Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on February 12, 2024.
While lighthouses may not be the first thing you think of when planning a trip to the coast, we promise that our lighthouses will not fail to amaze you.
Seven coastal lighthouses in North Carolina spread across the Outer Banks and down to Brunswick County near the South Carolina border. Each lighthouse has its own distinctive identity, from unique patterns to rich histories.
In this guide, we’ll cover all seven coastal NC lighthouses, their history, and how you can visit and enjoy them today.
List of Lighthouses in NC
For this guide, we’ve listed the coastal lighthouses of North Carolina in alphabetical order here for your reference:
- Bald Head/Old Baldy Lighthouse
- Bodie Island Lighthouse
- Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
- Cape Lookout Lighthouse
- Currituck Beach Lighthouse
- Oak Island Lighthouse
- Ocracoke Lighthouse
Keep reading for a breakdown of each one, starting with Old Baldy on Bald Head Island.
NC Lighthouses Maps
If you’re searching for a map of North Carolina lighthouses, we’ve created these maps to help:
Bald Head/Old Baldy Lighthouse
Address: 101 Light House Wynd, Bald Head Island, NC
Starting our list is Bald Head Lighthouse, also called Old Baldy Lighthouse, the oldest standing lighthouse in North Carolina. The octagonally-shaped structure stands tall over Bald Head Island and is a marvel.
However, it was not the first to be constructed on Bald Head Island; the original structure was built in 1794 but was torn down in 1813 due to hurricane erosion.
The lighthouse that stands today was completed four years later, on April 1, 1817, and is the oldest existing lighthouse in NC at over 200 years old.
What makes Old Baldy Lighthouse especially interesting is the material with which it was made.
The constructor, Daniel Way, used both new bricks and recycled bricks from the original lighthouse for the new building and recycling the light station in the lantern room from the first lighthouse.
Old Baldy Lighthouse was discontinued in 1866 and replaced by Federal Point Lighthouse, but it was relit in 1880 after the replacement lighthouse was discontinued.
In 1935, it was decommissioned for good and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
Today, the Bald Head Lighthouse is open to the public to explore and learn about its history. To see the lighthouse, visitors will first need to take the Bald Head Island Ferry from Southport.
From the ferry port, it’s a short 5-10-minute walk to Old Baldy. However, many people use golf carts to get around, which can be provided via Cary Cart Co.
Once at Old Baldy, you can admire the octagonal structure or climb the 108 stairs to witness sweeping views of the island. To enter the lighthouse, you must purchase a ticket from the keeper’s cottage.
- Adults: $8
- Children ages 3-12: $5
- Children under 3: Free
The hours of the keeper’s cottage, which also doubles as a gift shop, are as follows:
- Closed January & February
- Spring: Open Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
- Summer: Open Tuesday to Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
There are 108 steps and five landings inside the lighthouse; the landings are evenly spaced out and quite spacious, so they are great places to take a short break and admire the inside architecture. Some of the landings also have artifacts on display for visitors to look at.
The last set of stairs leads to a ladder up to the top balcony, where about four to five people can comfortably fit. The views from the top of Old Baldy are stunning, with the winding rivers and inlets visible.
When leaving the lighthouse, we always stop by the Smith Island Museum of History, located next to the gift shop. The exhibits focus on Old Baldy’s historical and cultural significance, and it’s a great way to end the experience!
Bodie Island Lighthouse
Address: 8210 Bodie Island Lighthouse Rd, Nags Head, NC
The lighthouse has a rich history and is in a favorable location as the closest attraction south of Nags Head and the first on the northern end of Cape Hatteras National Seashore and the Outer Banks Scenic Byway.
Due to treacherous waters and thousands of shipwrecks, the Outer Banks is known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” necessitating effective lighthouses to guide ships.
Bodie Island Lighthouse was historically one of the most important light stations on the Outer Banks, and three different lighthouses have been built here over the centuries.
The first structure was built in 1847 on Pea Island but was later abandoned due to foundational issues. The second lighthouse only lasted two years, from 1859 to 1861, when the Confederacy destroyed it for fear that the Union would use it.
Finally, the current lighthouse was completed in 1872 and still operates as a navigation station to help ships today.
Bodie Island Lighthouse is open to the public to climb from mid-April to October. Lighthouse tickets are available for advance purchase via Recreation.gov. Tickets will be sold for a specific time and date, and prices are:
- Adults: $10
- Children under 11 years and under 42” tall: $5
- Seniors 62 years+: $5
- Disabled visitors: $5
Climbing Bodie Island Lighthouse is not a simple affair; the journey up consists of 219 steps, akin to climbing ten stories. However, the views and adrenaline are unmatched if you go all the way up.
Other things to do at Bodie Island Lighthouse include the nature trail, a scenic 1/8-mile-long boardwalk that winds through marshy wetlands.
The trail begins behind the lighthouse and leads to an observation deck where you can sit and enjoy the peaceful environment.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
Address: 46379 Lighthouse Rd, Buxton, NC
Perhaps the most well-known lighthouse in North Carolina is Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, a towering structure that is 198 feet tall in the United States.
Its height and iconic black-and-white spiral design make it one of the most popular destinations in the Outer Banks.
As mentioned earlier, a stretch of North Carolina’s coast is called the “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” partly due to a 12-mile sandbar, Diamond Shoals, that wrecked numerous ships along Cape Hatteras.
Thus, there was a need for a lighthouse at Cape Hatteras, resulting in the initial construction of a 90-foot lighthouse in 1803.
However, the lighthouse was not tall enough to effectively guide ships, so the federal government authorized adding 60 more feet. The lighthouse operated for over half a century until it suffered considerable damage during the Civil War.
After the war, the government replaced the lighthouse rather than expend energy and funds restoring it. The new lighthouse was built in two years and opened in 1870.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse received its iconic diagonal striped pattern to distinguish it from other lighthouses along the coast.
It served as a beacon to guide ships for a hundred years until it started to suffer from beach erosion by the 1990s. To remedy this, the lighthouse was moved 1,500 feet inland to its current location.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is located in the town of Buxton, on Hatteras Island. The National Park Service operates it and welcomes over 500,000 visitors who climb up to the top.
The grounds surrounding the lighthouse, which is open year-round, comprise the keepers’ quarters, a lighthouse museum, and a gift shop. Of course, climbing the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the most anticipated activity.
There are 257 steps to the top where climbers will be welcomed with expansive views of Hatteras Island. and the coast.
The lighthouse is open for climbing seasonally from the third Friday in April until Columbus Day in October. Visitors can climb on their own anytime from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., or join a group tour that occurs every ten minutes.
Climbing tickets are $8 for adults and $4 for children and elderly.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was unfortunately closed for climbing in 2023 due to restoration efforts. Hopefully, in 2024, the lighthouse will be open to the public once again.
Cape Lookout Lighthouse
Address: 1800 Island Rd, Harkers Island, NC
One of our favorite spots along North Carolina’s coast is the Cape Lookout National Seashore, an untouched stretch of barrier islands with stunning scenery. When visiting Cape Lookout, we recommend exploring Cape Lookout Lighthouse, one of the most popular attractions on the island.
As with many other lighthouses of NC, the current Cape Lookout lighthouse was not the first to be erected here. The first structure was built in 1812 and was the fourth lighthouse at the time in the state.
The lighthouse was 96 feet tall, which was not tall enough to guide ships through the Lookout Shoals effectively.
Thus, Congress approved the construction of a second lighthouse in 1857, which was completed in 1859. The lighthouse, which still stands today, is 163 feet tall.
The lighthouse was painted with its iconic black-and-white diamond pattern in 1873. The diamonds were used to identify direction; North and South from East and West.
Cape Lookout National Seashore is about three miles from the mainland and accessible only via boat. We recommend hopping aboard the Island Express Ferry Service, which departs from Harkers Islands and has numerous stops along the Seashore.
The North Carolina lighthouse is located on the South Core Banks, about a 20-minute ride from Harkers.
Typically, our favorite thing to do at the lighthouse is climb the 207 stairs to the top, where you’ll be met with amazing views of the Seashore. However, Cape Lookout Lighthouse is closed to climbing until 2025 for repairs and reconstruction.
Regardless, Cape Lookout Seashore is full of things to do such as fishing, birding, boating, hiking, and horse-watching. Near the lighthouse is a small Keepers’ Quarters, which has since been converted into a museum commemorating its history.
On the way to the lighthouse, you’ll also likely pass the Light Station Visitor Center on the South Core Banks boardwalk. The Center has amenities that include restrooms, water, and informational materials.
Currituck Beach Lighthouse
Address: 1101 Corolla Village Rd, Corolla, NC
Of the seven coastal lighthouses, Currituck Beach Lighthouse is located most north in the town of Corolla. Often, the lighthouse is referred to as Corolla Lighthouse. The structure comprises unpainted brick and is open to the public for climbing.
Currituck Beach Lighthouse departs from most of the lighthouses in North Carolina because there was only one lighthouse built in Corolla, which remains standing today.
Corolla Lighthouse was the last major brick lighthouse to be built in North Carolina, completed in 1875. A year later, a keepers’ quarters was built next to the lighthouse and was intended for the lighthouse keepers and their families.
