- Travel and Places
Lighthouses in NC
Bald Head Island Lighthouse
Lighthouses along the North Carolina coast have been lighting the way for ships for over one hundred years. Some of these lighthouses are still in operation today, and others are now popular tourist attractions. Each of these warning beacons for ships has its own unique history.
Bald Head Island Lighthouse, or “Old Baldy”, is the oldest standing lighthouse in North Carolina, and was built in 1817. The lighthouse was placed on the island to guide ships safely through the Cape Fear River and dangerous Frying Pan Shoals, a treacherous stretch of water that extends twenty miles out into the Atlantic Ocean.
"Old Baldy” still stands as a tourist attraction, yet the tower is no longer in service. Guests to this North Carolina island can view the entrance and stairwell inside, as well as the museum that was built to replace the previous keeper's cottage that was destroyed by fire in 1931. Feel free to climb the stairs to the tower, yet at your own risk!
Bald Head Island was used for the filming of the 1991 movie, The Butcher’s Wife, starring Demi Moore. The island may also look familiar for those fans of the 1989 hit movie, Weekend at Bernie’s. Many scenes from this movies were filmed at the Bald Head Island ferry landing.
Be sure to check ferry times, these can be downloaded online. Seasons and dates are as follows:
Summer Schedule (3/1 - 11/30)
Winter Schedule (12/1 - 2/29)
Contractor Summer Schedule (3/1 - 10/31)
Contractor Winter Schedule (11/1 - 2/29)
Ocracoke Island Lighthouse
Ocracoke Island is a barrier island located off the coast of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Ocracoke lighthouse, built in 1823, is the oldest North Carolina lighthouse still in working condition today. Believed to be the previous site of an Indian village is where this lighthouse stands, on the island made famous by Blackbeard the Pirate. It is legend that Blackbeard frequented Ocracoke Island as a hangout, as well as a hideout.
After more than a century of debate over placing a lighthouse on Ocracoke Island, this now major shipping port would finally erect Ocracoke lighthouse in 1823. Two acres of land purchased for $50 is where the lighthouse stands, lighting the way for passing ships and vessels. Fully automated since 1946, its eight thousand candlepower glow can be seen for up to fourteen miles out to sea.
Since it is used as a navigational aid, the U.S. Coast Guard owns and oversees the lighthouse, yet it is maintained by the National Park Service. Ocracoke Island has a variety of of activities to enjoy including the historic lighthouse site. The tower and grounds are viewable by the public, yet not open to the public. Other island activities include: bed-and breakfasts inns, gift shops, seafood resturants, and a 20 acre fenced reserve for wild ponies that once roamed the area freely.
Banker Ponies of Ocracoke
It has been documented that Banker horses have existed on Ocracoke since the first European settlers came to stay in the 1730's, with herds as large as 300 of these small horses. It is also a belief that shipwrecked explorers or ships with livestock may have abandoned the ponies in the 16th and 17th centuries. Serving the people of Ocracoke for hundreds of years, Banker ponies have played roles at work and play. The few remaining ponies (30 or less), still roam safely throughout the 20 acre enclosure.
Cape Lookout Lighthouse
Cape Lookout Lighthouse that stands today was built in 1859, and at a height of 163 feet, was the 1st tall lighthouse to be built on the Outer Banks. Its construction became necessary as the number of shipwrecks in the area began to rise. Lookout Shoals, known for its shifting sands, makes this shoreline area of the Outer Banks unpredictable and dangerous for passing vessels. Fully automated since 1950, it is still in operation 24 hours a day with a visibility of 19 miles.
Cape Lookout became a model for all future tower lighthouses constructed along the Eastern seaboard, distinguishable by the different black and white patterns. Cape Lookout's pattern consists of three white diamonds facing east and west, and two black diamonds facing north and south with half of a black diamond at the top and bottom of the lighthouse (also facing north and south).
Cape Lookout Lighthouse served as a military stronghold during the Civil War. Today, only accessible by boat, the tower stands unopened to the public, yet they do have a visitor center and museum. Harkers Island has many ferry services available, or the lighthouse can be accessed by boat.
