Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is one of the main symbols of its home state – North Carolina. As the name of this beacon implies, it can be can be found in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Helping to make it stand out along the coastline during the day are its height and its black and white spiral striping paint job. When night falls, its 1,000-watt, 250,000-candlepower lamps do all the attention calling. You can see them from approximately 20-miles away, if not more on clear nights.


The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse that you see today is not the original Cape Hatteras light. In 1797, Congress appropriated funds for the original version, which was completed in 1803. The purpose of the original light was to mark the dangerous shoals that can be found off the Cape Hatteras coast. The area was so dangerous that it eventually came to be known as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic." Over time, it was decided that a new lighthouse should be established at the site. Funds were once again appropriated by Congress, and the current tower was completed in 1870. At the time of completion, it was the highest brick lighthouse tower in the world. While it no longer holds this distinction, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is indeed the tallest lighthouse in the nation. From the bottom of its foundation to the very top of its tower, the beacon measures 210 feet.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Move

The shore near the site of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is prone to erosion. This eventually became a major concern. Attempts were made to stop the erosion, but they proved fruitless. The lighthouse was ultimately decommissioned, at which point the National Park Service assumed custody of the beacon. In 1950, the lighthouse was again found safe for use, however, so new lighting equipment was installed and things basically went back to normal. This didn’t mark the end of the erosion problems, however, and after years of study and debate over the topic, it was decided that the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse should be moved back from the ocean’s edge. In 1999 and 2000, it was laboriously relocated 2,900 feet from its former site. It now lies 1,500 feet inland. The National Park Service currently maintains both the lighthouse and the keepers’ quarters, while the Coast Guard controls and maintains the automated light.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Facts

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Facts
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Facts

As mentioned, this lighthouse on Cape Hatteras is the tallest in the United States. Those who climb to the top are rewarded with sweeping coastal views, though they have to do plenty of work before they earn their visual prize. No less than 248 iron spiral stairs must be conquered if you want to ascend to the tower’s upper reaches. That’s like climbing a 12-story building. No air conditioning means that the climbing can be especially difficult on summer days. Well over one million bricks were used to build the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, and it remains operational to this day. Other lighthouses in North Carolina that are also still operational include the Currituck Lighthouse, the Bodie Island Lighthouse, the Ocracoke Lighthouse, the Cape Lookout Lighthouse and the Oak Island Lighthouse. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is open from the third Friday in April through Columbus Day. In the spring and fall, the climbing hours are 9 am to 4:30 pm daily. The climbing hours change to 9 am to 5:30 pm for the Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day period. Climbing fees apply, and tickets can only be purchased in-person at the lighthouse site on the day of the intended climb. The tickets are first-come, first-served.

Latest Topics

More Forum Posts »