Heading south down Hwy 12 through the outskirts of Nags Head, a windshield view of grassy marsh and rolling sand dunes is a pleasant surprise. It's about six miles into the Cape Hatteras National Seashore that the Bodie Island Lighthouse comes into view, just off to the right. The black and white stripes peak through the pines on Bodie Island Lighthouse Road. Then suddenly, you see it—all 156 feet of one of the Outer Banks’ most beautiful historic places.
After an interesting history that includes one bad foundation and one confederate bomb, the third lighthouse built to mark Oregon Inlet still stands today, completed in 1872. The lighthouse is now in the care of the National Park Service after more than a century of guiding ships.
Along with Ocracoke, Cape Hatteras, and Currituck Beach, the Bodie Island Lighthouse (pronounced "body") is a testament to the challenges of sailing past the Outer Banks, particularly in our nation's early history. In the 1800’s and early 1900's, the Outer Banks were a dangerous area for sailors who didn't have the advantages of modern navigation. North Carolina’s coast is notorious for the many shipwrecks that line the shore and the sea bottom; legacies of bad weather, world war and human error. The sailors’ need for help and guidance led to a lighthouse whose beam can be seen up to 19 miles offshore.
Becca Haque comes to the Outer Banks with her husband and two children every year. She enjoyed walking around the lighthouse and the dock with her younger son, Noah. The 42 inch height limit to climb the lighthouse had been out of older brother Adam’s reach last year, but this year, he got the chance to make it to the top.
“He’s so excited to finally get to climb,” Haque said. “He’s finally tall enough so he’s going up with my husband.”
The lighthouse and the island are a perfect place for families to sightsee. Even if you can’t climb to the top, a wooden walkway leads through the marsh and out to a dock that’s great for viewing the surrounding water and wildlife. The house on the property includes a gift shop and a ranger station where you can purchase tickets to climb. They also have information about other things you can do on the island.
Donny Osekre, a park ranger in his third year at Bodie Island, says that when the pace of a busy family vacation gets to be too much, the solitude of the lighthouse can be therapeutic. A former Washington, D.C. tour guide, what Osekre thinks about on the job are the caretakers that came before.
“The tower remains, and the house remains, but the people that were here are kind of nameless and faceless,” he said. “We have to remember their hard work and bravery, because they don’t get to have their names carved onto some statue like some of the people in D.C.”
It’s that history that Osekre sees visitors connect with. “They can really get a fuller picture of the area,” he said. “They can really start to see themselves in the past.”
At Bodie Island, you have the chance to climb the lighthouse at your own pace and take in the gorgeous natural surroundings of Bodie Island, the Atlantic Ocean, and Pamlico Sound. The Bodie Island Lighthouse is open from the third Friday in April through Columbus Day (in early October). Climbing hours are every 30 minutes, and start at 9:15 am daily. Tickets are required.
Climbing tickets are $8 for adults and $4 for senior citizens (62 or older), children 11 years of age and under, and the disabled. Climb 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 for regular climbs.
Ticket sales begin at 9 am, with climb times running every 30 minutes with a limit of eight visitors per climb. Ticket sales close at 4:30 pm. Ticket holders should arrive at the base of the lighthouse five minutes prior to their ticketed climb time.