By 1937, the lighthouse became fully automated and the keepers departed from their role.
Over the next few decades, the lighthouse, while functioning, was uninhabited, which led to its slow decline. In 1980, the lighthouse grounds and structures came under the care of the non-profit organization Outer Banks Conservationists, Inc., which maintains it today.
Currituck Beach Lighthouse is relatively easy to access, located in a well-traveled part of the Outer Banks. Parking at the lighthouse is free, but you must purchase tickets to climb up.
The lighthouse hours are from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. from early spring through Thanksgiving Weekend each year.
Tickets to climb can be purchased at the front door of the lighthouse for $13/person ages four and up. Children three and younger are free with an adult.
Inside, the stairs spiral upward for 214 steps with nine landings. Exhibits line the walls and landings of the lighthouse and educate visitors about the roles of coastal lighthouses, their history, and the famous Fresnel lens that lit up the lighthouse.
At the top, there is a narrow walkway before emerging to see the views; while the trip up may be strenuous, we promise the gorgeous views from the top are well worth it.
Beyond climbing the lighthouse, you can also check out the lighthouse museum housed in the old Keepers’ Quarters. The museum showcases the lighthouse’s 150-year history via photos, artifacts, and more.
Oak Island Lighthouse
Address: 300 Caswell Beach Rd, Oak Island, NC
Oak Island Lighthouse is relatively new, having been constructed in 1958. It is unlike any of the other active lighthouses in North Carolina because it is made entirely of concrete rather than brick.
The 128 feet of reinforced concrete was mixed on-site and directly blended with the lighthouse’s colors so that it will never need to be repainted.
Oak Island Lighthouse is also unique in that it has the brightest light in the US and the second brightest in the world!
The lighthouse sits in Caswell Beach on Oak Island, a fantastic town in Brunswick County. The lighthouse parking lot only has five spots, so be mindful when planning your visit.
The lighthouse is open year-round for climbing, but the second interior level is only open with advanced reservations.
During the summer months of July and August, a four-week notice is required, while the rest of the year requires a two-week notice.
You’ll climb 131 steps to the top in the form of ship ladders rather than the traditional spiral staircases found in most lighthouses. From the top of Oak Island Lighthouse, you’ll see nearly all of Bald Head Island and the Cape Fear River.
Address: 360 Lighthouse Rd, Ocracoke, NC
Ocracoke Lighthouse is the smallest of the lighthouses on this list, but it still has a mighty history and influence. At 75 feet, the lighthouse stands over Ocracoke Island and guides ships through the Ocracoke Inlet toward the mainland.
The lighthouse’s history cannot be understood without understanding the history of Ocracoke itself. Ocracoke Island was discovered by explorers in the 1500s, after which it grew into a major trading hub and shipping port.
As the island attracted merchants and businesses, there was a growing need for a lighthouse to guide ships and traders. The first lighthouse was built in the 1790s out of wood and only lasted 20 years.
The second attempt at a lighthouse was in 1823. This lighthouse, made of brick, was much more sturdy and is the structure that still stands today.
Ocracoke Lighthouse contributed to Ocracoke’s rapid growth, so much so to the point where an even stronger light was needed to guide more ships. Thus, a fourth-order Fresnel lens was installed in 1854 to magnify the light. The light was dismantled during the Civil War, but Union forces were able to retake it in 1864 and restore the lighthouse.
Now, the lighthouse is fully automated and is under the management of the US Coast Guard.
Unfortunately, Ocracoke Lighthouse does not allow visitors to climb up, nor does it have an on-site visitor center or gift shop. It doesn’t attract many tourists, but the tranquility is exactly why we love visiting.
We greatly enjoy exploring the grounds and historic keepers’ quarters that still exist today. You may even have the place to yourself, so it’s a great opportunity to take a picture with the smallest and the only fully white lighthouse in the Outer Banks!
Ocracoke Lighthouse is less than a mile from the Ocracoke Visitors Center and the Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum. If you’re driving, there will be signs on NC-12 to the parking lot.
The parking lot has limited spaces, so we recommend biking or walking; biking is the most efficient and popular way to get around Ocracoke Island!
Read More: 15 Tasty Ocracoke Island Restaurants
Which of These NC Lighthouses is Your Favorite?
Now that we’ve shared the amazing coastal lighthouses of North Carolina, we’d love to hear from you. If you’ve visited any (or all) of them, which is your favorite?
Let us know here in the comments section and remember to share your coastal NC adventures in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group!
More Coastal Things to Do (Including Lighthouses in NC)
These North Carolina lighthouses have featured in many of our North Carolina travel guides. Here are a few of them.