You can’t miss it. It’s that visible.
If you’re driving along NC Highway 12 between Nags Head and Cape Hatteras, you’re sure to spot the Bodie Island Lighthouse (pronounced “body,” with a short “o”).
“The Graveyard of the Atlantic.” That’s what Southern seafarers used to call the North Carolina Outer Banks. Before the advent of electronic navigation, countless ships ran aground during furious storms, crashed into hidden shoals, or sank in the Gulf Stream’s fierce, turbulent current.
Planning for your vacation sets the stage for getting the most out of your vacation, even if your plan is to be as lazy as you can be.
When my family vacations we tend to plan in two stages. The first stage is all about thinking ahead to: what will we need for the trip and what will we need when we get there. The second stage is all about what are we going to do when we get there (activities).
In these conditions, hundreds of ships have run aground — earning the area the nickname “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” To save mariners and their cargo, in 1794 Congress authorized construction of the lighthouse. At 210 feet high, it is the largest brick lighthouse in the country and the second largest in the world. Diamond Shoals runs 10 nautical miles to the sea, and the beam from the tower is visible for 18 miles, giving ship captains plenty of warning to steer clear of the shoals.
If Towers Could Talk
The original was replaced in 1871 with a new tower and a light that was designed for higher visibility at sea. If the tower could talk, it would have plenty of stories to tell. In 1879, it was struck by lightning, and the masonry had to be repaired with metal rods. From 1942 to 1945 the lighthouse was used as a lookout for German U-boats (submarines). In 1999, erosion threatened the tower, and the structure was moved 2,900 feet inland. The current lighthouse survived the 1944 Great Atlantic Hurricane, and hurricanes of Category 3 or more, including Hazel, Connie, Ione, Helene, Donna, Diana, Emily, Fran, and Floyd.
Climbing the Lighthouse
It’s easy to see why Outer Banks locals and visitors have such affection for the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. It has not only stood as a sentinel over the sea but over history as well. Today you can climb the lighthouse on your visit and enjoy the incredible views from the top. The climb is strenuous, so be prepared for a workout.
The lighthouse opens to the public the third Friday in April through Columbus Day, and is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tickets are $8 for adults and $4 for senior citizens, children, and the disabled. Climbs run every 10 minutes with a limit of 30 people per climb.
There are 257 steps, the equivalent of walking up the stairs of a 12-story building. It can be hot and humid, so it may not be the right activity for those with some medical conditions.
If you plan to climb, there are a few rules:
There’s something about a historic lighthouse that can transport you back in time in an instant. Two different kinds of historic lighthouses occur throughout the barrier islands, and maritime aficionados will enjoy visiting both of them.
The Outer Banks has three tall or “coastal” lighthouses that were built to warn passing ships about dangerous offshore shoals: Bodie Island lighthouse (built in 1872), Cape Hatteras lighthouse (built in 1869), and Currituck Beach lighthouse (built in 1875).
The two “harbor lights” lighthouses were built to help ships pass through to safe anchorage: Bald Head Island lighthouse, or “Old Baldy,” was built in 1797 and Ocracoke lighthouse was built in 1823. As you tour these lighthouses and take in the unique and rugged geography around them, you’ll get a real appreciation for why lighthouses are such a beloved part of North Carolina’s history.
Kayaking is a truly special way to experience the Outer Banks. Miles and miles of calm waters and pristine beaches invite you to explore. Guided kayak tours are available throughout the islands, and tour exertion levels can scale up or down to fit almost anyone’s ability. Before you begin your kayak tour, an experienced guide will show you how to safely and easily navigate your kayak, and will give you an overview of what you can expect to see.
Popular kayak tours include gliding past downtown Manteo and Ocracoke Village, birding and nature tours through quiet canals, taking in spectacular sunsets, and dolphin spotting. Kayak tour companies are spread throughout the Outer Banks, and the largest is Kitty Hawk Kites. Kitty Hawk Kites has a variety of popular tours, so it’s a good idea to call in advance to reserve your spot for their nature, sunset, or overnight pack trips.
One of the biggest draws to the Outer Banks is offshore fishing for large fish such as tuna, swordfish, and mahi-mahi. Charters accommodate groups of up to six people, so splitting expenses with two other couples or another family is a nice way to make this a cost-effective activity. Your charter captain will take you out to the Gulf Stream at dawn, an exhilarating experience in itself, and set you up with everything you need to land a good fish story — and a delicious dinner. Bring plenty of food, drinks, sunscreen, and motion sickness remedies. White, long-sleeved shirts, polarized sunglasses, and sun hats are also a good idea.
Standup paddleboarding is a relaxing way to experience the Outer Banks from the water. Paddleboarding is easy to learn and can be adapted for almost any fitness level. As one of the largest watersports outfitters, Kitty Hawk Kites rents paddleboards, provides lessons, and offers paddleboard tours of Kitty Hawk, Duck, and Manteo. You’ll receive about 15 minutes of simple instruction heading out behind your tour guide through the peaceful Sound waters. Paddleboarders frequently have close-up dolphin encounters, so just relax, paddle slowly, and enjoy the views.
Speaking of dolphins, Outer Banks dolphins have a reputation for being just as excited to see people as people are to see them. A daytime or sunset dolphin cruise is the best way to spot friendly Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins as well as seabirds, turtles, and other wildlife. Paradise Dolphin Cruises is a popular dolphin-spotting choice for Outer Banks visitors. Their large catamarans are comfortable, shaded, and handicapped accessible, and their captains have a solid reputation for finding as many dolphins as you care to see.
