A total of seven coastal lighthouses dot North Carolina's shoreline from the Outer Banks to the Brunswick Islands. Though long ago they protected adventurers from our treacherous shores, today they draw visitors for some of the most incredible views you’ll ever see.
Listed below from north to south, five of seven allow visitors to climb to the top in season.
1 Currituck Beach Lighthouse
1 Currituck Beach LighthouseCorollaSee on map
Currituck Beach Light Station on the northern Outer Banks has protected North Carolina's shores since 1875. Made of roughly 1 million red bricks, this active lighthouse’s exterior differs from a more common black-and-white color scheme to the south.
Climb it: mid-March through late November
2 Bodie Island Lighthouse
2 Bodie Island LighthouseNags HeadSee on map
Continuing southbound on N.C. Highway 12 through Kitty Hawk and Nags Head, you'll reach Cape Hatteras National Seashore. At the entrance of this protected area is Bodie Island Lighthouse (pronounced “body”). Today’s structure is the third lighthouse to stand on this site. Take the 214-step trip to the top, then explore the lighthouse museum and bookshop in the former keeper's quarters.
Climb it: third Friday in April through Columbus Day
3 Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
3 Cape Hatteras LighthouseBuxtonSee on map
Moving farther south through the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, you'll come to Buxton, home of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. As the nation’s tallest and most recognizable lighthouse, it's commonly referred to as “America’s Lighthouse” and was completed in 1870. Climb its 257 stairs during the day or watch its light shine for 20 miles at night.
Climb it: third Friday in April through Columbus Day (please note: the lighthouse may not be open for climbing in 2022 due to ongoing restoration efforts)
4 Ocracoke Lighthouse
4 Ocracoke LighthouseOcracokeSee on map
To reach the oldest still-operating lighthouse in North Carolina, you can take a free ferry from Hatteras to Ocracoke Island. The whitewashed lighthouse is the nation’s second oldest still-active facility. Although you can't climb the stairs to the top, the view from the base alone is worth the trip. The village is steeped in history, only accessible by water or air and was once a safe haven for the infamous pirate Blackbeard.
5 Cape Lookout Lighthouse
5 Cape Lookout LighthouseHarkers IslandSee on map
The Cape Lookout Lighthouse is most recognized for its large black-and-white diamond design. Originally rejected by 19th-century mariners, the structure was later used as the model for future Outer Banks lighthouses. It's the southernmost lighthouse on the Crystal Coast along the Outer Banks and is only accessible by private boat or ferry. Though the lighthouse is undergoing extensive renovations through 2025 and is currently closed to climbers, you can still admire it from the base.
6 Oak Island Lighthouse
6 Oak Island LighthouseCaswell BeachSee on map
If you travel south of the Outer Banks to the Brunswick Islands beaches, you can cross onto Oak Island to see the Oak Island Lighthouse. With a light that can be seen for 16 miles, this lighthouse is one of the world’s most powerful. The area is open to the public, but it's best to call ahead to arrange your 131-step ascent up a series of ships ladders to the gallery level.
Climb it: all year on select days by appointment
7 Old Baldy Lighthouse
7 Old Baldy LighthouseBald Head IslandSee on map
North Carolina's southernmost lighthouse is visible from Oak Island. Return to the mainland and head to Southport where you can take the ferry to Bald Head Island. Similar to Ocracoke, Bald Head is only accessible by water or air. Old Baldy’s appearance is a result of decades of patchwork repair and its 200-plus years of existence. Climb to the top of its 108 steps to take in the view and explore the restored keeper’s cottage on the property.
Climb it: starting March 1