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If you’re looking for the best shelling beaches in NC, you’ll be excited to learn how many beaches along the North Carolina coast have fantastic shelling opportunities.
I’m sure you’ve heard about some of these beaches like Ocracoke Island, which is one of the best beaches in the US for shelling, but I have some secret beaches on the list also.
In NC, you’ll be able to find scotch bonnets (the NC State shell), conches, whelks, periwinkles, sundials, olive shells, and so many more shells.
But also keep a lookout for shark teeth, sand dollars, and sea glass, as you’ll probably find them while you’re out shelling.
I would also suggest you consult the NC Facebook Shelling Group for any questions you have about shelling. This group takes their shelling seriously, including having shelling conventions where they compete for best shell awards.
If you’re a serious sheller and would like a great NC seashell guide, I recommend the following book:
TABLE OF CONTENTS
24 Best Shelling Beaches In NC
Here we go!
I will show you 24 excellent spots to hunt for shells starting at Carova, the northernmost beach in NC, to Bird Island, the southernmost beach.
1 – Carova Beach
Carova Beach is the northernmost beach in North Carolina. It’s optimal for shelling because you can only access it with 4WD, meaning fewer people find those shell treasures.
If you go during the off-season, you’ll generally have the beach (and the seashells) to yourself.
Carova Beach is also great for shelling because it has a shallow shoreline that gradually slopes downward; this allows delicate shells to wash up without breaking.
Let me emphasize one more time that you really need a 4WD to even get to Carova Beach.
What are some of the shells you’ll find at Carova Beach?
2 – Coquina Beach
Coquina Beach has a lot of…you guessed it… Coquina clamshells.
These colorful shells are a vibrant sight when you find them spread across the beach.
Coquina Beach lies just 8 miles south of Nags Head and is known for its solitude, clear water, and gorgeous moss-covered rocks that only show at low tide.
Visit in the Spring or Summer to see live Coquina Clams come up to the surface briefly before burying themselves in the sand.
It’s an amazing sight!
3 – Pea Island
Pea Island is named after the wild pea vine that grows in abundance there.
Because of the large freshwater ponds on the island, it’s a great place to observe migratory birds. The island has observation towers and beautiful trails to help visitors enjoy the many species that visit here.
Pea Island is a wonderful place to go shelling because there are no homes or hotels, making it an unadulterated, secluded spot.
Pro-tip: Park in the parking lot at the north end of the island (right before the Bonner Bridge) and take the path to the beach.
You’ll likely have the beach to yourself to search for shells and other treasures.
There can be biting midges on this island, so bring bug spray, or wear long sleeves and pants.
What are some of the shells you’ll find On Pea Island?
4 – Frisco Beach
Frisco Beach on Hatteras Island is unique for its south-facing beach. This makes for great shelling as the waves are milder, and shells can wash up in one piece.
The water is warmer on Frisco Beach than east-facing beaches on the Outer Banks, and there are even times during the year you will have an oceanfront sunset.
This phenomenon generally happens in late fall to spring, so be sure to bring your camera to capture it!
Keep in mind that you can explore most beaches on the Outer Banks with 4WD, which will help you find awesome shells. Just check local rules and regulations.
What are some of the shells you’ll find On Frisco Beach?
5 – Ocracoke Island
Ocracoke Island is known to be one of the best shelling beaches in the U.S. partly because of its uncrowded beaches that take a 4WD vehicle to explore.
The northern beaches of Ocracoke Island are a great place to get far from the crowds to find rare shells.
According to one successful shell hunter, Ramp 59 on the northern end of the island is a fantastic place for shelling.
The southern end of the island, South Point, is also a good place to look for shells as scotch bonnets and sand dollars can wash up on the shore.
While you’re at Ocracoke, visit the Ocracoke Lighthouse or learn about Blackbeard, the pirate who used the island as a hideout and was eventually killed there.
What are some of the shells you’ll find On Ocracoke Island?
6 – Portsmouth Island
Just south of Ocracoke Island is Portsmouth Island. You can find many shells here as the island is uninhabited (other than a few rustic cabins).
