Lighthouses of North Carolina

September 9, 2019


The shores of North Carolina are lined with history. For decades, lighthouses have been the subjects of photos, paintings and other forms of artwork. There’s an almost romantic quality surrounding them. Lighthouses have also been vital for sailors’ navigation. North Carolina has no shortage of famous lighthouses that attract hundreds of visitors every year. Two of these important structures are a short journey from Brunswick Forest.

Lighthouses have always been an object of mercy to sailors looking to navigate around obstacles in open water. Just off the coast of Bald Head Island is a maze of naturally occurring sandbars known as Frying Pan Shoals. It was because of these shoals that Old Baldy was built. This famous landmark has watched over the mouth of the Cape Fear River for over 200 years. Featuring 108 steps to the top of its structure, Old Baldy remains North Carolina’s oldest still-standing lighthouse. It was originally commissioned by none other than Thomas Jefferson, who intended for it to guide ships safely past Frying Pan Shoals. Old Baldy has served as a guiding beacon, radio beacon and landmark over its years of service. Decommissioned since the 1950s, Old Baldy has weathered the elements and time itself to remain a popular stop for visitors to Bald Head Island.

Completed in 1958, the Oak Island Lighthouse remains one of Southeastern North Carolina’s most valuable navigational aids. Minutes way from the master-planned community in Brunswick Forest, the Oak Island Lighthouse is an iconic symbol. Rising 169 feet above the water, this structure was built to eventually replace the function that Old Baldy was originally made for; helping guide ships past the Frying Pan Shoals. Its powerful lantern house was assembled by helicopters from the U.S. Marine Corps. At the time of its construction, the Oak Island Lighthouse was the second brightest in the United States. Still in use today, after being updated to modern standards, the lighthouse can be seen giving off its distinctive four bright flashes every ten seconds. Tourists have been welcomed to tour the lighthouse since 2006 and it remains a beloved sight for local residents of Caswell Beach and Southport.


North of Wilmington, lies the Outer Banks. This vast stretch of barrier islands has long been the place of shipping, shipwrecks and perhaps the most famous resident to visit the Pamlico area, Blackbeard. There are many famous lighthouses that dot the shores of the Outer Banks, all helping to give off their distinctive lights which can be seen for miles around.

Cape Lookout Lighthouse, known for its distinctive black and white diamond pattern, towers above Cape Lookout National Seashore. First lit in 1859, the lighthouse at Cape Lookout stands upon one of the most pristine beaches in the Southern Outer Banks. Popular towns nearby include Morehead City, Atlantic Beach, Emerald Isle and Beaufort. Undeveloped and largely untouched by man, Cape Lookout overlooks miles of unblemished shorelines. Though the lighthouse was damaged in the American Civil War, it quickly returned to service and served admirably until the 1950s. Since then, Cape Lookout Lighthouse has attracted plenty of visitors with its striking looks. Open seasonally to climbers, Cape Lookout is worth the trip if you can make it there.

Cape Hatteras has bedazzled locals and tourists alike for many decades since its completion in 1870. Originally made to protect ships traveling past the Diamond Shoals, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse remains one of the most widely recognized lights in the entire world. Sporting an incredible 269 steps to the top, over 150,000 visitors arrive at Cape Hatteras a year to catch a glimpse of the iconic structure. Painted as a striking black and white candy-cane, Cape Hatteras is imposing as it is beautiful. It’s the world’s tallest brick lighthouse at 208 feet tall and has a beam of light that reaches 20 miles into the ocean. Once threatened by beach erosion, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was successfully relocated further inshore. Now, it continues to protect Cape Point.

The Currituck Beach Lighthouse is located at the North end of the Outer Banks, and its unpainted brick and mortar exterior remains a striking sight to visitors. Overlooking the areas of the Atlantic Ocean and Currituck Sound, the Currituck Beach Lighthouse is the last brick lighthouse to be built in North Carolina. Since 1875, this iconic landmark has had a light that can be seen by ships 18 miles offshore. Currituck Beach has been the saving grace of many sailors traveling through the area and has been cared for by more than two dozen lighthouse keeper families. To this day, visitors are welcome to travel to the very top of this iconic building. The loyal staff still upholds the tradition of caring for the lighthouse just as the first keepers did long ago.

The history of coastal Carolina creates opportunities for adventures waiting around every bend. If you’re feeling adventurous, consider visiting these iconic lighthouses and the others listed below: