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Ocracoke Lighthouse (How to Visit NC’s Smallest Lighthouse!)

Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on January 30, 2024.

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Ocracoke Lighthouse is the smallest lighthouse on the Outer Banks, but it is rich in history and influence. The 75-foot lighthouse stands guard over Ocracoke Island, guiding ships through Ocracoke Inlet toward the mainland of North Carolina.

Its mighty light can be seen from 14 miles away in both the Pamlico Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. After seeing the wonderful Ocracoke Lighthouse in person, we want to share how you can, too.

This guide also covers the history of Ocracoke Lighthouse and nearby attractions on and around Ocracoke Island. Whenever you’re ready, let’s head down Lighthouse Road to one of our favorite spots on the North Carolina coast. Here’s what you need to know:

  • History of Ocracoke Lighthouse
  • How to Visit Ocracoke Lighthouse Today
  • Ready to Visit Ocracoke Lighthouse?

Read More: The Best Things to Do in the Outer Banks

History of Ocracoke Lighthouse

Ocracoke Lighthouse

The history of Ocracoke Lighthouse is heavily intertwined with Ocracoke Island’s background.

Spanish explorers first discovered Ocracoke Island in the 1500s. After that, it grew into a prominent trading and shipping port and would maintain this status for centuries.

In the 1790s, authorities recognized a need for a lighthouse in Ocracoke as the area grew bigger and attracted more and more mariners. The first attempt at constructing a lighthouse resulted in a wooden structure that only lasted 20 years.

In 1823, the lighthouse that stands today was built by Noah Porter. Unlike the previous wooden lighthouse, the second was constructed with solid brick, spanning 25 feet in diameter at its base.

The light beacon is surrounded by an octagonal lantern at the top of the tower. Ocracoke Lighthouse is the second-oldest functional lighthouse in the nation and the oldest lighthouse in North Carolina.

The Lighthouse played a key role in the success of Ocracoke’s port. As Ocracoke grew and welcomed more ships, the need for a stronger light arose. A fourth-order Fresnel lens was installed in 1854 as a way to magnify and increase the light.

During the Civil War, Confederate troops dismantled the lens, but Union forces took the Lighthouse back in 1864 and restored it.

Since then, Ocracoke Lighthouse has become fully automated, with electricity and battery power replacing the original oil-based light. After the last lighthouse keeper passed away in 1951, the lighthouse’s management transfered to the US Coast Guard.

Read More: Interesting Facts About North Carolina That You Should Know

How to Visit Ocracoke Lighthouse Today

Ocracoke Lighthouse Address: 360 Lighthouse Rd, Ocracoke, NC

Ocracoke Lighthouse Outer Banks NC

Ocracoke Lighthouse is less than a mile from the Ocracoke Visitors Center and the Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum. There are signs leading you to the lighthouse from Irvin Garrish Highway/NC-12, but blink and you may miss them.

Don’t worry if you do miss the turn because there are plenty of places to turn around.

Once you reach the lighthouse, you’ll notice limited parking spaces available for cars and golf carts.

However, there is an abundance of biking racks. One of the many things we love about Ocracoke is that traveling by bike is the most valuable and accessible way to explore the island, given its biker-friendly nature.

Ocracoke Lighthouse is not open for visitors to climb up due to safety concerns nor does it have a designated gift store or information center on-site.

Once arriving at the Lighthouse, explore the grounds and the historic lighthouse keepers’ quarters that still stand today. Take pictures with the Lighthouse’s white exterior (it’s the only white lighthouse on the Outer Banks) and walk around the area.

There are informational placards near the base of the lighthouse, sharing the most interesting facts about ocracoke lighthouse and its history.

Ready to Visit Ocracoke Lighthouse?

Ocracoke Lighthouse Ocracoke Island NC

Ocracoke Lighthouse might be the smallest lighthouse in NC and one of the least touristy, but we love visiting this place. In fact, those two unique tidbits make us enjoy the lighthouse even more.

If you’ve been fortunate enough to visit, we’d love to know what you think about Ocracoke Lighthouse and its surroundings. You can let us know in the comments section below or by email.

Don’t forget to share your Ocracoke adventures with us in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group!

Before you do that, though, here are some nearby attractions to keep you busy after traveling to Ocracoke Lighthouse!

Read More: Map of Outer Banks NC Attractions (175+ Great Places Listed!)

Things to Do Near Ocracoke Lighthouse

Ocracoke Lighthouse is surrounded by wonderful things to do, both on Ocracoke Island and nearby on the Outer Banks.

Springer’s Point

Things to do on Ocracoke Springers Point

Also found on Ocracoke Island is Springer’s Point, a 120-acre preserve running along the coastline. Springer’s Point has historically been the home of Native Americans, European settlers, and pirates.

In November 1718, the infamous Blackbeard supposedly spent his last few days here before he was attacked and killed by British Lieutenant Robert Maynard, sent by the Virginia governor.

You can hike the 0.8-mile nature trail with a stop at Teach’s Hole, the beach where Blackbeard met his end.

Read More: 10+ Great Outer Banks Hiking Trails for Kids (and Adults, Too!)

Ocracoke Village

Things to do on Ocracoke Howard Street

Ocracoke Village is filled with historic structures, great restaurants, friendly beach stores, and a laid-back vibe. The island’s pristine beaches and untouched maritime forests (like Springer’s Point) make this place even more special.

As we mentioned earlier, explore by renting a bike and riding around the village. A golf cart is another fun way to get around the village.

Read More: 15 Outer Banks Towns to Make Your Perfect Beach Vacation

Portsmouth Island

Portsmouth Island Life Saving Station

Don’t miss Portsmouth Island, a once-inhabited former port town across Ocracoke Inlet. The remote island actually predates most Outer Banks towns in existence.

Portsmouth has a rich and exciting history, considering it was once one of the largest coastal towns and ports around 1770.

Until the mid-1800s, Portsmouth enjoyed a great percentage of North Carolina’s trading industry. However, the shallowing of the Ocracoke Inlet combined with the Civil War resulted in migration out of Portsmouth Island.

By 1970, only three residents remained and today, Portsmouth Island has no permanent residents. Today, Portsmouth Island is part of Cape Lookout National Seashore (home to Cape Lookout Lighthouse) and is a wonderful place to visit.

You’ll enjoy its rugged and beautiful beaches, historic buildings, and the island’s overall isolation.

Read More: 12 Wonderful National Parks Sites in North Carolina

More Things to Do on the Outer Banks beyond Ocracoke Lighthouse (NC Travel Guides)

We’ve featured Ocracoke Lighthouse and its surroundings in many of our NC Travel Guides. Here are a few of them.

1 thought on “Ocracoke Lighthouse (How to Visit NC’s Smallest Lighthouse!)”

  1. I am so fascinated with this place after reading ‘The Wish’ from Nicholas Sparks , definitely will plan one day to at least visit the downtown to match the description in the book .😀


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