Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on December 1, 2023.
The 198-foot-tall Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is North Carolina‘s tallest lighthouse. In fact, it’s actually the tallest lighthouse in the U.S. Along with its height, this Outer Banks lighthouse is famous for its iconic spiral white and black stripes.
Since its construction, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse has protected ships from some of the Atlantic Ocean’s roughest waters, also known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Today, you can visit the lighthouse while driving along the Outer Banks Scenic Byway and stretch your legs with a walk around its spacious grounds.
Our guide shares more about how you can see Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, its history, interesting facts, and nearby attractions. Here’s what you will find below:
- Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Facts and History
- How To Visit Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Today (The Grounds)
- Climbing the Lighthouse (Closed for 2022)
- Nearby Attractions (Buxton and Hatteras)
You can scroll ahead to any of the aforementioned sections or continue reading about the history of the lighthouse and some interesting facts about it today!
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Facts and History
Before we share how you can see (and climb) Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, here’s some interesting background about this place.
- Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is one of seven coastal lighthouses in North Carolina. Here are the other six.
- Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse in the US at 198 feet tall.
- It is also the tallest lighthouse in North Carolina.
- The lighthouse and its grounds are located in the town of Buxton on Hatteras Island, on the Outer Banks.
- Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is famous for its spiral black-and-white striped pattern.
- The lighthouse uses a first-order Fresnel lens to reflect light.
- This initial lighthouse was made of sandstone and stood 90 feet tall. However, it was not tall enough to effectively guide ships.
- Therefore, the US Government added 60 feet to this lighthouse to make it more functional.
- The original Cape Hatteras Lighthouse suffered substantial damage during the Civil War. The Confederates managed to take the lighthouse’s Fresnel lens.
- After the Civil War, the US Government determined that it would be cheaper to build a new lighthouse than repair the existing one.
- Construction for the present-day Cape Hatteras Lighthouse began in 1868, with the first lighting on December 1, 1870.
- For the next century, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse protected ships traveling through the area.
- In 1873, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse received the famous black and white stripe daymark pattern. Each lighthouse along our coast received a distinctive pattern, known as a daymark, and a unique light sequence (nightmark). This would allow mariners to recognize a lighthouse during the day and night as they sailed along the coast.
- By the 1990s, the lighthouse was faced with an unexpected challenge: beach erosion.
- In response, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and the keepers’ quarters moved in 1999.
- The present location is now 1,500 feet further from the ocean and is open for the public to climb.
Why Was Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Built?
In 1794, Congress recognized a need for a lighthouse at Cape Hatteras. Construction began in 1799 and ended in 1803. Prior to the lighthouse’s construction, Cape Hatteras was one of the most perilous sections of the Atlantic Coast.
A 12-mile sandbar named Diamond Shoals wrecked thousands of ships, giving the area the name “Graveyard of the Atlantic.”
How To Visit Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Today
Address: 46379 Lighthouse Road, Buxton, North Carolina 27920
Like most lighthouses along the North Carolina coast, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was previously cared for by the lighthouse keeper; now, it is operated by the National Park Service.
The lighthouse is one of the most popular attractions in Cape Hatteras National Seashore, with over 500,000 people visiting each year and climbing to the top.
The lighthouse grounds are open year-round for visitors to explore the area. On the grounds are the keepers’ quarters, a lighthouse museum, and a gift shop. The park store is open from 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM and is full of lighthouse-themed books, apparel, and more!
Additionally, there is a picnic area nearby perfect for a peaceful family lunch and a short nature trail.
Climbing the Lighthouse (Closed for 2023)
Of course, climbing the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the most anticipated activity when visiting. There are 257 steps to the top where climbers will be welcomed with a stunning expansive view of Hatteras Island.
However, you cannot climb the lighthouse in 2023 due to ongoing restoration efforts. The National Park Service is working to repair the flooring, metal workings, windows, and more.
Climbing Admission (Hours and Costs)
During a typical year, climbing is open seasonally from the third Friday in April until Columbus Day in October. You can go on a self-guided climb anytime between 9:00 am and 4:30 pm, or they can join in a group tour that occur every ten minutes.
Climbing tickets are relatively inexpensive, with adult tickets $8 and children and elderly being $4.
Ready to Visit Cape Hatteras Lighthouse?
We think all Outer Banks attractions are special but Cape Hatteras Lighthouse truly stands out. This is a place that’s absolutely worthy of your NC bucket list and we hope you’ll make it out there soon!
If you’re familiar with this lighthouse, we’d love to know about your experiences there. Let us know in the comments below or send us an email.
Don’t forget to share your Outer Banks adventures in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group!
The Outer Banks is a spread-out collection of barrier islands, so we won’t overwhelm you with everything. Here are a few things to do near Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, in and around Buxton.
When on Hatteras Island, you must visit the beach! The lighthouse overlooks a long stretch of beautiful beach. These beaches are relatively quiet, affording you the luxury of a relaxing and undisturbed afternoon in the sun.
Go hiking on Hatteras Island in Buxton Woods. Spanning 1,000 acres, Buxton Woods is the largest forest in the Outer Banks and has many trails for all difficulty levels. One of the most kid-friendly trails is the 0.75-mile loop that begins near the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
Known as the Buxton Woods Trail, this is a great detour to take after seeing the lighthouse–enjoy the sights and experiences of nature!
Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum commemorates the thousands of ships that have wrecked in the Outer Banks. This has resulted in the area being known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic, eventually inspiring the creation of this museum.
More Things to Do on the Outer Banks (Travel Guides)
Beyond Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and these nearby attractions, you’ll find plenty of things to do on the Outer Banks. We’ve created quite a few guides to help you navigate this amazing region in Eastern North Carolina.