North Carolina lighthouses are some of the most iconic lighthouses in the country. When traveling in the Tar Heel State or taking an east coast road trip, you are going to want to check out some of these beautiful lighthouses that North Carolina has to offer.
The water around the North Carolina coast is known as the Graveyard Of The Atlantic. This is because more than 5,000 ships have gone down in the waters off the coast. The shoals and water conditions make the area very dangerous, making lighthouses extremely important.
Today, you can visit all of the NC lighthouses and learn some of the histories of the state as well as enjoy the natural beauty around them.
Let’s get started!
How Many Lighthouses Are There In North Carolina?
There are eight lighthouses in North Carolina. Seven of those are traditional and one is a marsh lighthouse.
What Is The Oldest Lighthouse In North Carolina?
The oldest lighthouse in North Carolina is Old Baldy. It was built in 1817!
How Many Lighthouses Are On The Outer Banks Of North Carolina?
Five of North Carolina’s lighthouses are located on the Outer Banks.
Map Of North Carolina Lighthouses
Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse
When you think about North Carolina lighthouses, you probably don’t picture a structure that looks like this. The Roanoke Marshes lighthouse is located in Manteo.
Manteo is on Roanoke Island, the home of the Lost Colony where English settlers mysteriously disappeared in the 1500s. While you are on the Island visiting the lighthouse, you can also visit the site of the Lost Colony, try sweets from the Laughing Lolipop, and do some of the other cool things to do on Roanoke Island!
This little lighthouse may not be what you think of when you think of a typical lighthouse. It is a marsh lighthouse and is one of the best free things to do in North Carolina for those traveling NC on a budget. There is a small museum in the lighthouse that is free for visitors to check out. It has a bit about the history of the lighthouse as well as information about the Outer Banks and ecosystem in the area.
If you are planning a North Carolina lighthouse road trip, be sure to not skip the northernmost lighthouse. Currituck Lighthouse is in the town of Corolla and is one of the coolest Outer Banks lighthouses that you can visit. For budget travelers, this is the best lighthouse in NC to visit. You can check out this beautiful lighthouse, then walk next door to check out the historic Corolla Park.
The park is home to the Whalehead Club, green space, a gazebo over the water, a beautiful wooden bridge, free crabbing, views of Whale Head Bay, and paddle boats. Visiting the lighthouse and the park are two of the best things to do in Corolla!
This lighthouse stands at 162 feet tall and is made with more than one million bricks! Since the red bricks were not painted over you can see each brick which adds to your understanding of just how huge this lighthouse really is. It takes 220 steps to reach the top and it is so worth it as you can see Whale Head Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Currituck Sound from the top.
Bodie Island Lighthouse
Bodie Island Lighthouse is not only the prettiest of the lighthouses in the Outer Banks but of all the North Carolina lighthouses. It isn’t the structure and design alone that makes it the prettiest in the state, it’s the surroundings as well.
This Bodie Island Lighthouse (pronounced body) is surrounded by coastal marshes and wooden boardwalks next to the lighthouse and over the water. There is an observation deck where you can get a view of both the water and the iconic black and white stripes of the lighthouse. This is one of the best views in North Carolina!
It stands 164 feet tall and was lit for the first time in 1872. Over time the lighthouse has gone through a series of improvements including being electrified and restored. In 2013, it became open to the public, and ever since you can explore the grounds, check out the old keepers quarters visitors center, and climb to the top for epic views.
This lighthouse is in the beautiful town of Nags Head, North Carolina. If you get the chance to check out the cool things to do in Nags Head, you should! They are home to the tallest naturally formed sand dune on the east coast, one of the oldest restaurants in the Outer Banks, and the prettiest pier in the OBX, Jennette’s Pier.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
Cape Hatteras holds a couple of unique titles. It is known as America’s Lighthouse due to it being one of the most recognizable lighthouses in the country. It also holds the title of the tallest lighthouse in the country. Standing at 208 feet tall, it takes 269 steps to reach the top!
You will find the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in the town of Buxton, on the Outer Banks. If you plan to spend a lot of time on the NC coast, you will want to spend some time in Buxton as it is one of the best towns in the Outer Banks.
This lighthouse has an interesting history. Due to the crazy conditions off the shore, it was authorized in 1794 that a lighthouse should be built. However, construction didn’t begin until 1799 and it wasn’t complete until 1803. After completion, it, unfortunately, did not prove effective at helping ships navigate the dangerous waters.
So, 60 feet of height were added in 1854, making it 150 feet tall. The lighthouse continued to cause problems and it was going to be more expensive to fix than it was to replace it. So, in 1870 the new Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was put in place, the one we know as America’s Lighthouse.
After decades of erosion on the coast, the lighthouse was too close to the water’s edge and had to be moved. (You can see the old and new locations below.) Right now, the lighthouse is under construction through 2022, but in the future, the lighthouse will be open for climbing again.
Ocracoke Island Lighthouse
Ah yes, the cute little Ocracoke Island Lighthouse. If you get the chance to visit Ocracoke Island on the Outer Banks, you will find yourself not wanting to leave! It is the most remote portion of North Carolina and it can’t be reached by road. The easiest way to get to the island is to take the ferry. We enjoy taking the Hatteras Island to Ocracoke Island ferry as it’s free and a super cool way to see coastal North Carolina.
Visiting the lighthouse is one of the best things to do on Ocracoke Island. It was built in 1823 and became fully automated in the early 1900s. Although you can’t climb to the top like you can with other North Carolina lighthouses, the Ocracoke Island Lighthouse is still worth a visit because the island is simply stunning and it adds to your experience on the island.
You will want to be sure to check out the beaches on the island as two of them are rated among the top ten best beaches in the United States. Also, don’t miss lunch at Howards Pub; it’s one of the best restaurants in the Outer Banks!
Cape Lookout Lighthouse
The Cape Lookout Lighthouse is known for being the most difficult of the North Carolina lighthouses to reach. This is simply because you have to pay for a ferry ride to see the ferry because it’s located on the Cape Lookout National Seashore. You can take the short 20-minute ferry ride from Harkers Island for $13-$20 per ticket or the 45-minute ferry from Beaufort for $25-$45 per ticket.
The lighthouse has distinct white and black diamonds painted onto it and is 163 feet tall. It became fully automated in 1950 and is one of the few lighthouses that operate during the day. Like other lighthouses in North Carolina, this is not the same Cape Lookout Lighthouse that was built in 1812.
The original was only 96 feet and was not effective at warning incoming ships, so it was replaced with the current lighthouse in 1859. If you want to climb to the top of the lighthouse tickets range from five to ten dollars. Unfortunately, the lighthouse is under construction and is planned to open to the public again in 2023.
Oak Island Lighthouse
The Oak Island Lighthouse was completely constructed by 1958 and took a whopping 110 million dollars to construct. The light penetrates the sky at 169 feet in the air. The tower itself is only 153 feet tall, but because it is on a slight rise, the light can be seen at 169 feet. There is no classic spiral lighthouse staircase in the Oak Island Lighthouses. Instead, you will find a series of ships ladders that take you 131 steps to the lantern gallery level.
This lighthouse holds one of the coolest titles that a lighthouse can hold. The reflectors in the lighthouse were adapted from spotlights on aircraft during World War II. The lamps and reflectors in the lighthouse make the Oak Island Light the brightest in the United States and the second brightest in the whole world! The lighthouse has also been used as a US Coast Guard Station since the 1930s and before that, it was a US lifesaving station.
To reach Oak Island, you can take the drive-on ferry from Fort Fischer. This ferry ride is only about thirty-five minutes and the views from the ferry are unlike any other you can get in the area. Once you arrive, you will find the lighthouse in the town of Caswell Beach in Brunswick County.
The beach in Caswell is four miles wife and simply perfect for those looking for a more peaceful and secluded landscape to relax in on their travels. Plus, the beaches are dog-friendly! They must be kept on a leash from March 15 to October 15, but during the off-season, they are free to roam free with you on the beach.
Other than the lighthouse, you can also check out the Oak Island Pier, or head over to the neighboring town of Southport. There is a lot of fun to be had in Southport! You can check out the North Carolina Maritime Museum at Southport, the Fort Johnston Museum, Waterfront Park, the Old Brunswick County Jail, and more!
Old Baldy Lighthouse
Old Baldy is the oldest of the North Carolina lighthouses and also one of the coolest. As you approach the lighthouse, you see its aged appearance right away. It is 110 feet tall, has 108 steps and five landings to the top, six windows, and celebrated its 200th birthday in 2017.
Miraculously, Old Baldy has stood in its original location and in its original form all of these years. This is impressive as many of the newer lighthouses had to be moved or altered over the years. Built in 1817, the lighthouse was made of soft bricks and stucco. Every two years, the lighthouse would be whitewashed to protect its exterior, but the lighthouse was deactivated in 1935 and the whitewashing stopped. Today, you can still see the layers and evidence of this process on its surface.
The original way of lighting Old Baldy was via 15 hollow wick lamps that were fueled by whale oil. The lighting process was changed in 1834, 1879, 1893, and again in 1903 when Old Baldy received a fourth-order fixed light. The lighthouse was at one point used as a radio beacon in World War II and it stayed active until 1935. Of course, it was relit in 1988, but only for historic and touristic reasons as it is no longer an official navigation aid.
It’s clear that North Carolina has some of the best lighthouses on the east coast. It can be hard to decide which one to visit. If you have a day or two to explore the coastline, why not see them all! (It takes just over six hours to drive from the northernmost lighthouse to the southernmost lighthouse.)
Whether you get to see all the North Carolina lighthouses or only one, it’s a great way to spend your time in the Tarheel State. Which of these lighthouses do you want to visit first?
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One thought on “Explore These Beautiful Family Friendly North Carolina Lighthouses (with map!)”
My wonderful youngest Son took me on a tour of the first 5 of NC Lighthouses listed. Epic tour, incredible sightseeing, Amazing Histories, unforgettable Memories! 5 years later, I am still comforted & Blessed by this trip. By all means, a must see Adventure! I love Lighthouses & you will too!