All eyes are on the east coast today as Hurricane Florence bears down on Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. This blog post is in honor of, or should I say, in DEFIANCE of Hurricane Florence. Yes, she succeeded in running us off of Hatteras Island, but not before we had the opportunity to do what we came to do! And that was to visit the four lighthouses scattered across the chain of barrier islands that make up the Outer Banks (OBX) of North Carolina.
Listed from north to south, they are;
- Currituck Beach Lighthouse
- Bodie Island Lighthouse
- Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
- Ocracoke Lighthouse
THE OUTER BANKS
The Outer Banks, aka the OBX, is a 200 mile-long chain of islands. Looking at a map, it is the strip of land hanging out there in the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of North Carolina.
There are two ways on and off the strip of islands. One bridge at the northern end (Highway 158) and one bridge at the southern end (Highway 64).
The islands or Outer Banks are bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and these three sounds to the west: the Currituck Sound to the north, the Albemarle Sound in the middle, and the Pamlico Sound to the south.
WRIGHT BROTHERS MEMORIAL
The 'Claim to Fame' of the Outer Banks and what most people are familiar with is the Wright Brothers National Memorial.
This is the location where brothers, Wilbur and Orville Wright, made the first powered airplane flight on December 17, 1903. Most people associate the memorial with the town of Kitty Hawk, as this was the nearest settlement when the Wright Brother’s made their famous flight. In actuality, this famous monument is located in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina – about four miles south of Kitty Hawk.
The Outer Banks was chosen by the brothers due to the excellent wind currents conducive to flying. In fact, even today, this is a premier locale for hang gliding and enthusiasts of the sport flock to this location.
The memorial consists of bronze sculptures of the first airplane and those in attendance that day, a massive granite monument at the top of Kill Devil Hill, and a visitor’s center. The Visitor’s Center has been undergoing a massive two-year renovation and was due to reopen on September 29th but with the imminent hurricane, that date is likely to be postponed. (I’m looking at YOU, Florence!) Contact Info: 1000 N. Croatan Highway, Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948 / 252 441-7430 / www.nps.gov/wrbr/index.htm
But it was the LIGHTHOUSES that drew us to this remote section of the USA. These four lighthouses average forty miles between one another and are still used as navigational aids to mariners today. During the 1800’s there were more vessels lost along these barrier islands than on any other part of the coast. The area came to be known as 'the Graveyard of the Atlantic' due to offshore currents – the Gulf Stream and the Virginia Drift – colliding in this area and forcing ships heading south into a 12 mile-long sandbar called Diamond Shoals. This creates treacherous conditions for southbound ships and the need for the lighthouses.
CURRITUCK BEACH LIGHTHOUSE
The Currituck Beach Lighthouse is a towering 162 feet tall and composed of nearly 1 million unpainted red bricks. It was built in 1875 and houses a Fresnel lens. You can climb to the top of the lighthouse for a fee of around $10. Just remember, there are 220 steps to the balcony and there is NO air conditioning. The climb can be hot, humid, dimly lit and NOISY – depending on how many others are also climbing to the top. But the reward is a gorgeous view of the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Currituck Sound to the west.
There are also a few exhibits pertaining to lighthouses on the main floor and the first two landings which require no fee. And don’t miss the excellent little gift shop just across the lawn, chock-full of all sorts of nautical and maritime-inspired souvenirs. Contact Info: 1101 Corolla Village Rd., Corolla, NC 27927 / 252 453-4939 / www.currituckbeachlight.com
NC FRESNEL LENS: A lens designed specifically for lighthouses that are lighter and thinner than other lenses. They use refraction and reflection to create strong beams that are visible over greater distances.
BODIE ISLAND LIGHTHOUSE
The Bodie Island Lighthouse (pronounced BAW-dy) is 156 feet tall and a stunning black and white stripe that can be seen from great distances as you are driving along Highway 12 in the lower part of the Outer Banks.
The first version was built in 1847 but due to poor construction (it leaned – YIKES!) was replaced in 1859.
This second version was blown up by Confederate troops in 1861 to prevent it from being used by Union forces.
The final version was built in 1872 and the nearby keeper’s quarters soon after. A beauty on the landscape. You can climb to the top of the lighthouse for around $8. There are 200 steps from the ground to the balcony which is like climbing a 10-story building. Only 8 visitors are allowed to climb at a time, so you may have to wait in line outside for your turn. Again, the reward are the incredible views of the Atlantic Ocean and well worth the effort.
