There were once over 20 North Carolina lighthouses along our coast – one being the tallest in the United States! Six of these NC lighthouses are still open to visitors wanting to climb them.
See the map below for their locations along the North Carolina Coast.
Bald Head Lighthouse, known as Old Baldy, is the oldest lighthouse still standing in North Carolina.
The current structure is not the island’s first beacon; an earlier light, begun in 1789, was commissioned by Thomas Jefferson and was lit at the end of 1794.
This first lighthouse was constructed too close to the water, it fell victim to erosion problems and was demolished by 1813. Read more in our related article here!
Oak Island Lighthouse
The Oak Island Light, August 1957, is located in the Town of Caswell Beach near the mouth of the Cape Fear River in Southeastern North Carolina.
It sits next to a Coast Guard Station on the east end of Oak Island in Brunswick County and looks south out at the Atlantic Ocean.
There is actually no spiral staircase or traditional steps for the Oak Island Lighthouse, but there is a series of ship ladders with a total of 131 steps.
Address: 300a Caswell Beach Rd, Oak Island, NC 28465
Bodie Island Lighthouse
The current Bodie Island Lighthouse is the third that has stood in this vicinity of Bodie Island on the Outer Banks in North Carolina and was built in 1872. It stands 165 feet (50 m) tall and is located on the Roanoke Sound side of the first island that is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
The lighthouse is just south of Nags Head, a few miles before Oregon Inlet. It was renovated from August 2009 to March 2013, and was made climbable by the public.
There are 214 steps that spiral to the top. The 170-foot structure is one of only a dozen remaining tall, brick tower lighthouses in the United States — and one of the few with an original first-order Fresnel lens to cast its light.
Perhaps the best-known lighthouse along the North Carolina coast, the Cape Hatteras Light is a lighthouse located on Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks in the town of Buxton, part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
Atlantic currents in this area made for excellent travel for ships, except in the area of Diamond Shoals, just offshore at Cape Hatteras. The large number of ships that ran aground because of these shifting sandbars gave this area the nickname “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” It also led Congress to authorize the construction of the Cape Hatteras Light. Its 210-foot height makes it the tallest brick lighthouse structure in the United States and 29th in the world.
The Cape Lookout Lighthouse
The Cape Lookout Lighthouse is a 163-foot high lighthouse located on the Southern Outer Banks of North Carolina.
It flashes every 15 seconds and is visible at least 12 miles out to sea and up to 19 miles. The Cape Lookout Light is one of the very few lighthouses that operate during the day.
It became fully automated in 1950. The Cape Lookout Lighthouse is the only such structure in the United States to bear the checkered daymark, intended not only for differentiation between similar light towers but also to show direction. The center of the black diamonds points in a north-south direction, while the center of the white diamonds points east-west.
Currituck Beach Lighthouse
The Currituck Beach Light is a lighthouse located on the Outer Banks in Corolla, North Carolina.
The Currituck Beach Light was added to the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1973.
On December 1, 1875, the Currituck Beach Light was completed, located between Cape Henry Light and Bodie Island.
Unlike its fellows, Currituck Beach Light was not painted, leaving its brick facade visible.
In 1939, the lighthouse was automated following a merger of the United States Coast Guard with the Bureau of Lighthouses.
Frying Pan Shoals Light Tower
Frying Pan Shoals Light Tower is a decommissioned lighthouse located approximately 39 miles (63 km) southeast of Southport, North Carolina, and 32 miles (51 km) from Bald Head Island, North Carolina.
The light tower is modeled after a steel oil drilling platform, known as a “Texas tower” on top of four steel legs that was engineered to be used as a lighthouse housing several Coast Guard members. The 80-foot (24 m) light tower marks the shoals at the confluence of the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean.
The platform consists of two floors. The subfloor is a living area of approximately 5,000 square feet (460 m2) that includes seven bedrooms, kitchen, office, storage area, recreation area and toilet facilities.
Ocracoke Light was built in Hyde County, on Ocracoke Island, North Carolina in 1823 by Massachusetts builder Noah Porter. The lighthouse stands 75 feet (23 m) tall. Its diameter narrows from 25 feet (7.6 m) at the base to 12 feet (3.7 m) at its peak.
In 1864, Confederate troops dismantled the fourth-order Fresnel Lens, but Union forces later restored it.
Ocracoke Light is the oldest operating light station in North Carolina and the second oldest lighthouse still standing in the state. The lighthouse was automated in 1955. During the summer months when there is a U.S. National Park Ranger on duty, visitors may access the base of the lighthouse. Access to the top of the lighthouse is not allowed due to the simple steel spiral staircase being safe only for maintenance activity.
However, this is not the original staircase; the original staircase was a wooden step spiral built into the inside of the exterior wall. This was removed during the 1950s due to excessive rotting to the boards and a lacking necessity for a substantial staircase because of the automation of the light. The wooden stairs were removed and the holes in the all-brick lighthouse were cemented closed.