Southern Traveler
h Home h Features h Departments h Web Bonus h Media Info h Reader Resources h Archives h space

Bank on a Good Time

North Carolina’s Outer Banks offers history, lighthouses,
and wild horses to visitors.

In North Carolina’s Outer Banks, you’ll discover lighthouses, wild horses, history makers, and legends all wrapped up in a versatile landscape. Leading the way on this Outer Banks tour are the iconic lighthouses.


Above: A boardwalk through the marsh leads to Bodie Island Lighthouse. Finished in 1872, it’s the third lighthouse to stand on the same site. Sheree Nielsen

Below: Tour companies can take Outer Banks visitors out to the places where the wild horses live. Outer Banks Convention and Visitors Bureau


Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Bodie, Hatteras, and Ocracoke Island make up Cape Hatteras National Seashore that stretches for more than 70 miles. The scenery along state Route 12 is untouched. To the left, you’ll eye shifting dunes; to the right is Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, a safe harbor for migratory birds.

Constructed of brick, cast iron, and stone, Bodie Island Lighthouse is the third to stand on these grounds. Visitors up to the strenuous 200-stair climb can tackle the lighthouse that was finished in 1872.

Next on the tour is Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. This black-and-white-banded lighthouse with red base and granite corners has 269 steps from the ground to its lens. It stands 198 feet. It’s the second light station at this site and opened in 1870. The original 1803 lighthouse was torn down.

Due to beach erosion, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse had to be moved back more than 1,000 feet from the shoreline in 1999.

Visitors also can climb Hatteras’ light station. From mid-May through mid-September, Full Moon Tours are offered. Tickets are required to climb either Bodie or Hatteras lighthouses.

From Hatteras, travelers can take a ferry ride to Ocracoke Island to view another light station and the adorable “Banker” ponies. The small herd of horses has been under the care of the National Park Service since the 1960s. But shell fanciers will want to make their first stop on Ocracoke the beach access across from the pony pens. This pristine seashore brims with scallop shells and striped pebbles.

On the town’s outskirts is Ocracoke Lighthouse, standing 75 feet, with solid brick walls. Built in 1823, the white lighthouse is the second oldest in the United States. While not open to climbers, the lighthouse is active and can be visited. Its beacon can be seen for several miles at sea.

Currituck Beach Lighthouse

Visitors to Currituck Outer Banks will want to see the Currituck Beach Lighthouse in Corolla, N.C. The light station is owned and operated by a non-profit group, Outer Banks Conservationists, and stands at 162 feet.

“The original red-brick-and-mortar structure has 220 steps and functioning windows. The original oil source, lard, was used from 1875 to 1884 before converting to kerosene,” said Meghan Agresto, site manager, adding the light was electrified in 1937.

Like the others, there’s a cost to climb the Currituck light station, but there’s no height restrictions. Children 7 and younger can go up if accompanied by an adult. And bring cash or checks.

Wild Horses of Corolla

We signed up for a 4x4 tour with Corolla Outback Adventures to observe wild mustangs in their natural habitat. With Edna Baden as our guide, we motored two hours north from Corolla (pronounced Ca-ral-la) to False Cape State Park near the North Carolina-Virginia state line. Along the way, Baden shared the horses’ history.

“For a long time, people didn’t believe these creatures were descendants from wild Spanish colonial mustangs, dating back nearly 500 years,” Baden said. When the unforgiving sea and shoals trapped Spanish galleons, the mustangs swam ashore.

At one time, the horses roamed in Corolla and on the beach, but after Route 12 between Duck and Corolla was paved in 1985, development boomed, compromising the animals’ safety. According to the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, 20 horses were killed by vehicles from 1985–96 on that stretch of Route 12. So in 1997, the remaining horses were relocated to a fenced “sanctuary” north of Corolla.

Spotting a mustang, Baden stopped the truck for a photo opportunity of an auburn beauty with silky mane and white strip between her eyes.

“Never touch or feed the horses, and stay back 50 feet,” Baden advised.

We traversed beaches, dunes, and forests, observing about 16 mustangs. The Wild Horse Fund Museum in Corolla has more information on the mustangs’ story.

Manteo and the Lost Colony

Visitors to Roanoke Island and the town of Manteo, N.C., no doubt will hear about a historical mystery, the Lost Colony.

In 1587, John White and a band of colonists landed on Roanoke Island to establish a New World colony. White’s daughter, Eleanor, bore the first English child, Virginia Dare, while at the colony. Three years later, when White returned after a trip back to England to resupply his camp, no evidence of the colony existed except for the word “CROATAN” carved into a tree bark. Was it a clue that the camp had relocated to modern Hatteras to live with the Croatan Indians? Although he explored the coast, White never found any sign of his daughter or grandchild.

At Fort Raleigh National Historic Site in Manteo, history of Roanoke Colony is preserved. It’s also the site of The Lost Colony outdoor drama that retells the story during summer, and observes its 80th season in 2017.

Our final lighthouse of the trip was found at the end of the waterfront boardwalk. The red-and-white Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse, built in 2004, is a cottage-style, screw-pile reconstruction. It’s across from the Maritime Museum.

From the light station, we watched the sky’s hues transform from light orange to dusky blues as pier pilings cast reflections on sleepy Shallowbag Bay, a fitting conclusion to a memorable adventure.

Sheree Nielsen is a contributor from Wentzville, Mo.

March/April 2017 Issue


For more information, contact The Outer Banks of North Carolina,
(877) 629-4386

When deciding on where to stay, consider the centrally located Kill Devil Hills and First Flight Retreat Rentals (AAA Three Diamonds). Your AAA Travel professional can assist you or call First Flight
(866) 595-1893.

Dining options are plentiful at the Outer Banks, but Donutz On A Stick in Duck had wonderful cinnamon rolls. Blue Water Grill in Manteo served a wonderful salmon with creamy Parmesan risotto.

To visit the Outer Banks, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTik® Travel Planners, and TourBook® guides.

^ to top | previous page