Climbing the Hunting Island Lighthouse in South Carolina

Written by
Jason Barnette
Posted on
March 5, 2015
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Written by
Jason Barnette
Posted on
March 5th, 2015
Share story

It’s the only lighthouse in South Carolina open for the public to climb, and it’s been accepting visitors since 1875. Now part of Hunting Island State Park, the Hunting Island Lighthouse stands out against the coastal forest on the beach with the brightly contrasting white and black paint. For visitors who are up for the challenge of climbing the 167 steps to the top, a stunning view awaits out to the horizon in all directions. It’s definitely a place to visit during a trip to Beaufort and the Sea Islands area of South Carolina.

It was just 167 steps. It was just 110′ high. But as I stood at the bottom looking up the spiraling staircases above I flashed back to a few years earlier when I tried to climb the stone steps inside the message York Minster church in York, England. During that particular trip I was the tail end of the group climbing the narrow passages, and by the time I finally reached the top the twenty minutes allowed on the roof had expired, so I just climbed back down again. Unlike that trip, the Hunting Island Lighthouse is really a breeze (especially when you reach the top).
The Hunting Island Lighthouse at Hunting Island State Park in Hunting Island, SC on Friday, February 20, 2015. Copyright 2015 Jason Barnette Completed in 1875, the 133' lighthouse is one of only two segmented cast iron lighthouses in the country. The segments are made of cast iron, lined with brick, and intended to be moved if necessary. In 1888 the lighthouse and keeper's house was moved a mile inland to its current location. Today visitors can climb the 167 steps to the circular observation platform 110' high for spectacular views of the local coastal landscapes.

Visitors can explore the grounds outside the lighthouse after paying admission to the state park, but a $2 fee is required to climb inside.

About every dozen steps took visitors to a large, wide platform. You can catch your breath here, or read the information panel. There is a lot of really interesting material to read on the way up, or back down. The lighthouse was originally built in 1859 but was destroyed during the Civil War. The lighthouse that exists today was built in 1875, but a mile from where it currently stands. The designers used a unique system to build the lighthouse: it consists of several cast iron plates that are designed to be unlocked and moved if necessary. These plates are lined with bricks on the inside and outside, giving the lighthouse its form. In 1889, the lighthouse was moved one mile inland to its current location.

As you climb the lighthouse you can see the black rings dividing the bricks on the inner wall, indicating the break between sections of the cast iron frame. You can also peak out the narrow windows to get a sense of the height as you climb. By the time you exit the door on the observation deck you are standing 110′ above mean sea level (the entire structure is 132′ high). The observation deck is about three feet wide and wraps around the entire lighthouse, giving visitors a chance to look out in all directions. It’s a really breathtaking view from the top, one that even people who are afraid of heights will enjoy. Hey…I’m afraid of heights, and I had a blast!

Obviously the journey back down is easier, and quicker, than the arduous climb up. It is 167 steps, or the equivalent of climbing about 11 stories, but it’s really not that bad getting up there. The park only allowed 20 people inside the lighthouse at a time, so you take breaks from the climbing and catch your breath but please keep in mind there may be a line waiting outside! I recommend climbing straight up first, enjoy the view from the top, then take some extra time to capture photos on your way back down.

It was the first lighthouse I’d climbed in probably ten years so I was bouncing with happiness. There are only a few lighthouses in South Carolina, and this is the only one open for the public to climb. It’s historical and unique, and also part of a great park. Hunting Island State Park features access to a big, beautiful stretch of beach, a large campground near the ocean, a nature center, and a few hiking trails. Even if you only came to climb these 167 steps for yourself, you should still enjoy everything the park offers.
View of the beach and distant coastal lands from the observation deck at the Hunting Island Lighthouse at Hunting Island State Park in Hunting Island, SC on Friday, February 20, 2015. Copyright 2015 Jason Barnette Completed in 1875, the 133' lighthouse is one of only two segmented cast iron lighthouses in the country. The segments are made of cast iron, lined with brick, and intended to be moved if necessary. In 1888 the lighthouse and keeper's house was moved a mile inland to its current location. Today visitors can climb the 167 steps to the circular observation platform 110' high for spectacular views of the local coastal landscapes.

The view from the observation deck at the top of the Hunting Island Lighthouse, 110′ above mean sea level.

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