Long before GPS navigation and even mass produced printed maps, lighthouses were invaluable in warning approaching ships of dangerous shoals, hidden rocks and changing tides. Lighthouse keepers also helped to guide cargo and supply ships in and out of port entrances.
Now as most of the nation’s lighthouses are no longer used for navigation purposes, there is still a great sense of romance and mystery surrounding them, and they have garnered quite the following of people who are interested in restoring and preserving both the physical structure and its rich history.
Kill Devil Hills
The Outer Bank’s oldest township established in 1953, Kill Devil Hills is the site of the Wright Brother’s first flight in 1903. Located on one of North Carolina’s barrier islands, there are plenty of outdoor water activities along with sandy beaches to stroll, bike paths to explore and fresh seafood to enjoy.
Wright Brothers Memorial
Celebrating the Wright Brothers achievements in air travel, the monument stands on the actual hill of that first flight back in the early 1900s. A short stroll down the hill is the Museum complete with photos, exhibits and a replica of the plane that the Wright Brothers flew that memorable day.
Currituck Beach Lighthouse
Towering about the Outer Banks village of Corolla, the Currituck Lighthouse can be seen for over 18 nautical miles. This lighthouse is still functional and runs on an automatic schedule, turning on at dusk and off at sunrise. This is the last major brick lighthouse built on the Outer Banks using over one million bricks in its construction.
Constructed in 1823, this is the oldest operating lighthouse left on the East coast. With a range of over 14 miles and its distinctive solid white tower, it continues to help guide ships into Silver Lake, the harbor surrounding Ocracoke Village.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
One of the most famous lighthouses in the world, the Cape Hatteras Light Station complete with seven historic structures was moved in 1999 almost 3,000 feet from where it was originally constructed in 1870. The move was facilitated due to years of turbulent seas and major erosion. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States, standing over 200 feet in the air and has a visible beacon of more than 20 miles. Once again open for visitors, its distinctive black and white spiral is one of the most photographed lighthouses in the America.
Cape Lookout Lighthouse
The initial Cape Lookout Lighthouse was constructed in 1812 but it was too short and another lighthouse was built next to it in 1859. The National Parks and Recreation Association took control of the lighthouse in the early 2000s and is still operational, sending out a white beacon every 15 seconds reaching 19 miles out to sea. The Cape Lookout Lighthouse is one of the few lighthouses that have had two female keepers during its 200 year history.
Bald Head Island Lighthouse
Built in 1817, this is the oldest standing lighthouse in North Carolina. Closed in 1866, it was pressed into commission once again several years later until 1935 when it was deactivated for good. Climbing to the top of “Old Baldy” is permitted and you can also explore a replica of the keeper’s quarters displaying historical maritime artifacts, tour the Smith Island Museum and purchase lighthouse memorabilia from the on-site gift shop.
Beaufort, North Carolina
The third oldest town created in North Carolina, Beaufort was named America’s Coolest Small Town” by Budget Travel Magazine in 2012. Home to the North Carolina Maritime Museum which houses the Queen Anne Revenge artifacts from Blackbeard’s ship that sank off the Beaufort Inlet in 1718, along with the Duke University Marine Laboratory and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Researches, there is also plenty of shopping and dining opportunities coupled with water fun like surfing and kayaking.
Jockey’s Ridge State Park
Located in Nag’s Head, Jockey’s Ridge is the tallest natural sand dune system in the Eastern United States. The 384 foot boardwalk takes you all the way to the top of Jockey’s Ridge and has informative plaques along the way describing the plant and animal life found in and around the dunes. The park also offers sand-boarding, hang gliding, personal kite flying, water sports and self guiding hiking trails.
Cedar Island Ferry
Take a relaxing two and a half hour ferry ride in and around the Outer Banks including a stop on Cedar Island, a small fishing village known for its fresh seafood and wild horses. The 22 mile journey gives you plenty of opportunity to enjoy the beautiful scenery and smell the fresh salt air.