You can only get to the island with a 45-minute ferry ride, and you’ll need a 4WD to get around. You can book your ferry ride with Morris Marina. They’ll carry you and your vehicle across the sound for a scenic ride.
While on the island, visit the deserted village of Portsmouth. You can explore the perfectly preserved general store and Methodist Church, among several other buildings.
You can camp on this island, and fishing is known to be spectacular. There are even bathroom facilities on the north end of the island.
What are some of the shells you’ll find On Portsmouth Island?
7 – The Point On Cape Lookout
The southernmost point of the Cape Lookout National Seashore is one of the best spots you could look for shells along the Outer Banks.
Due to its location near the Gulf Stream Current, Labrador Current, nor’easters, hurricanes, and remoteness, this is a wonderful spot to find seashells.
To get here, take the Island Express Ferry Service from Harkers Island. It will take you to the Cape Lookout Lighthouse.
From there, you can either take a truck shuttle to the point to find shells or rent a 4WD Kubota from Island Express Ferry Service to get to the point yourself.
A Kubota carries 4 people (6 seaters are also available), has plenty of storage, and will allow you to explore the beach at your own leisure.
What are some of the shells you’ll find at The Point On Cape Lookout National Seashore?
8 – Shackleford Banks
Shackleford Banks is just a short 15-minute ferry ride from Beaufort or Harkers Island, NC.
It is one of the best places in North Carolina to find shells and to see the beautiful wild horses that populate the Outer Banks.
You can find shells on the sound side or ocean side of Shackleford Banks. When My family has been there, the ferry dropped us off on the sound side, and we walked around to the ocean side, where we were able to find large shells by wading in the water a bit.
The Southern end of the island is also a great place to look for shells as it’s limited to foot traffic, and it’s harder for people to take very many shells at one time.
Shackleford Banks is one of the best places in North Carolina to find Conch Shells. I’ve known people to pull several out of the waters here.
You can book a ferry from Beaufort or Harkers Island HERE.
If you want to rent your own boat that comes with a captain and carries 6 people go here to book.
What are some of the shells you’ll find at Shackleford Banks?
9 – Sand Dollar Island
I’ll never forget the trip I took to Sand Dollar Island with my daughter a few years ago. We found an enormous amount of live Sand dollars and a few dead ones.
I was surprised to see people taking the live sand dollars with them. I don’t think that’s allowed anymore, thankfully.
Dead sand dollars break easily, so I would suggest bringing something to help you transport it home in one piece.
Sand Dollar Island is located in between Shackleford Banks and Bird Shoal Island. It’s the best place to go if you want to find sand dollars.
You can get there by taking this ferry.
While you’re there, enjoy the shallow tidal pools that make for great swimming and snorkeling.
What are some of the shells you’ll find at Sand Dollar Island?
There are not any places to stay on Sand Dollar Island. In fact, the island is only accessible when the tide is low, which is why it usually doesn’t show up on a map.
Search here for places to stay by Sand Dollar Island.
10 – Bird Shoal Island
What are some of the shells you’ll find at Bird Shoals Island?
11 – Fort Macon State Park
I’ve loved visiting Fort Macon State Park with my family in the past.
Not only is the fort one of the coolest things to see in the area, but the shelling is also great.
To find the best shells, enter at the public beach access and walk left toward the jetty. Some also have luck shelling on the channel side.
As with most beaches, low tide is the best time to find shells.
What are some of the shells you’ll find at Fort Macon State Park?
12 – The Point On Emerald Isle
The Western end of Emerald Isle is known as The Point. People love the amazing views and how uncrowded it is. It can also be a great place to find shells.
The Point does take effort to get to as parking is scarce, and if you find a place to park, you’ll have to walk a good distance.
I’ve found two suggested parking spots from my online research – the US Coast Guard Station on Channel Dr. (I’m not sure if you’re really supposed to park there) and Station Street Public Parking on Coast Guard Rd. The later parking option only has 10 parking spaces, so you’ll want to get there early.
