Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest in the nation and famous symbol of North Carolina. The lighthouse site houses a visitors center that is open throughout the year and houses displays on the island's maritime history. The beacon from the light can be seen some 20-miles out to sea and has warned sailors for more than 100 years of the treacherous Diamond Shoals, the shallow sandbars which extend some 14 miles out into the ocean off Cape Hatteras.
It is said that the engineer who was originally assigned the task of painting North Carolina's lighthouses, got the plans mixed up and the diamond-shaped figures, suitable for warning traffic away from Diamond Shoals, went to Cape Lookout and the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse received the spiral striping, thereby forever gaining the nickname ''The Big Barber Pole.''
It was built with 1,250,000 bricks baked in kilns along the James River in Virginia and brought in scows into Cape Creek where it was hauled by oxen one mile to the building site in Buxton. Its walls at the base are 14 feet of solid masonry and narrow to eight feet at the top. Weighing 6,250 tons, the lighthouse was built with no pilings under it - just a foundation built of heart pine. Towering 196 feet from the base to the top brick and then topped with an iron superstructure it become the tallest brick lighthouse on the American coast at 208 feet and at a cost of $155,000.00.
In the summer of 1999, as the ever-encroaching waters of the Atlantic Ocean threaten this stalwart structure, the Cape Hatteras Light was moved from its original location!
The lighthouse is open to the public from early April until mid-October and visitors are welcome to climb the 268 steps for a spectacular view of the national seashore. Near the lighthouse, the frame buildings that served as quarters to the keepers of the light are still standing. One such building has been restored by the U. S. Park Service and has served as a visitor center and museum. It is open every day of the year except Christmas. Admission is nominal.
Not too far from the visitor center is a picnic area and a nature trail, winding through fresh water marshes and wooded dunes of Buxton Woods. In the summer months, the visitor center hosts an excellent program of activities ranging from history talks on storms and shipwrecks and pirates to discussions of the ecology, geology, and wildlife of the island. Participation programs such as snorkeling in the sound, bird walks, campfires and art activities for children are also offered.