guided tours including cannon and musket demonstrations. For rainy day excursions, visit the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort to see artifacts from Blackbeard’s ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, or the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center on Harkers Island to learn more about decoy carving, boat-building and commercial fishing. There’s no admission fee to the North Carolina Maritime Museum. There is a suggested donation of $5 for entry to the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum & Heritage Center.

Stretch your legs on the walking trails at Emerald Isle Woods Park, a 41-acre park with a picnic area and floating dock; or, go fishing with the kids at Bogue Inlet Pier. Daily passes for fishing on the pier range from $12.50-$25. Guests of all ages can have an afternoon of fun zipping down waterslides at Water Boggan.

For more information about Emerald Isle and nearby attractions, visit or

Myra Wright is the web editor of Carolina Parent and Piedmont Parent. She frequently writes about North Carolina and enjoys traveling the state with her husband and three kids.