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The Back Sound is a popular playground for inshore fishermen, sightseers, and cruising vacationers alike, thanks to its locale that’s easily accessible from the Crystal Coast beach towns as well as the inland communities of Harkers Island and Beaufort.
About the Back Sound
The Back Sound extends from the “southern” portion of the Cape Lookout National Seashore – or the area west of the actual point – to the Beaufort Inlet on the western edge of the Shackleford Banks. It is roughly 8.5 miles long and about 2 miles wide at its widest point.
This relatively large body of saltwater separates the mainland communities of Harkers Island and Beaufort from the barrier island Cape Lookout National Seashore, and is easy to reach from docks in either communities, as well as the Rachel Carson Coastal Estuarine Reserve, which is found alongside Downtown Beaufort. It’s also part of the Intracoastal Waterway, which follows the southern sounds of North Carolina throughout Carteret County.
Because the Back Sound is protected from ocean winds and currents via the skinny Shackelford Banks, the ensuing waters are generally calm and shallow, making it a prime region for kayakers, mariners, and small vessels to explore.
The Back Sound is one of the smaller sounds in the Outer Banks region and is bordered to the east by the Core Sound and to the west by the Bogue Sound. Its prime allure to visitors is its wealth of fishing and exploring possibilities, as the shallow and sometimes grassy regions are a hot bed for oysters, juvenile fish, and wildlife of all varieties.
Accessing the Back Sound
There are a number of boat ramps throughout the Carteret County region that can provide minutes-away or even instant access to the Back Sound.
A number of marinas and boat launches are stationed throughout Downtown Beaufort and Harkers Island for visitors who want to dock a while and explore, and there are also a number of public boat ramps that are operated by the town of Beaufort, and / or the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.
A handful of options for launching a boat, kayak, skiff, or other vessel are listed below, and mariners should note that there are plenty more privately owned and public options throughout the waterfront region.
1648 Harkers Island Rd., Beaufort
Accesses the North River
This boat ramp that’s found on the main route to Harkers Island features 39 parking spaces and is handicapped accessible. From this launch site, mariners can head southwest to connect with the Back Sound in minutes.
298 West Beaufort Rd., Beaufort, NC
Accesses the Newport River
This boat ramp features 48 parking spaces and is located on the edge of the Newport River. From here, mariners can head south, past Downtown Beaufort, before veering slightly east to connect with the Back Sound and the Shackleford Banks.
2370 Lennoxville Rd., Beaufort, NC
Accesses Taylor’s Creek
This boat launch site features 31 parking spaces and is found on the eastern edge of the historic Downtown Beaufort area. From here, mariners and kayakers can easily cruise across Taylors Creek and circle around the Rachel Carson Coastal Estuarine Reserve and inevitably reach the Back Sound.
Beaufort Town Docks
Front Street, Beaufort
Accesses Taylor’s Creek
Head to Front Street to reach a number of public docks and launching points that are ideal for kayaks and canoes. After an easy paddle across Taylor’s Creek, explorers can cut across the Rachel Carson Coastal Estuarine Reserve on foot, or can circle around the small island to reach the outlying Back Sound waters.
In addition to public boat ramps, visitors can also enjoy instant access to the Back Sound by staying in a vacation rental in the charming community of Harkers Island.
Bordering the sound throughout, the soundfront rental homes in this area often feature boat docks, launches, fishing piers, and / or all of the above, making it an easy task to enjoy the sound waters. Some homes are rented directly from the owner, while others may be rented from a local property management company. No matter where you land in Harkers Island, however, the small-town and inherently coastal atmosphere is inviting for visitors who love the water as well as a slower pace of life.
Ways to Enjoy the Back Sound
Once you’ve reached these scenic open waters, there are a number of ways to explore and enjoy the Back Sound
Fishing – The Back Sound is a popular destination for inshore fishermen, thanks to a hefty population of juvenile or even larger saltwater catches. Depending on the season, sound fishermen will want to be on the lookout for flounder, sheapshead, (especially near in-the-water structures), bluefish, and seasonal puppy or red drum. In addition, the waters are prime grounds for clamming, as well as crabbing and tossing a cast net for small mullet and other bait fish.
Birdwatching – Because the back sound waters are calm and teaming with wildlife of all varieties, it’s an attractive destination for a wide array of water birds. Visitors can get a good vantage point via the Shackleford Banks, the Rachel Carson Coastal Estuarine Reserve, or a vacation home in Harkers Island, and will want to be on the lookout for egrets, osprey, skimmers, pelicans, oystercatchers, and the occasional heron.
Shelling – The sound waters can be surprisingly productive when it comes to shelling, thanks to calm conditions and an easy connection to the Atlantic Ocean via the Beaufort Inlet. Hermit crabs reign supreme in this area, so be sure your shells are unoccupied before taking them home. Sand dollars can also made appearances, especially in the soundside waters along the Shackleford Banks.
Kayaking – The Back Sound is a dream destination for kayakers thanks to its shallow nature and generally calm conditions. Steer clear of the Beaufort Inlet – which can have swift currents with an incoming or outgoing tide – and stick close to shore to enjoy an easy paddle with miles of room to roam.
Boating – In addition to being part of the Intracoastal Waterway, the Back Sound is a popular cruising spot for mariners who want to make a very quick trip to the Shackleford Banks or other regions of the Cape Lookout National Seashore. Depending on your departure point and cruising speed, it’s easy to reach the outlying barrier islands within 15-20 minutes, ensuing that a great breach day is just minutes away.
Though not as famed as its neighboring Bogue Sound or even the Pamlico Sound, the Back Sound is nonetheless a scenic destination that’s certainly on the map for longtime mariners and fishermen alike. With miles of clear, salty waters to go around, and an easy-to-reach locale that’s close to Harkers Island and Beaufort, a visit to the Back Sound can be a wonderful way to enjoy the endless waters of the Crystal Coast.