Outer Banks Lighthouses Guide 2023

By Molly Harrison | Thursday, April 13, 2023

If you love lighthouses, the Outer Banks is a great place to be. With five lighthouses in a 114-mile span, you can soak up a lot of maritime history, snap some spectacular photos and see some amazing views here. Not only is it exciting to visit each individual lighthouse, it’s also a great adventure to travel between the lighthouses, which would have you traversing almost the entire length of the long peninsula of Bodie Island and hopping over to Roanoke, Hatteras and Ocracoke islands as well. It’s possible to see all five lighthouses in one day, but I definitely recommend stretching that out into a two- or three-day stretch if you want to properly appreciate the villages around the lighthouses.

If you want to visit the Outer Banks lighthouses in 2023, here’s what you need to know. We'll start in the south on Ocracoke Island and move north to Corolla.

Photo: The 200-year-old Ocracoke Lighthouse. NPS photo

Ocracoke Lighthouse – 200th Anniversary

The 1823 Ocracoke Lighthouse and its surrounding buildings, which in all comprise the Ocracoke Light Station, are 200 years old this year! The 75-foot-tall, white-washed lighthouse, which still serves as an active aid to navigation, is not open to climbing, but it’s quite picturesque and a favorite place to visit and take photos on Ocracoke Island.

The 2-acre Light Station site includes the Double Keepers’ Quarters, oil house and other support structures and is a part of Cape Hatteras National Seashore (CHNS), which plans to celebrate the 200th anniversary with several special events starting on May 18.

On Thursday, May 18 from 1 to 2 p.m., the public is invited to Ocracoke Light Station for a special 200th anniversary event with speeches, activities, birthday cake and more. Outer Banks Forever, CHNS’s philanthropic partner, will livestream the event.

This spring and summer there will be educational programs about Ocracoke Light Station on-site and on social media. Click here to view the Ocracoke Light Station 200th anniversary information or sign up for text alerts by texting Ocracoke to 333111.

Photo: Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Wes Sawyer

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse – Closed to Climbing in 2023

The most well-known of the Outer Banks lighthouses, the 198-foot-tall Cape Hatteras Lighthouse with a black-and-white spiral design is the tallest brick lighthouse in the United States. It became internationally renowned in 1999 when Cape Hatteras National Seashore, which owns and manages the lighthouse, moved it 2,900 feet to save it from ocean erosion.

Approximately 500,000 typically people visit the Cape Hatteras Light Station, which includes keepers’ quarters, annually, and approximately 1,500 people climb the lighthouse daily between April and October. However, in 2023 Cape Hatteras Lighthouse will be closed to climbing.

“The lighthouse is located on a barrier island along the Atlantic coast and is exposed to salt air, high winds and intense sunlight,” Cape Hatteras National Seashore said in a press release. “Consequently, repairs are needed to maintain the integrity of this national treasure.”

The National Park Service has received funding for a major repair project that will include repairs to deteriorated masonry, metal components, windows, marble flooring and the lantern. Important architectural components, including missing pediments over the lighthouse windows and missing interior doors, will also be restored. Additionally, the project will include new paint coatings on the interior and exterior of the lighthouse. They’re going to install new railing and balustrade on the lantern balcony, replace the original First-Order Fresnel Lens with a replica that uses a modern LED source, rehabilitate the oil house, replace fencing with a replica of the original fencing, improve pedestrian circulation and wayfinding, improve the visitor entrance and walkways, add educational panels, add a new shade pavilion and more.

Outdoor areas near the lighthouse are open 24/7 so you can visit the site and take pictures. The visitors center and Museum of the Sea will be open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. starting sometime around the end of April. Current hours are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day except Tuesday. It's free to visit the museum and visitors center. For more information about this site click here.

Photo: Bodie Island Lighthouse

Bodie Island Lighthouse – Open for Climbing 

The 165-foot tall Bodie lsland Lighthouse, which is just north of Oregon Inlet near Nags Head, will be open for climbing this year, starting on Wednesday, April 26 and ending on October 9. Climbing the 200 steps to the top gives you a wonderful view of the surrounding barrier island landscape, Atlantic Ocean and Pamlico Sound.