With the top down, the sun on your face and the wind in your hair — is there a better way to experience Nature’s beauty than from a classic safari Jeep? Jeep tours in the Outer Banks allow you to cover plenty of ground while keeping you connected with the sights and sounds of these special surroundings. Corolla Jeep Adventures offer several ways to experience the Outer Banks from a safari Jeep. You can even reserve a Jeep for a 25-mile off-road self-guided tour where you’ll see wild horses, historic villages, lighthouses, and much more.
Touring the Outer Banks by land or sea is the perfect way to get to know North Carolina’s barrier islands. Whether you take a leisurely self-guided tour or follow an experienced guide along local roads, trails, or canals, a tour of the Outer Banks will be an enriching experience you’ll never forget.
A Girl Time Escape to the Outer Banks
Whether it’s you and your daughters, multiple generations, or multiple families sharing a vacation property for the week, the Outer Banks is the perfect spot for the girls to relax and create memories together. Here are a few ideas to help you plan your special “girls-only” time.=&0=&=&1=&
First Time in the Outer Banks? Here Are the Top 10 Things You Must Do
If you are planning your first trip to the Outer Banks, you undoubtedly plan to spend some time on the beach soaking up the sun and enjoying the waves. But the Outer Banks has many other attractions and points of interest you will not want to miss, including fascinating historical sites, diverse wildlife, and delicious local cuisine. As you plan your trip, be sure to make room on your itinerary for these top 10 most popular attractions that hard-core OBXers recommend.=&0=&=&1=&
Must-Do Activities The Outer Banks Is Famous For
An Outer Banks vacation offers plenty of opportunities to take it easy as you explore the beach and settle into your relaxing rental home. As you soak in the gorgeous ocean vistas, you will also want to take advantage of the many activities the Outer Banks is famous for so you can create new memories with your family. Whether you crave historical exploration, a day of shopping, or some challenging outdoor adventures, the Outer Banks has something for everyone.=&0=&=&1=&
|That’s Our Kind of View!|
|Doing it like the original settlers!|
We have found one of our guests’ favorite vacation memories however is eating! Restaurants abound on the OBX, and what family vacation on the Outer Banks is complete without some tasty donuts from “Duck Donuts!”
|Sorry….there is only enough for the two of us!|
Finally, of course, most people come to the Outer Banks, and Corolla to enjoy the water. These kids are enjoying a nice dip in the best swimming pool there is – the Atlantic Ocean!
Thanks Teresa for sharing your photo memories. We look forward to serving you and your family again soon at Outer Banks Blue!All the best from the beach!By Tim Cafferty, President, Outer Banks Blue Realty Services
|Bodie Island Lighthouse|
Planning a Self-Guided Coastal Lighthouse Tour on the Outer Banks
Way back in colonial days, lighthouses were built to warn sailors of dangerous coastlines – whether it be rocky shores that would tear the hulls of ships or dangerous shoals (like those in the Outer Banks) that caused ships to run aground or wreck. Despite the use of global positioning systems (GPSs), many of these structures stand proud today and still give exceptional service to boat captains who appreciate their steady beams.Looking for things to do on the Outer Banks? With a wealth of history and beauty, touring these iconic symbols makes for an awesome day trip for you and/or your family. Depending on how much time you have and what your starting location is, you can plan the stops in logical sequence.
|Currituck Beach Lighthouse|
As the lighthouse positioned furthest north (in Corolla), this would be a good starting point if you want to make your way straight down the coast. Constructed from approximately one million bricks (that remain unpainted to distinguish this lighthouse), the Currituck Beach Light Station was originally built to warn mariners away from the sound. This coastal lighthouse has a beam that projects for approximately 18 nautical miles. With walls that are between three feet to five and a half feet thick, this landmark was built (like most lighthouses) to save lives. According to the Currituck Beach Light Station website, “As it had reported in previous years, the U.S. Light-House Board in 1872 stated that ships, cargoes, and lives continued to be lost along the 40 miles of dark coastline that lay beyond the reaches of existing lighthouses. Southbound ships sailing closer to shore to avoid the Gulf Stream were especially in danger. In response, construction began on the Currituck Beach Lighthouse in 1873 with completion two years later.”As you climb the 220 stairs, there are educational signposts that offer interesting facts about the property. There are also exhibits and a museum on site where you can buy books, souvenirs, clothing and more.
Traveling from the Currituck Beach Lighthouse along NC-12 South to US-158 East (for about 43 miles) will take you to another historic landmark with a rather rocky past.Funds for the original Bodie Island Lighthouse were appropriated in 1847, but complications with buying the land needed for the project caused construction delays until 1847. However, problems with an incompetent project overseer (Thomas Blount) resulted in a lighthouse that – after two years – began to lean. After numerous attempts at costly repairs with no success, the structure was abandoned in 1859.A second lighthouse was built in that same year. It, unfortunately, met its end when Confederate soldiers (fearing the 80-foot-tall beacon would be used by the Union) destroyed it in 1861. Perhaps the old saying, “The third time’s the charm,” is true, because a final structure, on a 15-acre site, was completed in 1872 and that lighthouse is the one that still stands today. The National Park Service reports, “The building now serves as a ranger office and visitor center for Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The most recent restoration of the lighthouse itself was completed in 2013. Still a functioning navigational aid, the tower is open for public tours.”
|Cape Hatteras Lighthouse|