From Corolla to Ocracoke, four lighthouses stand over the Outer Banks. From north to south, Currituck Beach Lighthouse, Bodie Island Lighthouse, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and Ocracoke Lighthouse are beloved attractions, revered as much for their beauty as for their reminder of our nation’s seafaring history.
While the prevalence of GPS systems has all but eliminated the need for lighthouses in maritime travel, the lighthouses still serve as a sight of comfort for today’s travelers. The beacons’ original purpose as an aid to traveling seamen may have faded, but now they make beautiful sites for visitors to explore.
Each lighthouse is visually unique, for the lighthouses were more than nighttime warning beacons. Early mariners skirted the coast of the United States, and during the daytime the markings of the lighthouses were used as important navigational aids.
Currituck Beach Lighthouse, completed in December of 1875, was the last lighthouse built on the Outer Banks. Its red brick left unpainted to distinguish it from any other lighthouse on the East Coast, the 165’ tower is located in the village of Corolla. The lighthouse, lightkeepers’ homes and grounds have been restored by Outer Banks Conservationists. This is one of two Outer Banks lighthouses that may be climbed.
Thirty-two miles to the south, Bodie Island Lighthouse is painted with horizontal black and white stripes. It is the third lighthouse built on the site – the first one a victim of faulty construction, the second destroyed in the Civil War. The Bodie Island Lighthouse recently underwent the second phase of a major renovation. The visitor center and museum, bookstore and walking trails are open for visitors, and the National Park Service reopened the lighthouse for climbing in early spring 2013.
The black and white spiraled Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is one of the most famous lighthouses in the world, especially since it survived a highly publicized move in 1999. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is open for climbing, but keep in mind that children must be more than 42 inches tall.
Completed in 1870, the structure is 208’ in height and is the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States. Its first order Fresnel lens sends a beacon 20 miles out to sea – a light that broadcasts a warning to all mariners of the treacherous Diamond Shoals, the most dangerous waters of the Graveyard of the Atlantic.
Ocracoke Lighthouse is the second oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the East Coast. With its distinctive solid white tower and fixed beam that can be seen 14 miles out to sea, it has been guiding ships into Silver Lake, the scenic harbor surrounded by the village of Ocracoke, since it was built in 1823. The Ocracoke Lighthouse is not open for climbing, but the grounds are picturesque, so bring your camera and take a few photos while you’re there.