Centuries of mariners have plied the waters off North Carolina’s coast, harvesting its aquatic beasts, protecting or prowling the shore, and skirting or foundering on its dangerous shoals. As beautiful as North Carolina’s lighthouses are, they were built to perform a service of life-and-death importance. Today, the historic lights—some still in operation—are popular destinations for visitors. Most are open for climbing and offer fantastic views. The following are some of North Carolina’s favorites.
- Visitors willing to climb the 214 spiral steps to the top of Currituck Beach Lighthouse are treated to a dazzling view of Currituck Sound.
- Climb to the top of Bodie Island Lighthouse, which overlooks Lighthouse Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. This striking structure has been sending its signal out to sea since 1872, but was closed to the public until 2013.
- Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States, has a black-and-white spiral exterior that makes it visible from miles away. Pay a small admission price to climb all the way to the top.
- Whale oil originally powered the beam of Ocracoke Lighthouse, the second-oldest working lighthouse in the United States. Because it’s still on duty, visitors can’t go inside, but there are lovely places to walk on the grounds.
- The black-and-white diamond-spangled Cape Lookout Lighthouse, one of the most iconic symbols of North Carolina, has stood watch since 1859. The nearby keeper’s quarters give an intriguing glimpse into the isolated and meditative life of the light keeper. While you’re there, explore Cape Lookout’s 56 miles of unspoiled beach, where you may have a close encounter with one of the Outer Banks’ famous wild horses.
- Commissioned by Thomas Jefferson and built in 1817, Old Baldy Lighthouse is North Carolina’s oldest lighthouse. From its strategic point on the southern coast of Bald Head Island, Old Baldy has seen has seen nearly two centuries of commerce, war, and peace.