Currituck Beach Lighthouse, Outer Banks of North Carolina
The reasons to visit the Outer Banks of North Carolina are almost endless. Miles and miles of pristine, unspoiled beaches beckon. At the Wright Brothers National Memorial visitors can climb the flanks of the region’s highest sand dune and stand on the same spot from which Orville and Wilbur made their historic first flights. And the country’s longest running outdoor drama, “The Lost Colony,” is conducted in the town of Manteo each summer. But perhaps the most popular activity on the Outer Banks centers around its lighthouses, because the Outer Banks may be the only place in the world where visitors can see five lighthouses in a single day.
The Currituck Beach Lighthouse, located on the northern Outer Banks, is the only one of the five that has an unpainted exterior, exposing the estimated million red bricks that were used to laboriously construct the tower. Built in 1875, this 158-foot high lighthouse filled the last remaining unlit portion of the North Carolina coast between Bodie Island and Cape Henry, Virginia. Today visitors can climb the 214 steps to the top between Easter and Thanksgiving.
Original Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, Outer Banks
Across the Causeway bridge in the town of Manteo is the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, the Outer Banks’ newest lighthouse. Originally a screw-pile design that perched over the water on the southern end of the Croatan Sound near the fishing village of Wanchese (historic photo at left and current photo below courtesy of Town of Manteo), the light was decommissioned in 1955 and subsequently lost during an attempt to move the structure to shore. In 2004, the Town of Manteo reconstructed the cottage on its waterfront, where it now contains exhibits about maritime history.
Reconstructed Roanoke Mashes Lighthouse in Manteo, Outer Banks of North Carolina
Bodie Island Lighthouse, Pea Island, Outer Banks of North Carolina
Back across the Causeway bridge and south on US Rt. 12 lies the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. A few miles into the park land is the entrance to Bodie Island Lighthouse. Locals always know when someone is a visitor by the way they pronounce the name of this lighthouse. Inevitably, visitors will say “BO-dee” but the correct pronunciation is “BAH-dee.” Although this lighthouse is not open for climbing, the old lightkeeper’s cottage is a museum that contains samples of old fresnel lights and a fascinating collection of WWII photos that explains why the coast of North Carolina is known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Cape Hatteras National Park, Outer Banks of North Carolina
Crossing the Oregon Inlet Bridge, with its stunning view of the inlet between the Atlantic Ocean and the shallow inland Sound, brings visitors to Hatteras Island, the sleepier, more laid-back part of the Outer Banks. At the elbow of this boomerang-shaped strip of land stands the world’s tallest brick beacon, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, recognized the world over for its barber shop black swirl. Because storms had eroded much of the land that originally stood between this lighthouse and the sea, the structure was in danger of being swept away until it was moved half a mile inland in 1999. Even so, the view from the top is breathtaking, reinforcing the fragility of these barrier islands which in some areas are little more than a quarter mile wide.
Ocracoke Lighthouse, Outer Banks of North Carolina
At the southern tip of Hatteras Island the road ends and Rt. 12 becomes a ferry that carries passengers and vehicles to the tiny island of Ocracoke, where the final Outer Banks lighthouse is located. Smaller and squatter than its four companions, the Ocracoke Lighthouse is located in a modest local neighborhood. Investigate this quaint fishing village on foot or rent a bike, discovering eclectic shops scattered along unpaved sand lanes that wander past old cemeteries and fishermen’s back yards. At the end of the day, after ferreting out the nearly hidden lighthouse, the charming village of Ocracoke is an excellent choice for an overnight stay.
All five lighthouses on North Carolina’s Outer Banks still operate as aids to navigation. Their beacons come on automatically every evening at dusk and cease at dawn.
Photo Credits: Outer Banks Visitors Bureau and Barbara Weibel
Article by Barbara Weibel at Hole In The Donut Travels