What a great time to plan a North Carolina OBX lighthouse tour. Here’s a pocket guide to four lighthouses perched along the Outer Banks. The tour spans more than 118 miles across three barrier islands. Most of the two-lane drive includes 82-miles on the Outer Banks National Scenic Byway. Highlights abound including the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, two national wildlife refuges, a state ferry ride, about a dozen coastal villages and four historic lighthouses. Please don’t try doing it in one day but instead, savor the experience and take in all the sights, sounds and scenes along the Outer Banks.
North of Whalebone Junction
Whalebone Junction is an Outer Banks landmark in Nags Head, NC where three major highways intersect. NC 12 links the three islands of the Outer Banks and all four lighthouses. Cape Hatteras National Seashore begins just south of the junction. We start our lighthouse journey 36 miles north in Historic Corolla Village.
The 162’ unpainted brick Currituck Beach Lighthouse was completed in 1795 and was the final station constructed along the Outer Banks. It was strategically built to guide vessels through the “dark spot” of the Atlantic that existed from Bodie Island to the Cape Henry Lighthouse in Virginia. You don’t have to climb the lighthouse to enjoy the experience. Take a stroll along the lighthouse station and admire the grounds, the Victorian Lighthouse Keeper’s house and the smaller “keeper’s” house, which was moved to the property in 1920. It now serves as the lighthouse station’s museum and gift shop. Admission to grounds and parking are free. There’s a $10 fee to climb the lighthouse tower. Click here for more info.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Bodie Island Light Station is located off of NC 12 between Nags Head and the Oregon Inlet approximately eight miles south of Whalebone Junction (US 158 and US 64 intersection).
The “climbing” season opens the third Friday in April and continues through Columbus Day. Reward yourself after the strenuous climb with the towering views of the sound, surf and sea. Visitors can also conveniently discover a variety of habitats including open fields, remote wetlands, maritime forests, salt marshes, beaches and dunes. The wildlife trail from the parking area leads visitors along a half-mile boardwalk to an observation deck that overlooks an expansive freshwater pond. Climbing tickets: $8 adults/ $4 senior citizens (62 or older), & children (11 and under, and at least 42″ tall). More info.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is located approximately 47.5 miles south of Whalebone Junction on Hatteras Island in the town of Buxton, NC.
In 1990, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was moved nearly 1,500 feet from the eroding shoreline to its present site. In 1999, other facilities also had to be relocated including the Oil House, two cisterns, double keepers’ quarters and principal keeper’s quarters.
The lighthouse, standing 208′ ft. over the treacherous Diamond Shoals, is the world’s tallest and one of the most popular sites on Hatteras Island. Each year, more than 175,000 visitors climb the 257 steps to the top of the 1870 lighthouse.
Self-guided climbs are available from the 3rd Friday in April to Columbus Day in October. Climbing tickets: $8/adults and $4/senior citizens (62 or older) & children (11 and under, and at least 42″ tall), and the disabled. Tickets are available on a first come, first served basis and can only be purchased in-person at the site the day of the climb. (252) 995-4474. Click here for more info.
The final leg of the tour includes an adventurous 36-mile ride south of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and a 45-minute ferry which connects Hatteras Island with Ocracoke Island. The 1823 Ocracoke Lighthouse is located in Ocracoke Village at the southern end of Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The 75’ solid white lighthouse is the second oldest operating lighthouse in the U.S. and is open daily (It is not open for climbing). There is limited parking so most visitors walk or bike to the lighthouse. More info.
The lighthouse tour can be enjoyed over a long weekend or extended into multiple seasons. Like they say around here, “Whatever floats your boat?” Complete the OBX Lighthouse Bucket List at your own pace and create your own personal Outer Banks adventure. To learn more about these OBX treasures and other lighthouses in the region, please visit our interactive map and select “lighthouses” category.