Shelling Scavenger Hunt!

Family fun at the beach in Emerald Isle.

Right now is the perfect time to be hunting for shells while vacationing here in Emerald Isle! Now who wants a challenge?? Everybody, right?

Well, that's what we have for you: A Shell Scavenger Hunt! Download your coloring sheet here. Make a fun family outing with scavenger hunts in hand as you try to find some of the best shells on the Crystal Coast. Both kids and parents will have fun with these as they try to find shells and check them all off first! Scotch bonnets, scallop shells, and sand dollars are all on the list, so get ready, get set—WAIT!

Before you go, make sure you read our three tips to get the most out of shelling on the Crystal Coast.

1. Location, Location, Location:

  • Spend time on any of the beautiful remote beaches here on Emerald Isle and find some amazing shells! Or for a excellent shell hunting experience, here are a few beaches to go to for a day trip. Hammock's Beach State Park, Cape Lookout National Seashore, and Shackleford Banks are great places to look for shells. Beaches along the Outer Banks are also ideal places. Inlets such as Oregon, Hatteras, and Ocracoke Inlet are good places to look as well as beaches that are "sound side" or close to the sound. Remote beaches at Portsmouth are also good for shelling. The waters here tend to be more shallow and good for spotting smaller shells and capturing the bigger ones along the sand. Beaches that have a larger "drop off zone" are good too as they tend to be shallow as well and provide a larger area to search for the best shells. Some of the more remote beaches provide good conditions for shelling. But, it isn't necessary to go too far out of your way. You can go to just about any beach here on the beautiful Crystal Coast and find some remarkable shells.

2. Conditions:

  • Some of the best conditions for shelling are during the winter months—so you're in luck! After winter storms, some of the best shells tend to wash up, even some more exotic shells wash up from the Gulf Coast. Storms tend to churn up shells that have sunk to the ocean floor and wash them ashore, so hundreds of shells appear on the beaches after a good winter storm or after a hurricane in the summer. Tide pools also tend to turn up after a good storm which can provide a great spot for finding some nice shells (and you may even catch a glimpse of an anemone or starfish too!).
  • Don't be afraid to go off the beaten path a bit to find a good shell. In fact, going a little into the water or a little farther up the beach can provide some of the best shells as there have been less people picking through them. That being said, getting to the beach early in the morning can be the best time to shell before the beach fills up with other hopefuls. Beat the crowds and get the best view of the beautiful sunrise by getting to the beach early. If the early morning corresponds to the low tide it's even better. Going to the beach at low tide is beneficial to the sheller looking for some of the shells that were caught up in the waves along the shoreline.
  • Digging in the sand near the shoreline can also be a great place to find smaller shells and even some sand dollars that have been swept under the sand. Picking through seaweed that has been washed ashore is also a great place to look for shells that may have gotten tangled up.

3. What to Bring:

  • The first thing you want to bring is the spirit of adventure, optimism, and excitement! Shelling is so much fun and very exciting. You may not find all the shells on your list, but you're sure to find something beautiful and have a great time doing it!
  • As for equipment, bringing a shovel and bucket is a good place to start. A shovel can help dig under the sand to find some different shells (just be careful not to break any!). A bucket will help you carry all your finds home with you. Some shellers even suggest bringing a net for snatching a shell that may be caught up in the waves.
  • Don't forget to bring our scavenger hunt instruction sheet so that you can know exactly what shells you're finding and of course it makes for a really fun challenge.
  • And of course, bring your friends and family! Two sets of eyes are better than one! Bringing a group can ensure that you find lots of different shells and it's great to have company! Make it a family fun event!

We hope that you have a great time on your shelling adventure and that you have fun finding all the different shells! Shells are a great way to remember your trip to the Crystal Coast for years to come, so make sure you grab a few just for you!

Now for take two: get ready, get set….GO SHELL!

Scavenger Hunt Instructions

shell scavenger hunt coloring sheet and instructions

Download your Coloring Sheet!

Color in the shells and check off the boxes as you find each shell! Then, check the description below to find out more!

  • Sand Dollar: Be careful! These shells are not white like in the pictures. Usually they are green or brown until they are cleaned. These shells are round and flat.
  • Moon Snail: This shell is also called the Shark Eye Shell because it looks sort of like the eye of a shark! This shell is gray and smooth and used to have a snail inside!
  • Coquina: These shells are really small and come in lots of colors like purple and red. Sometimes there are two attached to each other and they look like butterflies!
  • Auger: These shells are also really small. They spiral around to a point. They are usually orange or light brown with patterns on them.
  • Scallop: There are a lot of these shells around and they come in lots of sizes. They are bumpy and have lots of colors and patterns. They kind of look like a fan.
  • Scotch Bonnet: This shell is the North Carolina State Shell! It is smooth and creamy white with orange or tan squares. It sort of looks like a bonnet that people would wear in the "olden days" which gave it its name.
  • Whelk: There are a few different types of whelks. They are bigger than most other shells and spiral around. The shells you find used to have a critter inside called a whelk that kind of looks like a snail!
  • Oyster: These shells are all over the place in North Carolina. That's because lots of creatures (and people) eat the yummy oyster inside! The shells are bumpy and gray on the outside and smooth and shiny inside.
  • Jingle Shell: These shells are small and orange or tan. When you gather a bunch in your hand and shake them, they make a really pretty sound!

Have fun, and happy shelling!