Jen and I went on a roadtrip recently to the North Carolina coast. Our mission was to see all the lighthouses and climb as many as we possibly could. With a little research to prepare ourselves and a map with the locations of all seven lighthouses, we hit the road with four days to get to them all. If anyone is interested in doing this, here is the breakdown of our trip with the map of the entire route shown above.
Oak Island Lighthouse
The Oak Island lighthouse was first on our list. We found out that to climb it, you have to make reservations at least two weeks in advance. We left Raleigh around 7am on a Friday and arrived at the lighthouse a little before 10am. After signing a waver, the only lighthouse that we had to do this, we climbed the eight flights of navy steps to the top. The view of the Cape Fear River basin and the ocean was beautiful and you can actually spot the next lighthouse on the trip, Bald Head Island.
Oak Island cost = $0 (reservations required, donations accepted)
Getting to the car-free Bald Head Island requires riding a private ferry. It is not a car ferry like the NCDOT ones around the coast. The lighthouse is very close to the terminal on Bald Head Island so walking to it is easy. The lighthouse has a museum and with a small fee, you can climb the light to the top. It is quite a squeeze to get to the top but the views are worth it.
Bald Head cost = $15 per person ferry ride (roundtrip) + $5 museum/lighthouse entry
After seeing the lighthouse and taking our return ferry ride back to Southport, we drove onto the Southport/Fort Fisher ferry to get to Carolina Beach, where we were staying for the night.
Bonus: To see the Price Creek Light, look north along the marshes just as the ferry leaves from Southport. Here is some background information on this lighthouse.
Saturday started out with some more early morning driving. We had to get to Harker’s Island and hire one of the local ferries to take us out to Cape Lookout since you cannot drive to it. It took about three hours from Carolina Beach to get to Harker’s Island and we went to the Local Yokel. For a small fee, the boat drove us from the Island across Back Sound to where the lighthouse sits. The driver gave us about two hours to explore the island and see the lighthouse before he would return to pick us up.
Shackleford Ponies around Cape Lookout
Cape Lookout was my favorite spot on the trip. During the ride out there, we saw wild Shackleford horses that have survived here since a shipwreck that occurred nearby in the 1500’s. The islands were very natural and is one huge state park. The views from the top of the Lighthouse were spectacular and I will make it a point to visit again.
Cape Lookout cost = $15 per person ferry ride + $8 per person lighthouse climb fee
We returned to Harker’s Island around 2pm and were now delayed because of an overlooked detail.
TIP: Make reservations on ferries ahead of time.
Our next step was to take the two and half hour ferry ride from Cedar Island to Ocracoke but the 3:30pm trip was already full. We made reservations the same day for the 6pm trip and drove from Harker’s Island to the Cedar Island ferry terminal, which is less then an hour away. We killed time on the beach nearby and got on the ferry when it finally arrived later in the afternoon.
I think this delay actually turned out to be better because we were on the ferry during sunset which was a great experience.
We arrived in Ocracoke at night and headed to a campground where we battled with a tent and mosquitoes until finally falling asleep.
Sunday, 3 down, 4 to go. We woke up on Ocracoke and eager to get out of the not-so-great campground, Jen and I packed up our stuff and started driving. Since we arrived on the Island at night, we passed the Lighthouse and had to turn around to see it. The Ocracoke lighthouse is still in use and climbing this one is not allowed.
Ocracoke Lighthouse cost = free cause you can’t go in it.
After a few pictures and very brief history lessons from the signs, we drove to the last ferry of the trip at the other end of the island. The Ocracoke/Hatteras ferry is free and runs every hour almost the entire day. (5am to midnight when we went) It is also a lot shorter then the others and before 10am, we were heading toward the granddaddy of them all, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
The world’s tallest brick lighthouse, Cape Hatteras was a long but easy climb. The lighthouse is not in its original location and has been moved because of erosion. You can go to the original spot if you wish.
Cape Hatteras cost = $7 per person to climb
After lunch and plenty of time left in the day, we drove up towards Nag’s Head where the Bodie Island Lighthouse sits. When we reached it, we were disappointed to see that it was under renovation and no one was able to climb it. Still, the lighthouse sits on a beautiful area, Oregon Inlet and we spent a little time here and set up camp in the early afternoon at a state park.
Bodie Island under renovation
One more lighthouse to go. The Currituck Lighthouse sits near Corolla and we made the short drive towards it on Monday. However, we made a quick stop at the Wright Brothers Memorial and walked around the museum.
The Currituck lighthouse was very well maintained and looking around the lighthouse was free but you had to pay if you wanted to climb.
Currituck Lighthouse cost = $7 per person to climb
That’s it. All seven lighthouses were seen. You could actually do the trip in three days but we chose to take our time and enjoy our time off.
On the drive home we took the scenic route through Elizabeth City towards Edenton to spot the Roanoke River Lighthouse which was towed inland from its original spot. We found it easily but it was being renovated so we only stayed for a few minutes before heading home. Here is some additional information on the lighthouse.
Epic beach roadtrip, and I really enjoyed camping near the water which is a change of pace compared to staying in a house every time I visit the beach. Cape Lookout was my favorite stop and like I mentioned earlier, I’ll make a point to go back to that area sometime.