Updated: Sep 4, 2022
When vacationing in the Outer Banks, visiting the local lighthouses are a great opportunity to take in great views and learn about some local history. North Carolina features several lighthouses but specifically located throughout OBX are five that are all unique and fun to visit. Within the different islands and towns, you have some of the most interesting and beautiful lighthouses in the nation starting with the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse which is the tallest lighthouse in America to one of the oldest located in Ocracoke. Having the ability to take in the local culture and experience each separately is just as exciting as taking an opportunity to climb several of them and take in the views for miles up the coast.
One of my favorites to visit when its near dusk is within the Manteo downtown waterfront. This is where you will find the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse which is a replica of a historic screw-pile lighthouse and has the appearance of a small cottage more than a typical lighthouse. It marks the south entrance to the channel through Croatan Sound, to the east of a marshy shoal extending from the western shore. This doesn't reflect what I view as a typical lighthouse but the natural wood dock to the cottage house design creates an incredible scenic view overlooking the water, especially as the sun goes down and it’s lit up. This lighthouse is located 40 yards from the Roanoke Sound right off the boardwalk. A little over 10 years old this recreation is a combination of several lighthouses in the area and has several educational exhibits surrounding the facility to learn about the local history and downtown. Great for seeing the marina and grabbing a bite to eat or a drink this is one not to miss. The surrounding area especially is one of the most scenic and unique to the Outer Banks. You can see a bit more of its history with this short you tube video: Click here
If you’re looking for more of a traditional lighthouse experience, try visiting Bodie Island Lighthouse in Nags Head. This lighthouse is pronounced "Body Island" mainly due to many shipwrecked bodies that washed ashore. Located just south of Whale Bone Junction and managed by the National Parks Service they have been keeping it maintained so visitors can continue visiting the site this was originally built back in the 1870s. This facility has a tour and beautiful grounds to enjoy which is great for bird watchers with the local wildlife. This lighthouse is recognized by the black and white horizontal stripes. Standing 150 feet high and equipped with a first-order Fresnel lens, it flashes its 160,000-candlepower beacon 19 miles over the ocean. This lighthouse has been rebuilt 3 times since its inception ranging from 54 feet in height for the first light to 156 feet and 214 stairs in present day. The earlier versions were brick based where due to the height and structure the most recent version has a mixture of brick, cast iron, granite, copper, wood and bronze. Currently it is undergoing some restoration work, but when it's available for climbing again don't miss this opportunity to take in the natural beauty surrounding it from views on the top. Also, in case you’re hesitating as it’s the same as climbing a 10-story building the view is definitely worth it. It’s also important to note for those claustrophobic individuals that the stairwells are relatively narrow with the handrail on the inside only. Make sure you attempt the climb on cooler days as it has no air conditioning or elevator but does have 9 landings to take rests on the way up.
If you head over to Hatteras Island in Buxton, N.C. you can also see another black and white style design in the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Known for its diagonal black-and-white stripes and towering 208-feet height, it sends a light that travels 20 miles into the ocean. It formerly was used to help ships navigate the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” It also was moved around the turn of the century due to high beach erosion. The lighthouse was built three times since 1870 which started as more of a sandstone structure under 100 feet tall to its current design where it is now the tallest in America. The location has some of the greatest history surrounding it from Confederate soldiers taking the light during the Civil war as well as the damaged it sustained leading the structure you see today. It also is one of the largest structures to have to be moved inland due to the ever-changing beach conditions and erosion on the coast. If the Bodie Island Lighthouse climb wasn't enough for you this is the equivalent of a 12-story building. You can check out how busy they are on their live webcam: Click here
Located in Corolla, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse still functions as an active lighthouse. This 162-foot structure is the last brick and mortar lighthouse built in North Carolina which has a unique unpainted red brick exterior made with a million bricks. It projects the light 8 nautical miles and rotates every 20 seconds. This area has a great waterfront and a museum shop, and arguably is one of the best of all the locations. Anyone can climb the 220 steps to the top for a small admission charge and the walk can take anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes. It has 9 landings to take in the view or a short break on the trip up the lighthouse. Directly off a beautiful waterfront which hosts events and venues. This is a great area to visit walk around and learn about the local area.
Located towards the southernmost section of the Outer Banks is the Ocracoke Light station. Recognized by its white exterior and built in 1823, this is the oldest lighthouse still operating in North Carolina and the second oldest lighthouse in the United States. The 75-foot structure cannot be climbed but operates with 8,000 candlepower and can be seen up to 14 miles offshore. Directly accessible in the Ocracoke Village, this area provides plenty to do to add to the experience of the lighthouse. The lighthouse stands 75 feet tall. Its diameter narrows from 25 feet at the base to 12 feet at its peak. An octagonal lantern crowns the tower and houses the light beacon. The lighthouse was built to help guide ships through Ocracoke Inlet into the Pamlico Sound. Unlike some of the other lighthouses, this spot has a small parking lot with only has four regular-sized and one accessible spaces but is walkable from the Ocracoke Island Visitor Center if the lot is full. If considering visiting this location, it’s best to make a day trip of it. (Coming from the main island its easily a hour to hour and a half drive and only accessible by ferry). Taking a trip over the water and experiencing the local area is well worth it. Surrounded by some of the best beaches in the USA and for a truly unique small-town feel take a bike ride or walk and step back in time with this local area.
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