The old keeper’s quarters now houses the Visitor’s Center for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore– a great place to view a few exhibits or pick up a lighthouse souvenir. There is also a pleasant boardwalk on property that leads through a marsh and up an incline to a gazebo with nice views and especially welcomed ocean breezes. Contact Info: 8210 Bodie Island Lighthouse Rd., Nags Head, NC 27959 / 252 441-5711 / www.nps.gov/caha/planourvisit/bils.htm
CAPE HATTERAS LIGHTHOUSE
The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is my favorite lighthouse that I have ever visited. I LOVE the black and white swirl and it’s not just for aesthetics – the unique colors actually serve a purpose!
The four lighthouses are colored differently so that, at a glance, seafaring vessels can orient themselves as to their position along the coastline. And this beauty is 198 feet tall making it the tallest brick lighthouse in North America.
The original Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was built in 1803 and was only 90 feet tall. It was not effective due to its size and in 1853 another 60 feet was added. It eventually came into disrepair and in 1870 a third lighthouse was built and received its famous black and white swirling coat of paint.
The beach began to erode under this third version and over the years, after several attempts to remedy the problem, the lighthouse was finally moved to its current location in 1999. Today it towers 1,500 feet from the shoreline continuing to protect ships from this hazardous section of the Atlantic.
Like the others, for around $8 you can climb to the top of this lighthouse. This one requires 257 steps to the balcony – similar to a 12 story building. Thirty visitors are allowed to climb at a time, so in busy summer months, there may be a bit of a wait. Contact Info: 46379 Lighthouse Rd., Buxton, NC 27920 / 252 995-4474 / www.nps.gov/caha/planyourvisit/chls.htm
The fourth lighthouse – Ocracoke Lighthouse – is on Ocracoke Island and is accessible only by ferry. The free ferry can be reached at the extreme southern end of Hatteras Island – just follow Highway 12 until you have to decide whether to go to the beach or to the ferry … and you’re there.
A bit about the ferry …. during the busy summer (May to October), the ferry runs approximately every thirty minutes, from around five in the morning until midnight.
On weekends, and when kids are out of school, I suggest arriving first thing in the morning to avoid a long wait. At prime time in the summer months you could face a wait of an hour or more! It takes about an hour to cross and the ferry holds twenty to thirty cars. Once the ferry is in motion you can either stay in your car, get out and stand by the railing, or sit in a small air-conditioned passenger lounge.
Once you arrive at Ocracoke, simply drive off the ferry and follow the one and only road into town where you can easily follow signs to the lighthouse. The Ocracoke Lighthouse is a bit of a letdown after seeing the first three – but if you’re going to see them all – you have to see this one too. Plus, riding over on the ferry is a fun adventure.
The Ocracoke Lighthouse was built in 1823 and is the 2nd oldest original working lighthouse in the country. It is only 75 feet tall but tall enough to perform its duties of warning vessels to the dangers surrounding the inlet.
It is short and squatty, don’t you agree? But, like the others, it’s solid white exterior serves as a distinguishing visual to orient mariners to their location. This lighthouse is not open to climb but a short pathway leads to the entrance where you can take a peek inside. Contact Info: Lighthouse Road, Ocracoke Island, NC / 866 611-5448 / www.nps.gov/caha/planyourvisit/ols.htm
So there you have it … the four lighthouses of the Outer Banks. Aren’t they magnificent? May they continue to stand watch over the seas, sending a silent signal to warn those venturing too close to the land and helping to orient and guide the ships in a safe direction – even in the face of Hurricane Florence, bearing down on their domain as I write this. YIKES!
Where we camped while in the area:
We stayed in two RV parks while visiting the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
We stayed for two weeks in the northern part of the island chain at OBX Campground in Kill Devil Hills, NC. This lovely park sits on the Albemarle Sound just a few miles off of the main thoroughfare – Highway 158. The sites are probably the largest we have ever had – each would easily make three or four at most other parks.
The sites are all back in with gravel pads and green grass surrounding everything. There is no swimming pool but the dock is a pleasant place to sit and watch the paddle boarders, kayakers and jet skiers cavorting in the sound. A wonderful place to stay for a while.
Our next two weeks we planned on spending in the southern part of the Outer Banks at Camp Hatteras in Waves, NC. We LOVE this park and it has made our list of all-time FAVORITE parks. The park is on both sides of two-lane Highway 12 that runs the length of the lower part of the island chain.
The east side is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the west side by the Pamlico Sound. Both are only a few steps from your campsite! The park has a terrific pool and hot tub, playground and outstanding fenced dog park. The bad news? Our stay was cut short by a week due to Hurricane Florence. The good news? The park sustained no damage and is already back up and running. Don’t miss this excellent stop when visiting the Outer Banks – we can’t wait to return!
Have you ever visited any of the Outer Banks lighthouses? Which one is your favorite? Share your lighthouse experiences with us in the comments below!
And be sure to check us out at www.meandmrjones.net – we would LOVE for you to “keep up with us”!