That View From the Top: 6 North Carolina Lighthouses You Can Still Climb

That View From the Top: 6 North Carolina Lighthouses You Can Still Climb

North Carolina has 322 miles of coastline on the Atlantic Ocean, pus 12,000 miles of estuaries. All that water means lighthouses. And fall is a terrific time to visit our coast and check out these historic beauties. But what’s even better? That view from the top. Here’s 6 North Carolina Lighthouses you can still climb.

Before you get started, did you know that each lighthouse has a unique design and color scheme? In fact, their lights even have individual flash patterns and there’s actually a function behind the design elements. Pre-GPS, all those differences helped sailors navigating our coastline to be clear on exactly where they were.

6 North Carolina Lighthouses You Can Still Climb 

1. Cape Hatteras Lighthouse: 46379 Lighthouse Rd, Buxton
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.

This fixture is the classic candy-cane striped lighthouse that everyone knows. Hatteras Lighthouse is not only the tallest in the U.S. (nearly 200 feet tall), but with 257 steps, it’s the most challenging to climb. In 1999, in a remarkable feat of engineering, this lighthouse was moved 2,900 feet to protect it from shoreline erosion.   

2. Bald Head Island Lighthouse: 101 Light House Wynd, Bald Head Island
‘Old Baldy’ Lighthouse
Image Courtesy of
Gareth Rasberry
CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The oldest lighthouse in North Carolina, “Old Baldy” is another tourist icon listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Completed in 1817, the stubby lighthouse served to direct traffic around Cape Fear River towards Wilmington. With only 108 steps to the top, this might be a good place to start your lighthouse challenge.

3. Currituck Beach Lighthouse: 1101 Corolla Village Road, Corolla
Currituck Beach Lighthouse
Image Courtesy of
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This tall brick beacon is the northernmost of North Carolina’s lighthouses. Architecturally unique with its unpainted brick and a gothic revival style, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse is also on National Register of Historic Places.  It’s a 220-step climb to the top – but well worth the effort. A breathtaking panoramic view of the upper barrier islands awaits.

4. Bodie Island Lighthouse: 8210 Bodie Island Lighthouse Road, Nags Head
Bodie Island Lighthouse
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Located close to Nags Head, the Bodie Island Lighthouse is one of the most popular of North Carolina’s Lighthouses. It stands just 156 feet tall with 214 steps to climb to a spectacular view out over the marsh towards the Atlantic.  Note — if you want to sound like a local, be sure pronounce the name with a long “o” sound, as if it was spelled “body.” 

5. Cape Lookout Lighthouse: Harkers Island, NC
Cape Lookout Lighthouse
Image Courtesy of DrStew82, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

As the southernmost lighthouse on the North Carolina coast, the Cape Lookout Lighthouse sits on Harkers Island.  However, if you want to climb, it’s 207 steps. And to get there, you’ll have to take a boat ride: the island is undeveloped, with no bridges, paved roads or stores. So find a boat or hop a ferry to get there.

6. Oak Island Lighthouse: 300a Caswell Beach Rd, Oak Island
Oak Island Lighthouse
Image Courtesy of
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Oak Island Lighthouse sites near the mouth of the Cape Fear River, on the east end of Oak Island. This lighthouse might be the most difficult to climb. Why? There is no spiral staircase inside the tower. To get to that bird’s-eye view from this lighthouse, you’ll need to scale a series of ship ladders — 131 steps to be exact. But visitors do say that the lantern galley is worth it.

Are you ready to tackle a whole lot of steep lighthouse steps?

If yes, that view from the top awaits. And if you want to visit all six of these North Carolina lighthouses you can still climb, plan on four or five days wandering up (or down) the coast. But be forewarned: climbing lighthouses is NOT for the faint of heart, those with bum knees or bare feet. There are no elevators or air-conditioning, and the only way out is back down all those the steps!

Be sure to call or check the individual lighthouse websites ahead of your trip. Some may have restricted visit and lighthouse entry times this fall due to COVID-related restrictions or staffing.

For travel tips and ideas for safe outdoor activities during COVID-19, check out our Lifestyle insights!

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