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Cape Lookout Lighthouse and National Seashore

1800 Island Road

Business Description

Cape Lookout Lighthouse was named Best National Park Beach in 2016 by readers of USA Today and 10Best!

Note: The Cape Lookout Ligthouse is closed for climbing this year. During a pre-season safety inspection in February 2021, engineers discovered serious concerns with some structural elements. Due to these concerns, the lighthouse will not be open this year. To address these issues and other needed repairs, Cape Lookout Lighthouse is scheduled to begin a major renovation beginning the fall/winter of 2021. We expect the renovation to take two years to complete.

The Cape Lookout Lighthouse is located on the southernmost portion of the Cape Lookout National Seashore, one of several islands in a string of barrier islands that stretch over 56 miles, from the Ocracoke Inlet to the Beaufort Inlet. This uninhabited and unspoiled area is home to a variety of wildlife, birds and sea creatures.

The Cape Lookout Lighthouse, also known as “Our Diamond Lady,” has been a beacon on the shores of Cape Lookout for more than 200 years. Her diamond pattern creates an optical illusion of sorts that has aided sailors and ships from meeting their fate due to unsuspected hazards in the waters that surround the island.

Cape Lookout Lighthouse on North Carolina's Crystal Coast

Things to Do at Cape Lookout

On your ferry ride to Cape Lookout, watch for a chance to see the wild Banker Horses roaming as you pass by the beautiful barrier island known as Shackleford Banks.

The beautiful remote beaches of Cape Lookout are ideal for relaxing and taking in all the scenic beauty of the surrounding area. Go shelling, fishing, birding or even camping.

A climb to the top of Cape Lookout Lighthouse offers one of the most spectacular views of the southern Outer Banks you won’t soon forget. There are 207 steps leading up to the galley of Cape Lookout Lighthouse, equivalent to climbing a 12-story building. The Cape Lookout Lighthouse is open for climbing from the second week in May to the third weekend in September.

The island is also home to the Cape Lookout National Seashore Visitors Center which offers maps, exhibits and lots of important area information to make sure that your time on the island is filled with plenty of fun adventures.

View from Top of Cape Lookout Lighthouse on North Carolina's Crystal Coast
Wild Banker Horses on Shackleford Banks near Cape Lookout

Getting to Cape Lookout

Just getting to the beautiful remote beaches of Cape Lookout National Seashore is an adventure of its own. Your journey starts with about an hour drive from Emerald Isle to the waterfront on Harker’s Island.

Cape Lookout is one of the few remaining lighthouses that are only accessible by boat, so the second phase of your journey is a three-mile ride offshore on a passenger ferry where you’ll be offboarded on the beaches near the lighthouse. Authorized passenger ferries are available from the waterfronts of Beaufort and Harker’s Island.

Passenger Ferry Departures

Island Express Ferry Service (Harkers Island, NC)
1800 Island Road
Harkers Island, NC 28531
(252) 728-7433
Reservations: Online or by phone. Walk-ons welcome.

Island Express Ferry Service (Beaufort, NC)
600 Front Street
Beaufort, NC 28516
(252) 728-7433
Reservations: Online or by phone.

Passenger ferries typically operate from April through November but may choose to operate throughout the year.

Visitor Tips

  • Bring bug repellent as the islands maritime areas are often buggy during the humid summer season.
  • Good shoes and comfortable clothing are a must. Be prepared to get sandy and wet.
  • Use plenty of sunscreen and bring a hat for shade.
  • Bring drinks and snacks with you or pack a picnic lunch to enjoy on the island.
  • Carry a trash bag with you to pick up any wrappers or containers you bring with you.
  • Contact the Emerald Isle Realty Activities Department at (866) 626-5220 or Activities@EIRealty.com for more information.

Frequently Asked Questions

How tall is Cape Lookout Lighthouse?

Cape Lookout Lighthouse stands 163 feet tall and emits a flash every 15 seconds.

How many steps does it take to get to the top of the Cape Lookout Lighthouse?

There are 207 narrow steps to climb all the way to the top of the Cape Lookout Lighthouse, which is like climbing a 12-story building.

Why is the Cape Lookout Lighthouse painted with a diamond pattern?

The diamond pattern on the Cape Lookout Lighthouse creates somewhat of an optical illusion. When sailors see white diamonds on a black background, they know they are oriented in an east/west direction. And when there are black diamonds on a white background, they are oriented in a north/south direction.