Another option is to Uber there or rent a home right on The Point.
The long walk will take effort as you’ll have to trudge through soft sand, so be sure to bring water, sunscreen, and snacks. But from the research I’ve done online, the views make it worth it.
Also, know that there are no restrooms or water fountains.
To find shells, people suggest visiting at low tide and walking into the water a few feet deep to hunt for shells.
Beachgoers also report finding sand dollars and starfish in the tidal pools there.
For a beautiful and easy hiking spot, go to Emerald Isle Woods Park.
What are some of the shells you’ll find at The Point on Emerald Isle?
13 – Bear Island At Hammocks Beach State Park?
There is also a kayak trail that leads to the island that is about three miles.
You’ll love Bear Island for the uncrowded beaches, beautiful views, public restrooms, and drinking water.
Most people who visit Bear Island report finding plenty of large and small shells and even sand dollars and shark teeth.
The public ferry limits what you can bring on board, so if you want to bring a wagon to carry your stuff, make sure it is collapsible.
Or, you can bring your items in a bag or backpack.
Shell hunters may have more luck during the winter months of the year since few people visit during that time.
Luckily, Marsh Cruises operates in the winter and will help you find sand dollars, shark teeth, and other shells.
What are some of the shells you’ll find On Bear Island?
14 – Topsail Island
Topsail Island has always been one of my family’s favorite beaches in North Carolina because of the calm waters and uncrowded beaches.
Look for shells around the northern and southern points of the island, around fishing piers, and in tidal pools.
Hunting during the winter will also increase your chances of finding shells as there are fewer people then.
One unique thing about Topsail Island is the amount shark teeth you can find there. The Seaview Pier on North Topsail is known to be a great spot to find them.
To help you hunt for small shark teeth, you may have to sift through handfuls of sand and shells. Or, you can bring a small sifter (like this one). Also, don’t overlook the possibility of finding large shark teeth like Great White and Megalodon.
Toms Teeth Facebook page is a great place to learn more about shark tooth hunting on Topsail Island.
And remember to bring a ziplock bag to store your shark teeth in.
What are some of the shells you’ll find On Topsail Island?
15 – Lea-Hutaff Island
Some of the best shelling spots are on remote islands where few venture. That’s why Lea-Hutaff Island is a great place to look.
It’s located just south of Topsail Island, and you can only get there by charter boat (like this one from Tiki Tours).
What are some of the shells you’ll find On Lea-Hutaff Island?
16 – Shark Tooth Island
I’m veering away from shell hunting for a bit to show you a really cool spot to find shark teeth in between Wrightsville and Carolina Beach.
In south Wilmington along the Cape Fear River is a tiny island called Shark Tooth Island. You can get there by renting a kayak from Pleasure Island Rentals.
They will bring your kayaks right to the water at River Road Park. From there, it’s a short paddle to Shark Tooth Island. People claim to find dozens of shark teeth there.
17 – Masonboro Island
Located south of Wrightsville Beach, Masonboro Island is one of the best places to shell in the Cape Feat region because of the tidal flats and pools.
If you want to kayak to Masonboro Island or nearby Zeke’s Island, you can find a kayak tour HERE.
Other fun things to do on the island include fishing, birdwatching, swimming, and hiking the trails around the island.
What are some of the shells you’ll find On Masonboro Island?
18 – Bald Head Island
To get to Bald Head Island, you’ll take a 20-minute passenger ferry from Deep Point Marina in Southport, NC, to the harbor at Bald Head Island.
No cars are allowed on Bald Head Island, so you’ll leave your car on the mainland. Once you get to the island, you can get a ride to your rental home by making a tram reservation (make your tram reservation before you board the ferry).
You can explore the island by golf cart, bicycle, or foot. Some vacation rentals come with a golf cart and/or bicycles. If not, you can rent them on the island.
The island has miles of isolated beaches making for a great shelling adventure. The best places to find shells on the island are the east coast or the southernmost point.
As with any beach, hunt for shells at low tide, preferably after a storm.
