It's hard to confuse the Old Baldy Lighthouse with the other Carolina lighthouses that guard the Eastern Seaboard. The unique structure has undergone some interesting natural and manmade changes during its nearly 200 year lifespan, but many visitors believe that the unique structure, the aging exterior, and the long history only adds to the overall charm. A must-see local attraction for day trippers and weeklong vacationers alike, the Old Baldy Lighthouse is easily one of the most interesting and admired sites throughout all of Bald Head Island.

The gift shop at Old Baldy Lighthouse, Bald Head Island NC

The first noticeable difference between Old Baldy and the other barrier island North Carolina lighthouses is the size, which is a completely intentional attribute. While the 110' feet tall lighthouse is dwarfed by its Outer Banks counterparts, which extend up to 210' feet high, the lighthouse was never meant to provide a beam to mariners well off the coast in the Atlantic Ocean. Instead, the goal for this lighthouse was to serve as a beacon for vessels passing through the Cape Fear River, ensuring that even in the dead of night or during stormy conditions, the respective ships didn't run aground along the wide riverbanks.

Light keeper's house at Old Baldy Lighthouse, Bald Head Island NC

The current lighthouse is actually the second lighthouse to stand guard over the Cape Fear River. The first one, which was built for $4,000 and was completed by 1774, was effectively built too close to the river, and in just 20 years, it became obvious that erosion along the riverbanks was going to become an immense problem. A second structure was created, Old Baldy, on a slightly-inland parcel of terrain on Bald Head Island that was easy to see from the river, but was well protected from storm surges or natural erosion. This new structure was built with brick and plaster, with a 26' foot wide base that tapers to 14.5' feet at the top, and a lantern that was equipped with 15 lamps and reflectors.The lighthouse was completed in 1817, and has stood strong ever since, making it the oldest original lighthouse in the state of North Carolina.

Inside Old Baldy Lighthouse, Bald Head Island NC

Old Baldy was operational for over a century, providing virtually uninterrupted guidance to Cape Fear River mariners, with the exception of a dark period during and shortly after the Civil War. When the lighthouse was finally decommissioned in 1935, it still served a sporadic purpose during extreme national crises, and though it was no longer lit, the lighthouse even became a radio beacon during World War II to warn of conflicts with the German U-Boats which lurked just offshore.The lighthouse was relit in 1988 to the delight of visitors, and though it is no longer a navigational aid to Cape Fear River traffic, it is still a welcome and unmistakable beacon for Bald Head Island vacationers taking an evening stroll.

Looking up inside Old Baldy Lighthouse, Bald Head Island NC

As the oldest lighthouse in North Carolina, Old Baldy obviously shows some signs of aging. During its operational lifespan, the light keepers would whitewash the brick and stucco exterior every two years in order to protect it from the elements. (In fact, the original Old Baldy was always bright white during its years of operation.) After it was no longer in service, the white paint faded away, and large chunks of the stucco exterior would occasionally fall off the structure. These were filled in throughout the year, but with varying kinds of stucco that were completely different from the original 1817 materials available. Today, the exterior of the lighthouse resembles a patchwork quilt of dozens of different stucco varieties, an abstract and unintentional pattern that only adds to its allure and originality.

A view from the top of Old Baldy Lighthouse, Bald Head Island NC

The lighthouse is open seasonally to visitors, and generally closes during the winter months of January and February. Throughout the rest of the year, the dates and times of operation vary, from being open on just weekends during the spring and fall months, to being open daily from Memorial Day until Labor Day. Shoulder season visitors are advised to visit the Old Baldy Lighthouse's website for more information on visiting hours.

Old Baldy Lighthouse, Bald Head Island NC

The first stop for a self-guided tour of Old Baldy is the Keeper's Cottage, also known as the Smith Island Museum of History. In this circa 2000 replica of the original quarters, visitors can see how the first keepers lived with a tour through the restored bedrooms and kitchen, and a variety of exhibits that outline the highlights of the lighthouse's history. The cottage is based on original plans from the authentic Keeper's house that burned down in the 1880s, and also features an on-site souvenir shop with Old Baldy, beach and pirate themed mementos, gifts, books, maps, postcards, clothing, and decorative items. At the cottage, visitors can also purchase their tickets to step inside and climb the lighthouse to the very top. Tickets generally run around $5 for adults over 13, and $3 for kids aged 3-12, and are definitely worth the price. The 108 steps and occasional landings eventually lead out to one of the best views on the island, spanning the terrain from the Atlantic to the Cape Fear River and beyond. A camera is all but required for the adventure, and patrons who make the trek will be rewarded with vistas that are simply out of this world.

