Last Updated on August 21, 2023
Last Updated on August 21, 2023
Bald Head Lighthouse, also known as Old Baldy Lighthouse, is North Carolina‘s oldest standing lighthouse. It sits on Bald Head Island, one of the most beautiful places on our coast.
While the Brunswick County island itself attracts visitors to enjoy its gorgeous beaches, rounds of golf, and more fun, visiting Old Baldy is one of the first things on people’s minds when they arrive.
Whether it’s the unique stucco exterior, the story behind it, or the amazing views that await at the top, we agree that this lighthouse and its accompanying history museum are worth checking out.
Our guide will share all of these details and more and here’s how we’ve organized it:
- Old Baldy Lighthouse Facts
- The History of Old Baldy
- The Old Baldy Foundation
- How to See Old Baldy
- Old Baldy Admission Info
- How to Climb Old Baldy Lighthouse
- Smith Island Museum of History
- History Tours
- More Things to Do on Bald Head Island
- More Things to Do in Brunswick County (Related Posts)
You can quickly scroll to any of these sections or keep reading, where we’ll start with some interesting Old Baldy facts.
This post is part of our series on Brunswick County and more of our favorite places to visit in Eastern North Carolina.
Old Baldy Lighthouse Facts
Old Baldy Lighthouse towers above Bald Head Island and is one of the first landmarks you’ll notice when traveling on the ferry from Southport.
The lighthouse stands 110 feet high, is octagonal in shape, and is coated with stucco. It was originally whitewashed but later painted white.
The History of Old Baldy
While Old Baldy (Bald Head Lighthouse) is North Carolina’s oldest lighthouse, it’s not the first built on Bald Head Island.
The original lighthouse was completed in 1794 and torn down in 1813, due to hurricane-heightened erosion.
Old Baldy Lighthouse on Bald Head Island was built further inland from the first lighthouse, and Daniel Way completed it on April 1, 1817, after four months of construction.
It was built with recycled bricks from the original lighthouse, along with newly-pressed bricks.
To protect the bricks, Way covered them with stucco. The light station in the lantern room was also recycled from the original lighthouse.
That original lighting structure remained until 1855, after many years of lackluster performance in guiding ships past the dangerous shoals that sit at the mouth of the Cape Fear River.
Fresnel lenses, then a new technology, replaced the original lighting apparatus.
Old Baldy Lighthouse was discontinued in 1866 but relit in 1880 after its replacement (Federal Point Light) was discontinued.
The Cape Fear Lighthouse was built in 1903, but Old Baldy remained active until 1935. NC’s oldest lighthouse then housed a radio beacon until 1958, when both it and the Cape Fear Lighthouse were discontinued.
The completion of the Oak Island Lighthouse in that same year led to the two lighthouses’ decommission.
The Old Baldy Foundation
While the Cape Fear Lighthouse was demolished after its decommission, Old Baldy remained. The Bald Head Island Lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
It reopened in 1987 to the public. Today, the Old Baldy Foundation works to preserve and promote the lighthouse.
Their efforts are the reason why we can visit safely Old Baldy.
How to See Old Baldy Lighthouse
To see Old Baldy, you first need to hop on the Bald Head Island Ferry from Southport.
From the Ferry Terminal, it’s about a 5-10 minute walk to Old Baldy. However, on hot and muggy days, we highly recommend a golf cart for getting around the island.
From the Ferry Terminal, it takes just a few minutes to reach Old Baldy via Golf Cart.
If you’re staying on the island, your rental may come with a golf cart. If not, Cary Cart Co offers rentals starting at $85/day.
Old Baldy Admission Info
To reach the top of Old Baldy Lighthouse, you’ll first need to purchase a ticket inside the keeper’s cottage. Here’s a breakdown of admission prices and hours:
- Adults: $8
- Children Ages 3 to 12: $5
- Children Under Age 3: FREE
- Spring: Open Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
- Summer: Open Monday to Saturday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm and Sunday from 11:00 to 5:00 pm.
The keeper’s cottage also serves as the Old Baldy Lighthouse Gift Shop, with a variety of souvenirs available for purchase.
How to Climb Old Baldy Lighthouse
After buying some stickers and anything else to take home, you’ll then walk out of the cottage and into the lighthouse. There are 108 stairs and 5 landings inside Old Baldy.
There’s no air conditioning inside so please stay hydrated and dress appropriately in case you’re visiting on a particularly hot day. Some windows will be open to allow airflow and a respite from the heat.
The stairs gradually go up and each of the landings is fairly spacious. You have plenty of room to look down at the other landings, which is one of our favorite things to do when climbing.
A few of the landings have some lighthouse artifacts on exhibit.
The last set of stairs leads to a short ladder, which you’ll climb to the top.
Watch your head and any fragile belongings because the small entryway doesn’t forgive.
The top of the lighthouse is enclosed in glass and is a pretty tight space to maneuver around. About 4 to 5 people can comfortably fit up there.
If you arrive early enough after they open at 10:00 am (11:00 am on Sundays), you might be fortunate enough to be alone at the top.
Regardless, the 360-views are absolutely worth the climb, but photos can be challenging because of the glass. If you arrive before the sun has gotten too high, you should be able to get some photos with minimal reflection.
Returning from the top is fairly easy and allows more chances to look down from each of the landings.
Smith Island Museum of History
The Smith Island Museum of History sits in a room next to the gift shop. It’s a great way to end your visit to Old Baldy Lighthouse since the exhibits focus on its historic significance.
The Old Baldy Foundation rotates the artifacts on exhibit, which is another reason to keep coming back.
If you’d like to dig deeper into Bald Head Island beyond the lighthouse, the Old Baldy Foundation offers “Island Wide History Tours.” This two-hour golf cart tour will take you around the island and share its history, from colonization to Bald Head’s development as a resort.
Reservations are highly recommended because space is limited.
Ready to Visit Old Baldy Lighthouse?
Of North Carolina’s handful of lighthouses still intact, Old Baldy is one that we’ve wanted to visit for a long time. It might not be the tallest, but the fact that it’s still standing and has outlasted supposedly better-functioning lighthouses makes this one even more special.
The Old Baldy Foundation (a non-profit organization) deserves a huge “thank you” from us all for their work so hard to maintain the lighthouse. Hopefully, we can keep visiting and share this wonderful piece of history with future generations of Bald Head Island visitors.
Have you ever visited Old Baldy Lighthouse and Smith Island Museum? How do you think this one measures up to the rest of North Carolina’s lighthouses?
If you haven’t yet climbed Old Baldy, we’d love to hear about your first experience doing that in the comments or even in our Facebook Group!
More Things to Do on Bald Head Island
Beyond Old Baldy Lighthouse, there are plenty of fun things to do on Bald Head Island. Here are a few of our favorite ways to enjoy the island!
The 14 miles Bald Head Island beaches are some of the best in North Carolina. One South Beach’s accesses will usually be our next stop after checking out Old Baldy Lighthouse, any time we’re on the island.
If you forgot something, Beach & Baby on the island sells chairs, umbrellas, and more for you and the family.
Outdoor Fun (By Land or On the Water)
Bald Head Island offers more fun beyond the beach. Members love Bald Head Island Club for its pristine golf courses, tennis and croquet courts, dining, and more.
There are so many options for getting out on the water while on Bald Head Island. Kayaks, SUP, and kiteboards are just a few of the ways you can explore the creeks. Rentals and guides are available via the Bald Head Island Conservancy and the Sail Shop.
You can also enjoy the outdoors by hiking the M. Kent Mitchell Nature Trail or the Bald Head Woods Maritime Forest Preserve.
If you don’t want to rent a golf cart and didn’t bring your own bicycle, you can rent one from Riverside Adventure Co.
There are some wonderful restaurants on Bald Head Island, too.