Cape Hatteras National Seashore | CAPE HATTERAS LIGHTHOUSE

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse


See the Lighthouses web page for an interactive location map.


CLIMBING CAPE HATTERAS LIGHTHOUSE

The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is open for climbing from mid-April through Columbus Day, 9 AM to 4:30 PM. There is a fee, and tickets are sold on a first come, first served basis at the ticket booth just outside the front door of the Hatteras Island Visitor Center. For the exact April opening date and the latest fees, be sure to check the National Park Service’s Lighthouse Climbs web page for Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

Groups are allowed up every ten minutes starting at 9 AM during the climbing season. Only 30 people are allowed up at a time, so you may have to wait a little while before you can go. I was there around 9:30 AM on a Monday in early June and had no wait at all. There are 257 steps to the top, but there is a landing every 31 steps and you can take as long as you need to make the climb. There is no limit as to how long you can stay inside the lighthouse, but for most people a half hour should suffice.

Full Moon Tours are conducted once a month from May through October at 10 PM. Tickets can be reserved starting at 10 AM three days prior to the tour at Recreation.gov. The schedule is given on the Lighthouse Climbs and Recreation.gov web pages. Fees are the same as for daytime climbs.

Visitors climbing the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse most abide by the following rules:

  • Each climber must be at least 42″ (107 cm) tall and capable of climbing all steps on his or her own.
  • Children 11 years of age or younger must be accompanied by an adult who is 16 years of age or older.
  • No person may be lifted or carried.
  • Running, jumping, or stomping on stairs and landings is prohibited.
  • Do not eat, drink (except water), smoke or chew tobacco.
  • No pets allowed.
  • Shoes required; no bare feet or heels over 1-½” (3.8 cm) high.
  • Leave umbrellas, backpacks, tripods, coolers, beach bags, surfboards, fishing poles, and the like in your car.
  • Throwing of any object off the lighthouse is unsafe and may get you in big trouble!
  • The lighthouse may close at any time if weather conditions are unsafe.

CAPE HATTERAS LIGHTHOUSE HISTORY

The lighthouse standing today is not the original lighthouse on Hatteras Island. The first was built in 1803 and was only 60 feet tall, and it was soon apparent that it was too short. It took 50 years for anything to be done about the problem, and in 1853 60 more feet were added to the top of the existing tower.

By the early 1860s, the lighthouse required constant repairs, so the government decided to build a new one. Construction began in 1868, and the new lighthouse began operating in December 1870. This is the lighthouse that stands today. It is the tallest brick lighthouse in North America, standing at a height of 199 feet.

The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse was decommissioned in 1935 because water had eroded so much of the beach that the tower was in jeopardy of being washed away. The light was moved to a temporary steel tower, which served as the island’s navigational aide until 1950. The abandoned brick tower and the lighthouse keepers’ quarters were transferred to the National Park Service in 1939. Oddly enough, by 1950 the beach had rebuilt itself and the Coast Guard reinstalled the light in the brick tower. Today the National Park Service maintains the tower and buildings, while the Coast Guard still operates and maintains the actual light.

By the 1970s, storms and tides had whittled away the beach, and the lighthouse was now just 50 yards from the water; when it was built, it was 500 yards away. A proposal to move the lighthouse was considered, with the plan being to dig out the foundation, stick a platform under it, and then roll it slowly along a track 2,900 feet (a little over half a mile) to a safer location over 4 to 6 weeks. As far fetched as the plan sounds, it was carried out in 1999 in only 23 days of actual move time, though only after more than a year of preparation. (A 50-minute documentary on the move is at the bottom of this page.)

Original location of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Original location of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (photographed from the new location at the top of the lighthouse)

In addition to the lighthouse, the Principal Lighthouse Keeper’s Quarters and the Assistant Lighthouse Keeper’s Double Quarters were moved. The Double Quarters now houses the Museum of the Sea. The Principal Keeper’s Quarters is not currently open to the public.

Double Keepers' Quarters (left) and Principal Keeper's Quarters (right)

Double Keepers’ Quarters (left) and Principal Keeper’s Quarters (right)

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Last updated on March 27, 2020
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