Old Baldy Lighthouse, Bald Head Island NC

Special tours are also available for day-trippers from Southport, and these packages feature round trip ferry tickets, significant discounts at the gift shop, and even coupons for lunch at several local beloved restaurants.

Brick walkway entrance to Old Baldy Lighthouse, Bald Head Island NC

The Old Baldy Lighthouse is one of the most distinctive beacons in North Carolina for a variety of reasons. As the oldest standing lighthouse in the state, with the patch-worked repairs and rugged exterior to prove it, the structure is an icon in the area, and is quintessentially linked with Bald Head Island. Whether a visitor admires Old Baldy from afar, perhaps via the ferry ride from Southport or from virtually any region of the island, or tackles the 108 step climb to the top, the lighthouse is clearly a permanent and well-loved fixture in the local landscape.

Old Baldy Lighthouse, Bald Head Island NC

Visiting the lighthouse and the fascinating adjacent museum is a must for any visitor, no matter the duration of the stay, and is sure to be an awe-inspiring and altogether favorite aspect of any Bald Head Island vacation. Impressive and imposing, while still fitting into the natural landscape, the Old Baldy Lighthouse is simply an incredible sight in a barrier island destination that's already brimming with charm and beauty around every sand dune.

Gift shop at Old Baldy Lighthouse, Bald Head Island NC


Is this your business? Update your listing by messaging us

Victory Beach Vacations

Visitors who are on the hunt for the postcard-perfect vacation rental in the heart of the Carolina Beach or Kure Beach area will find an enticing selection and plenty of friendly customer service when they rent through Victory Beach Vacations. Based in Carolina Beach in the coastal Cape Fear region, Victory Beach Vacations has more than 100 vacation rentals in all shapes and sizes to ensure that every vacationing family can find their dream home away from home on the beach.   When you book your Cape Fear getaway with Victory Beach Vacations, the fun doesn’t end when you leave the beach, it continues with an array of privately-owned properties outfitted with all of the amenities needed for a fabulous beach vacation.   Jenna Lanier, General Manager, explains that her family first opened the rental and property management business in 2002. At the forefront of Victory Beach operations is Lanier’s mother, Caroline Meeks. Meeks is both the Broker in Charge and co-owner with husband, Buck Meeks, who manages the Field Services team with Lanier’s husband, Scott.   For nearly 20 years, the Victory Beach team has worked tirelessly to establish a network of top-of-the-line rental properties for Cape Fear visitors to enjoy. “As far as our properties go,” explains Lanier, “they are all updated, well-furnished and appointed. “We have always performed post-cleaning inspections and since the pandemic, have put freshly laundered duvets over all of the comforters between rentals.”   Lanier emphasizes how important the guests experience is “we strive to give our guests a relaxing, stress free, memorable vacation.” This emphasis on customer service has led to Victory Beach Vacations having a 4.8 Google rating with over 300 reviews by happy owners and guests.In addition to Victory Beach’s superior sanitation practices, the company offers properties for every type of visitor. Choose from luxury oceanfront houses and condos to more reasonbly priced 2nd row properties with oceanviews. Many properties include pools and hot tubs as well, perfect for outdoor entertaining, and many are dog friendly.   Lanier also notes that all properties are within walking or driving distance to Pleasure Island’s main attractions – Carolina Beach and Kure Beach. The former, as described by Lanier, is the more commercialized of the two destinations and features a boardwalk, outdoor dining options and a plethora of weekly activities including fireworks, live music, amusement park pop-ups, and movies under the stars. Kure Beach offers a more residential feel with its fishing pier, intimate restaurants and family favorite, North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher.More water fun awaits, too. “There is a harbor and a canal that feed into the intercoastal. We have several properties on the harbor so guests can bring their boat, kayak, [or jet ski] and travel between islands,” says Lanier.   A stay with Victory Beach Vacations is an annual pilgrimage for most. “A large percentage of guests are previous guests. Some even reserve the same property for the next year as they’re checking out,” Lanier says. “It’s almost like it’s their personal vacation home.”   Even before guests arrive at their vacation destination, the Victory Beach Vacations’ website greets them with a live beach cam and exquisite aerial footage of both Carolina and Kure Beaches. See for yourself by scanning the QR code and call Victory Beach Vacations at 910.458.0868 to book your Cape Fear getaway. Start making your memories today! —Grace Silipigni