Pets on Ocracoke
Cape Lookout National Seashore allows pets on the beaches provided they remain on a leash at all times. There are no restrictions regarding size or breed. This law is the same for Shackleford Banks as well as the other islands on the Outer Banks. Any ferry service has the right to refuse to transport pets, so check ahead. There is little or no shade for pets, so bring plenty of drinking water. No pets are allowed inside buildings.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
Cape Hatteras lighthouse that stands today was built in 1870, and is America’s tallest lighthouse at 198 feet high and 257 steps to the top of the tower. Cape Hatteras is a fully automated working lighthouse, visible for up to 20 miles out to sea.
Diamond Shoals is the area off the eastern seaboard where two ocean currents meet, causing treacherous, ever changing sandbars that stretch for 12 miles from the coast out into the Atlantic Ocean. This area is also known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic.These dangerous sandbars have been responsible for over 600 shipwrecks throughout the ages. Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was constructed to warn ships of the hazardous conditions of the shoals.
Climbing Cape Hatteras
The lighthouse is open from the third Friday in April through Columbus Day each year. Climbing tours are offered during these times for a small fee. Be advised that this is not an easy trek up 248 iron spiral steps. People with medical problems, such as cardiac or respiratory disorders, climb at their own discretion. There is two way traffic on the stairs, yet it is humid, dim, and there is no air conditioning.
The Relocation of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
Previous lighthouses stood in the same area, yet none were successful at giving ships proper warning until the building of the present lighthouse at Cape Hatteras. After years of battling erosion problems, the lighthouse was moved inland at a distance of just under 3,000 feet during the summer of 1999.
Today, the lighthouse stands, fully automated, lighting the way for ships, just as it has for over a hundred years. Cape Hatteras is probably the most well known lighthouse on the North Carolina coast, attracting a number of visitors each year. People recognize it by the black and white candy cane swirl that adorns it.
For a small fee, visitors can climb the steps of the lighthouse to the tower. The climb can be overwhelming, so be prepared, and carry plenty of drinking water. For those adventurous folks who make it to the top of the lighthouse the view is absolutely amazing.
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Bodie Island Lighthouse
The lighthouse on Bodie Island, once named Body Island, stands 156 feet high and is a visible beacon for ships out to 19 miles into the Atlantic. Legend states that it was named "Body Island" due to the numerous dead bodies that would wash up around the island from shipwrecks.
Two other lighthouses stood on Bodie Island prior to the one that stands today. Both previous lighthouses were much shorter than the present day lighthouse at 54 and 80 feet in height. The first lighthouse had problems from the start with its lighting system and poorly laid foundation which began to crumble after only a few years.
The second lighthouse was destroyed at the start of the Civil War by the Confederates after they lost their hold on the Outer Banks. The purpose of blowing up the lighthouse was to prevent Union soldiers from using it as an advantage over the Confederates. The remains of both lighthouses have been long since washed out to sea.
Coquina Beach on Bodie Island
The lighthouse is only a small part of Bodie Island's 30,000-acre preserve. The island has numerous beaches for families to relax without being crowded while enjoying the waves breaking on the shoreline. Coquina Beach is a great place to get away, and see a little bit of coastal history. Coquina Beach swimming, bathing, and picnic facilities, as well as the Laura A. Barnes shipwreck display from where it went down there in 1921.
Laura Barnes isn't the only shipwreck that resides along the coastline, remains of a number of shipwrecks line the beach. Shifting sands keep them from being visible at all times. Coquina has miles of wave soaked golden sands, towering dunes, and sea oats swaying in the wind. Coquina Beach shows a glimpse of the rapidly vanishing commercial fishing industry.
Currituck Beach Lighthouse
Currituck Lighthouse was the last brick lighthouse to be constructed on the Outer Banks. It was erected in 1875 and remains in use and visible for 19 miles off the coast, and is the only lighthouse in North Carolina that is still housed in its original structure. The natural brick colors remain as a way of distinguishing it from other lighthouses nearby.
