Masonboro Island


This 8.4-mile-long island is the longest undisturbed barrier island along North Carolina’s southern coast. Its 5,653 acres are part of the North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve. The undisturbed island is known as an “ecological jewel” and has miles of unspoiled beaches, natural coastal environment, and is home to numerous species of endangered wildlife.

Masonboro lies between Wrightsville Beach to the north and Carolina Beach to the south.

The island is a destination for boating, surfing, and camping. Enjoy a day exploring this uninhabited barrier island. While only being a 5 minute boat ride from Wrightsville Beach, you will feel a world away from the crowds and usual hustle and bustle of Wilmington.


Before 1952, Masonboro was attached to the mainland. That year, Carolina Beach Inlet was cut, giving Carolina Beach a booming tourist fishing trade and creating the largest undisturbed barrier island on North Carolina’s southern coast.

The Masonboro Island component is the largest site within the N.C. National Estuarine Research Reserve system and was designated in 1991. The 8.4-mile-long island encompasses approximately 5,653 acres.


Masonboro Island is an essentially pristine barrier island and estuarine system. A local website states that:  “Loggerhead turtles successfully nest here, as do terns, gulls, ghost crabs and brown pelicans. Their neighbors include gray foxes, marsh rabbits, opossums, raccoons and river otters. Herons, snowy egrets, willets, black skimmers and clapper rails forage in the creeks and mud flats at low tide.” The NC Coastal Reserve also makes it known that the nutrient rich waters of Masonboro Sound are an important nursery area for spot, mullet, summer flounder, pompano, menhaden, and bluefish.

Things to do

  • Individuals and groups may utilize beach areas, open tidal flats and areas between dunes as long as the vegetation and habitat are not altered. Bring an umbrella, cooler, and beach chairs and set up for a beautiful day on an undisturbed barrier island.
  • Many boaters anchor off the island and enjoy floating on rafts in the warm summer waters.
  • There are trails on the island, so you can feel free to explore by foot.
  • In cooler weather, you might want to camp on the island. Lots of people set up camp and cookout, enjoying the wildlife. Being far from any developed land, you can catch an unusually good view of the stars at night. With no restrooms or public facilities- be ready for a rather primitive experience.
  • Rent a kayak and paddle across the inlet to explore the island. The creeks are fun to paddle and a great place to watch birds.
  • Many people say the surf is Masonboro’s best attribute, and it is arguably Wrightsville Beach’s best surf spot. Far from secret, it is usually the place to go during northeasters as it will be glassier than spots in town.
  • Particularly entertaining days to visit are big summer holidays: Labor Day, Memorial Day, and the 4th of July. But be ready for quite a different experience than the above described natural beauty. A massive crowd of partiers and college students gather here and loud music and drinking ensues. Probably not suitable for children.

Getting There

Masonboro Island can only be reached by boat. There are also private fee ferry services to the island, including the Masonboro Water Taxi.

If you plan to visit the island, you will want to read the NC Coastal Reserves Guide to Visiting Masonboro Island.

**Please note that Masonboro is a fragile and preserved piece of land.  Visitors should be mindful to preserve these fragile natural areas and the variety of life they support. Please do not alter the land or leave any trash behind.