Getting tickets to climb this lighthouse can be challenging, especially in season, but once you score them online, you will not have to wait in line to climb. Tickets for self-guided climbing go on sale at 7 a.m. and may only be purchased on the day of your intended climb. Tickets are only available for purchase online; click here. Tickets tend to sell out quickly – and with Cape Hatteras Lighthouse closed this year, they will be even more competition for tickets. Be sure to create an account with recreation.gov well in advance and then jump online right at 7 a.m. to get your tickets. Tickets cost $10 for adults and $5 for senior citizens (62 or older), children age 11 and younger and the disabled. Climbing tickets are scheduled for Wednesday through Saturday with climbs scheduled every 20 minutes from 9 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. and 2:20 to 5:40 p.m. A maximum of eight tickets is sold for each of the 20-minute time slots. Once you have your tickets, you must be at the lighthouse five minutes prior to your tour time.

Note that climbers have to weigh less than 260 lbs. and must be at least 42” tall. Children younger than 12 have to climb with someone older than 16. There is no air conditioning in the lighthouse.

Full Moon tours at Bodie Island Lighthouse are amazing, but it’s unknown at this time whether Bodie Island Lighthouse will be open for Full Moon nighttime tours this year. If they are added to the schedule we will post that information here. Also keep a lookout here.

The Bodie Island Lighthouse visitors center and museum are fun to visit whether or not you climb the lighthouse, and there are walking trails and a boardwalk on the site.

Photo: Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, Wes Sawyer

Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse - Picturesque Part of a Manteo Tour

This little lighthouse on the Downtown Manteo waterfront is not one of the tall towers you think of when you think of Outer Banks lighthouses. The type of lighthouse, known as a screwpile lighthouse, is a replica of a lighthouse that was constructed in 1877 on the southern end of the Croatan Sound off Roanoke Island. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1955 and was lost in the sound when a private owner attempted to move it to private property. This replica was built on the Manteo waterfront in 2004. Similar to a small coastal cottage, the lighthouse is too small to climb but it is filled with educational exhibits on maritime history. You'll find it at 104 Fernando Street in Manteo, next to the Roanoke Island Maritime Museum, and it's open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. during the week and noon to 4:30 p.m. on weekends.

Photo: Currituck Beach Lighthouse

Currituck Beach Lighthouse – Open for Climbing

The 162-foot-tall red brick Currituck Beach Lighthouse, owned and managed by Outer Banks Conservationists, is definitely the easiest lighthouse to climb. Just show up, pay and climb 220 steps to the top for a panoramic view of Currituck Sound, the Atlantic Ocean and the northern Outer Banks. In the summer season, you’ll probably have to wait in a long line to climb, so try to get there in the spring or fall if you can.

The 1875 tower is open to climbing on March 18 and will be open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through November 30. Also on the grounds are a Double Keepers’ Quarters (not open to the public) and a smaller Keeper’s dwelling which is open as a museum shop. Inside the lighthouse are panels and exhibits that inform visitors about the lives of the lighthouse keepers and the history of the tower and its First Order Fresnel Lens.

Tickets to climb are $12 per person, and you pay at the tower by cash, check or card. Season passes can be purchased online. You are required to sign a liability waiver. Children ages 4 and older are welcome to climb, but keep in mind that it’s 220 steps to the top. Children ages 0 to 3 can go up but must be secured to an adult in a backpack.

The station is open thanks to the Outer Banks Conservationists, who own the tower through the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act and collaboration with the Department of the Interior, the State of North Carolina and the United States Coast Guard to maintain the site and its historic accuracy. For more information, click here.

About the Author Molly Harrison
Molly Harrison is managing editor at OneBoat, publisher of OuterBanksThisWeek.com. She moved to Nags Head in 1994 and since then has made her living writing articles and creating publications about the people, places and culture of the Outer Banks.