The lighthouse was built after it was brought to congressional members attention of the "dark spot" along the coastline. Before this lighthouse was constructed, there was a stretch of 80 miles of unlit coastline between the Cape Henry and Bodie Island lighthouses, making it difficult for ships trying to manuever along the eastern seaboard.
The northernmost area of Currituck Banks is an eleven mile stretch of remote beach, marshes, dunes, pine forests, and wild spanish mustangs of Currituck that can often be spotted strolling along the beach, particularly in warmer weather.
Mustang Laws on Currituck
* Stay 50 foot away from horses.
* No Petting.
* No Feeding.
* No Harassment of animals at any time.
This remote area is patrolled by law enforcement, and anyone found breaking these protective ordinances will be heavily fined. Driving on the beach is allowed by law and many people ride the area of beach up to the perimeter of the enclosure in order to watch the wild spanish mustangs that roam the area.
Wild Spanish Mustangs of Currituck
The northernmost end of the barrier islands of North Carolina's Outer Banks is home to around 100 wild spanish mustangs. The beautiful wild horses are descendants of wild mustangs that began arriving with the earliest explorers in the 1500's to North Carolina's barrier islands.
An eleven mile, 17,000-acre stretch of remote beach has been fenced in to protect the mustangs on Currituck Banks. The area is only accessible by off-road vehicles, and there are strict rules to protect the wild mustangs on this section of North Carolina's barrier islands.
Oak Island Lighthouse
Oak Island Lighthouse is the third lighthouse to stand on this island of the outer banks and was completed in 1958. Its light can be seen by ships for out to 24 miles out to sea. The maintenance and upkeep of the Oak Island Lighthouse is a shared responsibility of Caswell Beach and the United States Coast Guard.
In September of 1761, a hurricane cut out a new inlet near the mouth of the Cape Fear River, becoming the most popular route to North Carolina’s largest port in Wilmington. With this increase of traffic to this new inlet, two range lights were built on the island to help guide incoming vessels, both of which were badly damaged during the Civil War.
The current lighthouse on Oak Island was built to withstand up to 100 mph winds like those that accompany hurricanes and tropical storms. This lighthouse structure was made to give and sway as much as three feet during strong winds. The Oak Island light can be seen as far as 24 miles out to see with its powerful 4000 watt aerobeam light, making it one of the most powerful lighthouses in the world.
The Oak Island lighthouse doesn't have the usual spiral staircase found in most lighthouses, yet uses ships ladders to reach from one level to another. There is a total of 134 steps leading to the lighthouse tower.
The U.S. Coast Guard remains responsible for upkeep of the lighthouse, yet has been owned by the town of Caswell Beach since 2004. Through donations and non-profit organizations, the Oak Island Lighthouse now has an observation deck, a boardwalk with beach access, and more available parking.
Oak Island Attractions
The Oak Island Nature Center is entertaining and educational, and a great day outing for families with school age children. The nature center has many unique and interesting features including an interactive walking trail. Stroll along Talking Tree Walking Trail while listening to interesting facts about a variety of trees such as Dogwood, Black Gum, Southern Magnolia, and Devil’s Walking Stick trees.
A beautiful butterfly garden is a top feature at the center. Enjoy the view while eating lunch at one of the provide picnic tables, or fish from the pier on the Intracoastal Waterway. Oak Island Nature Center has a collection of adorable live animals for viewing inside. Some of the animals that can be found there include: a chinchilla, dove, hedgehog, rabbit, ferrets, and Sugar Gliders.
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Price’s Creek Lighthouse
Price’s Creek Lighthouse stands at a decrepit 20 feet tall, yet remains one of Southport, North Carolina's treasured landmarks. These range lights were used during the early part of the Civil War, serving to guide daring Confederate blockade runners past the Union ships that were stationed just offshore. Rather than let the lighthouses remain for the enemy, Confederate soldiers destroyed as many of these lights as they could. There is no public access to the lighthouse at Price's Creek, but it still stands as a reminder of the days when the waters of North Carolina were very actively used for travel and trade.