Places to visit on one tank of gas: Lighthouses near Wilmington

They have helped ships navigate the treacherous waters off the North Carolina coast for centuries and even though GPS and other modern navigational aids now play a more crucial role in marine life, these famous lighthouses still serve as iconic symbols of America’s past.

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Tours of Oak Island Lighthouse are offered year round. (Photo courtesy D.T. Raleigh)
Tours of Oak Island Lighthouse are offered year round. (Photo courtesy of D.T. Raleigh)

Editor’s note: No need for a plane ticket. Put that passport away. This story is part of a series that features regional attractions outside of the Wilmington area that can be driven to with less than one tank of gas. Buckle up and hit the road.

Oak Island Lighthouse
From Wilmington:
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The Oak Island Lighthouse, constructed in 1957, is located at the mouth of the Cape Fear River to help ships navigate Frying Pan Shoals. It can be seen over 16 miles away. It features four 2.5 million candlepower aerobeacon lenses which produce four, one-second bursts of light every 10 seconds. In February 2002, it became a news item when the adjoining United States Coast Guard (USCG) Station caught fire, and while the station burned to the ground, the lighthouse suffered no damage.
Tour information: Tours to the second level, which are 12 steps up to a solid concrete floor, are only offered during the summer months on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m.- 2 p.m. No reservations required. Visitors must be at least 7 years old to climb to the second level due to government requirements. Tours to the top, which are up 131 steps to an outside balcony, are offered year round in the mornings with at least two weeks advanced notice for a reservation and four weeks notice in June, July and August. Click here for more information.

Old Baldy Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse still standing in North Carolina. (Photo courtesy Jim Dollar)
Old Baldy is the oldest lighthouse still standing in North Carolina. (Photo courtesy of Jim Dollar)

Old Baldy Lighthouse
From Wilmington:
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Bald Head Lighthouse, constructed in 1817, and known as Old Baldy, is the oldest lighthouse still standing in North Carolina. It is the second of three lighthouses that have been built on Bald Head Island since the 18th century to help guide ships past the dangerous shoals at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. The octagonal brick tower is coated with stucco and stands 110 feet high, the exterior was originally whitewashed, and it was equipped with an array of 15 lamps and reflectors.
Tour information: The lighthouse will be closed for repairs until May 1, 2017. Bald Head Island is accessible only by ferry or private boat. No cars are allowed on the island. Old Baldy is a five-minute walk from the ferry landing. Head inside the Keeper’s Cottage to purchase tickets for self-guided tours of the museum and North Carolina’s oldest lighthouse. Admission is $6 for adults 13 and up and $3 for youth ages 3 to 12. Under 3 is free. Click here for more information.

Cape Lookout Lighthouse flashes every 15 seconds. (Photo courtesy Jim Dollar)
Cape Lookout Lighthouse flashes every 15 seconds. (Photo courtesy of Jim Dollar)

Cape Lookout Lighthouse
From Wilmington:
Click here for driving directions
The Cape Lookout Lighthouse, constructed in 1859, is a 163-foot high lighthouse located on the Southern Outer Banks of North Carolina. It flashes every 15 seconds and is visible at least 12 miles out to sea and up to 19 miles. On May 20, 1861, North Carolina joined the Confederacy and all of the lenses were removed from the coastal lighthouses and navigational beacons to prevent Union forces from using the lights to navigate the coast. In 1873, the lighthouse was painted in its distinctive black and white diagonal checkerboard, or diamond, pattern.
Tour information: Open for climbing from the third week in May to the third weekend in September. Self-guiding tours of up to 10 people will begin every 15 minutes during the hours of operation. Tours are only available from Tuesday through Saturday and admission ranges from $4 for youth to $8 for adults. Click here for more information.

Roanoke River Lighthouse was originally located on screw-pilings in the Albemarle Sound. (Photo courtesy VisitDenton.com)
Roanoke River Lighthouse was originally located in the Albemarle Sound. (Photo courtesy of VisitDenton.com)

1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse
From Wilmington:
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The Roanoke River Lighthouse, which was in commission from 1887 until 1941, sits in its permanent location overlooking Edenton Bay. The lighthouse was originally located on screw-pilings in the Albemarle Sound marking the entrance to the Roanoke River near Plymouth. The lighthouse is believed to be the last extant example in the United States of a square frame building built for a screw-pile base. Each piling was literally screwed into the river or sound bottom so they would not pull out in heavy storms.
Tour information: The lighthouse is open daily from 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Admission is $3.50 for adults, $1.75 for youth ages 3-12, and free for children 2 and under but must be accompanied by an adult). To schedule a group tour or an event at the lighthouse, contact Historic Edenton State Historic Site by email. Click here for more information.

For more information or to have your recent trip highlighted in our new travel section, please email travel editor Aaron Gray at aaron@localvoicemedia.com

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