June 25,  2008

Visiting the lighthouses of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore

The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is an icon among lighthouse lovers and maybe the most famous lighthouse in the United States. At 208 feet, it is the tallest lighthouse in the country. The lighthouse was moved a little more than a half mile to the southwest in 1999 to save it from the encroaching Atlantic Ocean.  Moved with it were the keeper’s quarters and the assistant keepers’ quarters.

The lighthouse is open to the public for climbing from the third Friday in April through Columbus Day weekend.

Climbing hours are 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily in the spring and fall, and 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. June 8, 2008 through Labor Day. Tickets are required.

The climb is strenuous. The 248 iron spiral stairs to the top equals climbing a 12-story building. The stairs have a handrail only on one side and a landing every 31 steps. There is no air conditioning. It may be noisy, humid, hot and dim inside the lighthouse, and there is two-way traffic on the narrow stairs.

Visitors with heart, respiratory or other medical conditions, or who have trouble climbing stairs, should use their own discretion as to whether to climb the tower.

Climbing tour tickets are $7 for adults and $3.50 for senior citizens (62 or older), children (12 and under, and at least 42 inches tall), and those holding a National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Access Pass. Tickets are available on a first come/first served basis and can only be purchased in-person at the site the day of the climb. There are no advance ticket sales.

Ticket sales begin at 8:15 a.m. Climbing tours will begin at 9 a.m. and will run every 10 minutes with a limit of 30 visitors per tour. Ticket sales close at 4:30 p.m. in the spring and fall, and 5:30 p.m. June 8, 2008 through Labor Day. Ticket holders should arrive at the lighthouse gate five minutes prior to their ticketed tour time.

The lighthouse may close at any time if weather conditions are unsafe.

The following safety rules apply:
  • Children must be at least 42” tall and capable of climbing all steps on their own
  • Children under 12 must be escorted by an adult.
  • No person may be lifted or carried
  • Running, jumping, or stomping on stairs and landings is prohibited
  • Do not eat, drink, smoke or chew tobacco
  • No pets, other than service animals
  • Do not arrive in heels over 1 1/2 inches high or in bare feet
  • Leave umbrellas in your car
  • Backpacks, tripods, coolers, beach bags, surfboards, fishing poles, etc. also need to be left in your car.
  • Throwing of objects, including Frisbees, boomerangs, etc, off the lighthouse is unsafe and may get you in big trouble!

The Visitor Center is open every day but Christmas. The hours are from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. from September until May and 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. in the summer.  Inside the Visitor Center are numerous displays and exhibits and a book store.

The public can also tour the former site of the lighthouse, which is marked by a circle of granite stones from the original foundation. There is a boardwalk to the beach at the old lighthouse site.

Also near the light station are a picnic area and a nature trail.  The 3/4-mile trail winds through the Buxton Woods maritime forest, including freshwater swales and marshes and ancient, wooded dunes.

For more information, call the Visitor Center at 252-995-4474

Bodie Island and Ocracoke Lighthouses

As a special treat for Outer Banks visitors this summer, the National Park Service has opened the bases of the Bodie Island Lighthouse and the Ocracoke Lighthouse for public viewing. The towers themselves, however, will not be open for climbing because of  structural constraints.  

Throughout most of the summer, viewing hours at the Bodie Island tower are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily.  June hours at the Ocracoke tower are Sundays, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Tuesdays, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., and Wednesdays, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.  Viewing hours may change from month to month.  Parking at the Ocracoke Lighthouse is extremely limited and visitors should consider walking or bicycling to the site.

A National Park Service ranger or volunteer will be stationed at the towers to greet visitors wishing to gaze up the spiraling staircases. Visitors can hear stories of the light stations’ past and learn about restoration projects.

The 156-foot Bodie Island Lighthouse, completed in 1872, is located a short distance south of Nags Head in an open and isolated setting next to a freshwater pond and a lightkeepers’ dwelling that currently serves as a seashore visitor center.  In contrast, the 77-foot tall Ocracoke Lighthouse was built in the heart of the old village of Ocracoke in 1823 on what is now known as Lighthouse Road.  The grounds of the adjacent keepers’ quarters are not open to the public since that structure serves as a private residence.  

Both lighthouses are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

For information about lighthouse visitation hours, contact the Bodie Island Visitor Center at 252-441-5711 and the Ocracoke Visitor Center 252-928-4531.

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