North Carolina’s coastline is more than 300 miles long, and it’s stunning! Along several beaches in NC, you’ll find historic lighthouses that boast incredible views. In this article, we’re going to tell you where you can find these amazing North Carolina lighthouses and give a sneak peek into what you can expect.
These stunning lighthouses have a rich history representing an earlier time in the Carolinas. They started being built in the 1700s to keep sailors safe by warning them of risks along the shores. Now, they’re simply a fascinating attraction for visitors.
Let’s explore the 7 North Carolina lighthouses and get answers to common questions!
How Many Lighthouses Are In North Carolina?
North Carolina has 7 active lighthouses, each with a unique history. The first 5 on this list are in the Outer Bank (OBX), while the last 2 are further south.
Whether you love lighthouses, enjoy history, or simply appreciate beautiful views, you should certainly check out at least a few of these beautiful lighthouses in North Carolina.
1. Ocracoke Lighthouse
Location: 370 Lighthouse Road, Ocracoke
Note: This is the only NC lighthouse you can’t climb.
Not only is the Ocracoke Lighthouse the oldest operating lighthouse in NC, but it’s also the second-oldest operating lighthouse in the nation. The lighthouse helps bring ships in through the Ocracoke Inlet and has been in operation since its construction in 1974.
To visit the Ocracoke Lighthouse, you can take a ferry from Hatteras to Ocracoke Island. This is the only North Carolina lighthouse you can’t climb to the top of, but you can explore its grounds. Not to mention, the lighthouse base offers unmatched views in and of itself.
The charming island is also well worth checking out while you’re here. It’s a fun place to rent bikes or golf carts to go exploring. Many people also appreciate how great the shelling opportunities are on the beach.
2. Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
Location: 46379 Lighthouse Road, Buxton
When you can climb: mid-April through early October
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the world’s tallest brick lighthouse. While there was a lighthouse on the island before this one, the current black and white lighthouse was built in the late 1860s and first lit in 1870.
The lighthouse is located in a section of the Atlantic Ocean that’s sometimes referred to as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Due to hazardous conditions, many ships have wrecked off the coast of a 12-mile sandbar called the Diamond Shoals. Cape Hatteras Lighthouse serves to steer ships away from these conditions so they can seek safe harbor.
It’s also a fun adventure to visit Cape Hatteras Island. Not only can you climb to the top and experience stunning views, but there are also many things to enjoy in the area.
The National Park Service operates the lighthouse grounds, including four campgrounds along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. You can enjoy water activities, nature trails, scenery, and more.
3. Currituck Lighthouse
Location: 1101 Corolla Village Road, Corolla
When you can climb: mid-March through early April
The Currituck Lighthouse is one of the most infamous Outer Banks lighthouses. It sits between Cape Henry and Bodie Island and was built in response to increasing danger to southbound ships that sailed close to shore to avoid the Gulf Stream.
Fun fact: The Currituck Lighthouse was recently restored in the 80s using 1 million bricks!
While there’s a nice, long climb to the top, the breathtaking view is well worth it. You can also see the historic Corolla Village from the top, which we highly recommend visiting.
4. Bodie Island Lighthouse
Location: 8210 Bodie Island Lighthouse Road, Nags Head
When you can climb: mid-April through early October
Bodie Island Light Station is on Cape Hatteras and sits at the north end of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. It’s the third lighthouse at this site and was first lit up in 1872. Like the others, it was built to help lead the way through dangerous North Carolina waters.
Many people appreciate the Bodie Island Light Station because it’s not as crowded as the other North Carolina lighthouse. It boasts incredible views, and you can also explore its unique surroundings.
Bodie Island Light Station is tucked between freshwater mainland and a luscious forest. It feels like you’re in a slice of paradise that’s still conveniently close to popular Outer Banks beaches and the coastal town of Nags Head.
5. Cape Lookout Lighthouse
Location: 1800 Island Road, Harkers Island
When you can climb: mid-May through mid-September
Cape Lookout Lighthouse is unlike any other lighthouse in the world. It’s known for its striking black and white diamond pattern that’s visible for at least 12 miles out into the ocean – perfect for guiding ships at sea.
While the climb is a bit steep and long, it’s well worth it when you make it to the top. Appreciate picture-perfect panorama from up high, or explore the beautiful grounds.
