Things Are Looking Up: The 6 Best Places to Catch a Nighttime Star Show Along the Crystal Coast

Look to the sky on a visit to the Crystal Coast for a fascinating show.
Look to the sky on a visit to the Crystal Coast for a fascinating show. Vance Miller
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In the daylight, the Crystal Coast boasts one of the most stunning—and wildest—stretches of shoreline in North Carolina. By day, the undisturbed swathes of sun-drenched coastline provide revelers a pristine waterfront playground with jaw-dropping ocean vistas. But the Crystal Coast is just as spectacular by starlight, as the remote beaches and wild spaces offering stargazers a nighttime show not obscured by the bright lights of civilization. There are plenty of places to admire the night sky along North Carolina’s Crystal Coast, but these are a few of the best spots to catch the celestial show.

Fort Macon State Park

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Gazing out over waters of the Beaufort Inlet, Fort Macon was once tasked with protecting coastal communities from a host of formidable threats, including zealous foreign flotillas and plundering pirates like the infamous Blackbeard. Today, aside from the historic citadel, Fort Macon State Park offers an inviting swimming beach and a handful of hiking trails. The park will also partake in the state’s largest celestial celebration—the North Carolina Statewide Star Party—hosting a ranger-led evening of stargazing, with members of the Crystal Coast Stargazers Club sharing insights and equipment. Look for additional events like this throughout the year, especially around meteor showers and cosmic events.

North River Wetlands Preserve

Located in the eastern corner of Carteret County just outside Otway, the North River Wetlands Preserve is one of the largest ecological restoration initiatives in North Carolina. Vast swaths of agricultural land has successfully been converted back to its original state—a blend of marshes, wetlands, and coastal forests. Besides being an ecological success story, the preserve is also the go-to dark sky location for the Crystal Coast Stargazers, the local astronomy club. The group meets regularly at the preserve to scope out the night sky, and welcomes both new members and visitors.

Cape Lookout National Seashore

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Undoubtedly one of the highlights of the Crystal Coast, Cape Lookout National Seashore boasts 56-miles of pristine coastline, spread over four different barrier islands. By daylight, the vast national seashore is loaded with outdoor adventures, with plenty to tempt paddlers, wave riders, wildlife watchers, and surf-casting anglers. A trip to the Cape Lookout National Seashore is also more than just the average day at the beach, with the entire protected area located offshore (other than the Harkers Island Visitor Center). Just getting there is part of the allure. The remoteness also means that after sunset, the unlit barrier islands of the Cape Lookout feel far removed from the lights of the mainland, making the night sky even more vibrant.

On select evenings during the summer—nights near the full moon from May through September—the National Park Services offers visitors a unique opportunity to explore the national seashore after dark. The Evening at the Cape Program involves a twilight ferry ride from Harkers Island, a flashlight tour of the 158-year-old Cape Lookout Lighthouse, and plenty of stargazing on the island’s secluded beaches.

For an entire night of sky-watching at Cape Lookout, spend the the night. Primitive camping is allowed throughout most the protected area, and rustic cabins are available for rent in the national seashore on Great Island and Long Point.

On the Water

Being on the water after sunset is almost surreal—especially on a kayak or SUP. On the Crystal Coast, you can channel the mariners who once navigated the waters offshore using just the stars as a guide on a moonlight paddling tour. Stargaze by SUP on a nighttime tour with SUPdude Paddle Tours in Atlantic Beach, or arrange a moonlit kayak tour with Barrier Island Kayaks near Cedar Point. Down East Kayaks, near Harkers Island (on the Outer Banks Scenic Byway), offers sunset kayak tours and overnight camping trips to the Cape Lookout National Seashore. Best of all, a guided moonlight paddling trip—with someone else in charge of the navigation—leaves more time gazing at the stunning star show overhead.

Open-Air Eateries

Do you have a reluctant astronomer in tow? Transform a round of sunset libations into a stargazing session at one of the Crystal Coast’s open-air restaurants. Keep an eye on the sky at the Front Street Grill in Beaufort. The eatery that overlooks Taylor Creek specializes in locally sourced fresh seafood. Further down the coast, the waterfront Ruddy Duck Tavern in Morehead City serves up an internationally inspired menu loaded with seafood. In Atlantic Beach, Amos Mosquito’s Restaurant & Bar, which overlooks the Bogue Sound, serves everything from meatloaf to sushi, and it hosts a karaoke night every Thursday.

Originally written for Crystal Coast NC.

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