Lighthouses of the Outer Banks, North Carolina: Part I

Lighthouses these days are more than just functional structures meant to guide arriving ships on which way to go. Many of them, particularly these Outer Banks lighthouses, double as tourist attractions as well. Should you find yourself vacationing and staying in the Outer Banks, visit some of them to learn about their fascinating history and enjoy the gorgeous scenery that surrounds them.

View of Surrounding Marshes
View of Surrounding Marshes

Outer Banks Lighthouses, North Carolina

Bodie Island

Distinguished by its black and white horizontal stripes, the Bodie Island Lighthouse is the third one built to guide adventurous seafarers navigating the treacherous waters of the Atlantic between Cape Hatteras and Currituck Beach. The original one was built in 1847 but was done poorly and was soon abandoned. A second one was built in 1859, but that too didn’t last long. It fell victim to the Civil War when it was blown up by Confederate soldiers advancing north.

View of Bodie Island
View of Bodie Island

The lighthouse visitors see today was the third one, built in 1872. The black and white paint used to characterize the structure was the same used for the lighthouse in nearby Cape Hatteras. Standing tall at 150 feet, its 160,000 candlepower light equivalent can be seen by boats and ships floating up to 19 miles over the ocean.

Pro tip: Park rangers usually give a 15-minute talk about the history of the lighthouse and the island. It’s worth listening to if only to see the map of the Ghost Fleet of the Outer Banks. It contains a graphic illustration and location of all the wrecked ships that succumbed to sea since the 16th century.

Address: 8210 Bodie Island Lighthouse Rd, Nags Head, North Carolina

Outer Banks Lighthouses, North Carolina: Bodie Island Lighthouse
Bodie Island Lighthouse

Cape Hatteras

Only an hour drive south of Bodie Island via rental car stands another one of the Outer Banks lighthouses. I’m referring to the one in Cape Hatteras, one of the most popular beacons in the world and also the tallest brick structure in North America.

Visitors who ascend all of its 257 steps can gaze over the choppy waters of the Atlantic and the undisturbed ecology of the surrounding Buxton Woods Coastal Reserve.

The first Cape Hatteras Lighthouse hasn’t always been this tall however. The original, built in 1803, was only 90 feet and beamed a light so ineffective that it didn’t take long before requests to build a new and better one came along. The second one, built almost double its original height, featured a Fresnel lens, the most powerful light at that period. Unfortunately, it was stolen by Confederate soldiers during the Civil War to keep it away from Union forces and as a result, was neglected. It wasn’t until 1870 when a replacement was completed.

For over a century, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse seemed to have overcome a number of natural disasters but was unable to escape the eroding sand. In order to protect this historical marker, it was uprooted in 1999 and moved further inland to its current location. Surprisingly, the move only took less than a month.

Address: 46368 Lighthouse Rd, Buxton, North Carolina

Outer Banks Lighthouses, North Carolina: Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Milky Way at night
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and the Milky Way at night via Flickr by Alistair Nicol / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Currituck Beach Lighthouse and Museum

It’s accurate to say that the Currituck Beach Lighthouse is the most unique of all the Outer Banks lighthouses because it is the only one in the area that isn’t painted. It stands tall in the heart of Corolla, the Outer Bank’s northernmost town, and features two 1,000-kilowatt LED light bulbs that can beam up to 18 nautical miles from shore. The bricks used to build the lighthouse give it a striking reddish orange hue that looks particularly darling amidst the leafy green trees and bright blue skies.

The lighthouse and its surrounding buildings wasn’t always this pretty though. When lighting became automated, the keeper’s house was abandoned and was in need of major repair. Fortunately, a non-profit organization called the Outer Banks Conservationists (OBC) realized the cultural importance of the lighthouse and invested over one million dollars to repair it and restore the surrounding building and grounds.

Pro tip: After climbing all of its 220 steps, spend some time at the adjacent building that contains a small museum and a gift shop. The latter is a particularly good one. Also, should hunger strike, head towards Corolla Village BBQ. It’s only a five-minute walk from the lighthouse and is one of the best cheap eats in the Outer Banks.

Address: 1101 Corolla Village Rd, Corolla, North Carolina

Outer Banks Lighthouses, North Carolina: Currituck Beach Lighthouse
Currituck Beach Lighthouse

Continue reading Part 2

About Iris A


Born in the Philippines, but grew up in Texas, Iris has been traveling and writing about her experiences for well over a decade. Her work has been published on well-known travel sites like Hipmunk (#hipmunkcitylove) and D Magazine Online Travel Club. She has been all over Europe, the US, and has recently started exploring Latin America. She loves trying local cuisine and visiting UNESCO deemed World Heritage sites. Her favourite city is New York, with London, following a close 2nd. You can follow her on Twitter @sundeeiris or through her travel blog, Traveling With Iris.

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