Other things to do on Bald Head Island include climbing the Bald Head Lighthouse (which can be seen in the movie Weekend at Bernie’s), explore the beautiful trails, or take a historic tour and learn about the island’s interesting history.
What are some of the shells you’ll find On Bald Head Island?
19 – Caswell Beach on Oak Island
Oak Island has two great places to hunt for shells – Caswell Beach and The Point.
Caswell Beach has easy access and is not as crowded as other beaches on the island, making it easier to find shells, especially in the off-season.
It also has gently sloping shorelines that help delicate shells to wash ashore in one piece.
The Oak Island Lighthouse sits on Caswell Beach and is a fun spot to take pictures. Or, you can pay a small fee to visit the remnants of Fort Caswell, which sits at the eastern end of the island.
Caswell Beach is one of the few beaches in the world where you can watch the sun rise and set without moving (because of its east-west orientation). It’s also a nesting site for endangered sea turtles.
Pro-tip: There are only around 100 homes or condos for rent on Caswell Beach, so book your stay early or stay in the off-season.
What are some of the shells you’ll find On Caswell Beach On Oak Island?
20 – The Point on Oak Island
The Point at the western end of Oak Island is a popular place for shell hunting and watching breathtaking, colorful sunsets.
And it’s less crowded than other beaches on the island.
When the tide goes out, it’s a fun place for kids to play in the tidal pools.
There’s not a lot of parking, so get your spot early or visit in the off-season.
As with most beaches, shelling is best early in the morning, at low tide, and after a storm. Also, wade out into the water a few feet to look for shells.
People also enjoy kayaking on the sound side of The Point as the water is calm there.
What are some of the shells you’ll find On The Point On Oak Island?
21 – Holden Beach
The East end of Holden Beach is the best place to go shelling on the island because inlets are usually a great place to find shells.
Sand dollars are often found there by searching in ankle-deep water at low tide. Just make sure that the sand dollar is no longer living before you take it.
The west end of the island is also a great place to hunt for shells, but you can only access it by staying in the private community there or walking a long distance from a public beach.
What are some of the shells you’ll find On Holden beach?
22 – Ocean Isle Beach
Shell hunting is good anywhere on Ocean Isle, but the East End is the best spot to find shells, especially if you go early in the morning at low tide.
Ocean Isle is also a great place for kids to play in the water because the beach is flat. And on the east end, at low tide, there are many little tide pools for kids to play in.
While you’re there, visit the Ocean Isle Museum, where you can watch the workers feed the animals in the Touch Tank.
Or go to one of the fantastic shows at the Ingram Planetarium.
What are some of the shells you’ll find On Ocean Isle beach?
23 – Tubbs Inlet
Tubbs Inlet is located between Ocean Isle Beach and Sunset Beach. Shelling there can be incredible since the inlet is always changing.
You can find shells at the beaches in this area or take a kayaking tour that will take you through picturesque marshes and creeks where even boats can’t go.
The kayak tour even takes you to a private beach for shelling, swimming, and fishing.
What are some of the shells you’ll find at Tubbs Inlet?
24 – Bird Island
At the southernmost end of North Carolina is Bird Island. Since the island is undeveloped, few visitors make the trek there, which leaves plenty of shells to be found. And it’s not uncommon to find whole sand dollars there.
The island is also rife with wildlife, including alligators, sea turtles, deer, goats, foxes, and lots of birds.
Getting to Bird Island is easy. Just drive to 40th & Main Street on Sunset Beach and find a place to park. Walk eastward along the beach until you see signs for the Bird Island Reserve.
For an extra special experience, keep walking until you see the Kindred Spirit Mailbox. This mailbox holds notebooks where you can write your innermost thoughts. Or read the thoughts of others.
The mailbox is actually the inspiration behind Nicholas Sparks’ novel Every Breath. The mailbox, along with Sunset Beach, is featured heavily in the novel.
Here is the story behind the mailbox:
What are some of the shells you’ll find On Bird island?
Check out the Google map below to see all of the best places to go shelling in NC in one place.
Have you been shelling in North Carolina? What are your favorite beaches?
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