Portland, Maine, is one of New England's most vibrant seaside cities: a place where lobstermen and lawyers walk the same streets, and every quintessential coastal experience you've imagined is either within city limits or a short drive away. Of course, that means lighthouses are a part of Portland's fabric. One of Maine's most photographed beacons—Portland Head Light—is a treasured symbol of the city and a romantic spot for a stroll—and four more lighthouses are within a 20-minute driving distance. Build your lighthouse-themed itinerary with these tips for finding, visiting, and photographing Portland's lighthouses.
Portland Head Light
If you see only one lighthouse during your Portland stay, make it Maine's oldest operating lighthouse. Built during the presidency of George Washington and first renovated in 1813, Portland Head Light (1000 Shore Road, Cape Elizabeth) is among the most photographed lighthouses in all of America.
It strikes a stunning pose in every season, with waves crashing against jagged rocks below, but you'll capture the most dramatic photos on a windy day at high tide. There is only one day each year when the Coast Guard allows a limited number of visitors inside this storied lighthouse: the annual Maine Open Lighthouse Day in September. Fortunately, there is a museum operating from Memorial Day through October 31 (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) inside the 1891 keeper's quarters where you can view several lighthouse lenses and interpretive displays.
Fort Williams Park, adjacent to Portland Head Light, offers something for everyone: History buffs can explore the fort's remains; nature and birding enthusiasts can walk along cliffs that drop to the sea or along the rocky beach below; families can picnic on grassy hills or fly kites. Even in winter, the park draws cross-country skiers, sledders, and ice skaters. For a different photographic angle on Portland Head Light, book passage aboard one of Portland Discovery Land & Sea Tours' lighthouse cruises.
Ram Island Ledge Light
Built of gray granite blocks in 1905 on a tiny rock island in Casco Bay, Ram Island Ledge Light strikes a solitary pose at the entrance to Portland Harbor, and it even has a twin, Graves Light Station in Boston, which was built during the same time.
Still a critical aid to navigation, you'll see the Ram Island Ledge Light flash white twice every six seconds. Although this lighthouse, located about a mile offshore, is never open to the public, and the island is accessible only by private boat, you can view and photograph Ram Island Ledge Light from Portland Head Light (1000 Shore Road, Cape Elizabeth).
Nearby, Portland Paddle offers a full-day Lighthouse & Fort guided sea kayaking tour that affords paddlers of all abilities a rare chance to see Casco Bay's lighthouses—including Ram Island Ledge Light—from the water.
Two Lights State Park
With 41 acres of wooded trails, plus granite ledges, rocky headlands, and oceanfront paths lush with wild sea roses, bayberries, and sumac trees, Two Lights State Park (7 Tower Drive, Cape Elizabeth) offers lighthouse lovers so much more than views of the twin Cape Elizabeth Lights.
Located eight miles south of Portland, the park was named for the 1828 Gothic Revival-style towers at the end of Two Lights Road; Maine's first twin lighthouses. The eastern structure is still a working lighthouse, though not accessible to the public, and the other is now a one-of-a-kind private home. You may recognize these attractive twins from Edward Hopper's famous 1929 painting, "The Lighthouse at Two Lights."
From Two Lights, you're just a six-minute drive away from Crescent Beach State Park, one of the Portland area's finest sandy beaches. Additionally, one of the best spots for photographing the Cape Elizabeth Lights is also one of the Portland area's top places to savor lobster in the rough. The oceanfront Lobster Shack at Two Lights, open seasonally (typically April through October), serves up fresh lobster and other Maine delights, and the views from outdoor picnic tables are unbeatable.
Portland Breakwater Lighthouse (Bug Light)
Affectionately referred to as Bug Light because of its small stature, Portland Breakwater Lighthouse in Bug Light Park (Madison Street, South Portland) was built in 1855 of cast iron with a brick lining on a granite block foundation. The lighthouse was first lit in 1875. During World War II in 1942, lighthouse beacons were dimmed for security reasons, and Bug Light wasn't re-lit until 2002 when the Coast Guard added a solar-powered light.
This elegant-looking lighthouse is unique because it's believed to be the only lighthouse in the world shaped like a 4th-century Greek monument. Four Corinthian columns hold up the lens. Maine Open Lighthouse Day in September is your one chance to venture inside. The best photographs of Bug Light are shot on a moody, dusky evening or even on a clear night, as stars and city lights begin to glow.
It's free to park at and to visit Bug Light Park, located at the site of a former shipbuilding complex, so take time to stroll the walking path or to relax on a bench and enjoy the views or enjoy a nearby popular saltwater fishing spot. You'll also find the South Portland Historical Society Museum near the park entrance. Open daily May through October and weekends in November and December, the museum features exhibits that dive into the city's people and its past. The historical society also hosts events such as the Bug Light Kite Festival each May.
Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse
Built in 1897, Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse (2 Fort Road, South Portland) sticks up at the mouth of the harbor like a giant spark plug, and it also has several distinctive features including a view of the entire Portland skyline from across the water. Of the 50 caisson-style lighthouses built in America on sturdy, metal foundations, this is the only one you can walk to: It's connected to land via a breakwater on the campus of Southern Maine Community College.
It is also the only Portland-area lighthouse visitors can step inside on a regular basis. Volunteer-led tours of the still-active light station are offered most Saturdays, Sundays, and Tuesdays from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. Year-round, you can capture impressive images of the lighthouse with the breakwater's giant granite blocks in the foreground, but be sure to exercise particular caution when these stones are wet or icy.
While you're on campus grounds, you'll also want to see the ruins of Fort Preble, which guarded this point of land against foreign invasion from 1808 until 1950. Additionally, South Portland's Willard Beach adjoins the Southern Maine Community College Campus and is open to visitors.