While the lighthouse is usually open from mid-May to mid-September, it will be closed for climbing in 2022 due to renovations. With that said, you can still appreciate it from the base and enjoy sandy beaches nearby.
6. Oak Island Lighthouse
Location: 300 Caswell Beach Road, Oak Island
When you can climb: all year by appointment
Now we leave Outer Banks lighthouses and head further south. Situated near the Cape Fear River, Oak Island Lighthouse stands tall and elegant. It overlooks the quaint coastal town of Caswell Beach and south over the Atlantic Ocean.
Oak Island Lighthouse replaced the Cape Fear Light that stood there in the late 1950s. You can tour the lighthouse courtesy of Friend of Oak Island Lighthouse. This non-profit organization is dedicated to protecting and preserving this pristine historical structure.
You can climb slightly up or make your way to the top. Once you make it past a strenuous climb, the views from the top are unbeatable.
Visiting the Oak Island Lighthouse will feel less glamorous than other North Carolina lighthouses. It looks a little different and a little less pristine than the others. But climbing to the top is a breathtaking experience in more ways than one.
7. Bald Head Lighthouse
Location: 101 Light House Wynd, Bald Head Island
When you can climb: March through November
The Bald Head Island Lighthouse, also known as Old Baldy, is the oldest standing lighthouse in North Carolina. It’s actually been a part of the National Register of Historic Places since 1975.
Old Baldy is located on Bald Head Island, which is only accessible by ferry. When you arrive, we recommend renting a golf cart or bicycle to get the whole experience of the island.
This beautiful light station was built to replace North Carolina’s first-ever lighthouse. It offers deep history and fantastic views. While you can’t climb all the way to the top, you can go up about 100 steps, which is great for those looking for a more moderate climb than the other lighthouses.
Be sure to check out the Smith Island Museum of History inside the keeper’s cottage at the Old Baldy Lighthouse.
Frequently Asked Questions
Still curious about North Carolina lighthouses? Want to learn a little more history? Let’s get some answers to common questions!
What is the oldest lighthouse in NC?
Bald Head Island Lighthouse, commonly known as Old Baldy Lighthouse, is North Carolina’s oldest light station. It’s been standing for over 200 years, and it’s still in its oldest form!
Old Baldy Lighthouse was built in 1817 and was covered in white stucco. Long ago, the lighthouse keeper would whitewash it every couple of years to protect the stucco. Over time, the lighthouse was patched up with different types of stucco. Today, it looks like a patchwork of various stuccos.
You can travel Baldy Lighthouse on Bald Head Island via ferry and climb 100 steps up for stunning views.
What is the newest lighthouse in NC?
Oak Island Lighthouse is the newest lighthouse in North Carolina. It was finished being built in 1958 at 169 feet above the water. The structure itself is 153 feet tall and stands on a slight rise.
Which North Carolina lighthouses can you climb?
You can climb Currituck Beach Lighthouse, Bodie Island Lighthouse, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Cape Lookout Lighthouse, and Oak Island Lighthouse all the way to the top. While you can’t climb to the top of Bald Head Lighthouse, you can go up about 100 steps for picturesque views.
Note: You can’t climb Ocracoke Island Lighthouse, but you can explore the grounds. It makes for a great photo op!
Which NC lighthouse is the tallest?
The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest in North Carolina and the tallest brick lighthouse in the world. It stands at about 210-feet tall and has 257 stairs to the top for picture-perfect views.
How many lighthouses are on Outer Banks?
There are 5 lighthouses in the Outer Banks, the chain of barrier islands that run along North Carolina’s eastern coast. The 5 lighthouses found on the Outer Banks are Currituck Lighthouse, Bodie Island Lighthouse, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Cape Lookout Lighthouse, and Ocracoke Lighthouse.
How many types of lighthouses are there?
There are two types of lighthouses: ones that sit on land and ones that are offshore. A land lighthouse helps with navigation over land, while an offshore lighthouse helps ships navigate waters, especially rougher water areas.
Enjoy Visiting North Carolina Lighthouses
These historical lighthouses offer stunning views of North Carolina’s shoreline. Whether you’re looking to lighthouse hop or visit just one or two, we highly recommend the experience! It’s a great way to get a look into the East Coast’s history and appreciate the scenery.
If you’re interested in other adventures on the United States east coast, check out these beaches!