• Nags Head, North Carolina to Ocracoke Island: A Lighthouse Road Trip

      165 miles - About 8 hours

      The Outer Banks, a 200-mile string of narrow barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina, is a place rich in American naval and aviation history and home to some of the world's greatest art collections, it's also a place where the slower pace is conducive to moseying and viewing the many historic lighthouse that line the sandy shores. There is only one main road, and a ferry ride is required to reach Okracoke, the southernmost island. Visiting the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is an especially moving experience. Saved from a changing shoreline by engineering wizardry, it now stands over half a mile inland from its original position.

      Here are some attractions to look for along the way.

      Nags Head, North Carolina (Starting point)
      Nags Head is the largest town on the Outer Banks and home to a variety of tourist services and attractions. From Nags Head, drive south on Route 12.

      Bodie Island Lighthouse (mile 9)
      Bodie Island Lighthouse isn’t really on an island anymore. The north channel closed years ago, so you can drive out to it without crossing a bridge. There is a visitors center, but the lighthouse itself is not open to the public. Between Bodie Island and Cape Hatteras, the shipwreck of the Laura Barnes is worth a visit. The Laura Barnes was a four-masted schooner from Maine that sank in 1921. Take a nice walk on the beach to see the timbers of her hull that remain partly buried in the sand.

      Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (mile 52)
      Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest brick lighthouse in the United State, and it is not where it used to be. The shoreline has receded, so the whole structure -- all 208 feet of it -- had to be moved 2,900 feet inland to save it from destruction. More photos can be seen in this field report by Rod Ness.

      Ocracoke Ferry Dock (mile 65)
      The Hatteras to Ocracoke ferry will transport you and your vehicle across the strait to Okracoke Island in less than an hour.

      Ocracoke Lighthouse (mile 89)
      Ocracoke Lighthouse is the farthest south of the three lighthouses on this route. It isn’t open to the public, but it is a very neat conical tower surrounded by live oaks. You might have seen some of the legendary wild ponies of Ocracoke on your way down the island.Tradition holds that the “Banker” horses were left on the island by shipwrecked explorers in the 16th and 17th centuries. Stop on the way back and watch them from the National Park Service viewing platform, which is located on the sound side of Route 12 between Ocracoke Village and the Cape Hatteras Ferry. Then, head north again back to Nags Head and the mainland.

      Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and the Outer Banks
      stretching toward the horizon
      Photo courtesy of iStockPhoto.com © William Britten

      Click here for more photos of this route by Harry Kline

      Comments 1 Comment
      1. wahmobx's Avatar
        wahmobx -
        Absolutely a gorgeous drive! I have done it several times. Just a reminder to always check the ferry schedule before leaving :)