Must-Sees for Lighthouse Lovers
How many lighthouses are there in New England? The number, by most counts, is close to 200. Each of these proud landmarks has its own spirit and its own stories. Each is beautiful for the role it has played in protecting those who’ve navigated by its glow.
So, it’s no easy task to choose the 10 most beautiful lighthouses in New England. Each lighthouse that made the cut was selected for its distinctive visual appeal, for the dramatic impact of its setting and for its popularity with photographers. We’ll start our tour of these beautiful beacons on Maine’s northern Bold Coast and follow New England’s shore south. Visiting all 10 in one road trip would take days, but it would be unforgettable.
West Quoddy Head Light
Lubec, Maine, is home to America's only candy cane-striped lighthouse. West Quoddy Head Light, which marks the entrance to Passamaquoddy Bay, has the distinction of standing on the easternmost point of land in the United States. Each day in America dawns here, and sunrise is a popular time for photographers to capture images of this still-active light station. The first lighthouse was built on this perilous cliff in 1808. Since the current lighthouse was constructed in 1858, it has sported anywhere from six to eight red stripes.
Location: West Quoddy Head Light is located within Quoddy Head State Park at 973 South Lubec Road in Lubec, Maine.
Visit: The park is officially open May 15 through October 15 from 9 a.m. until sunset daily. There is an adult admission fee of $3 for Maine residents, $4 for non-residents, $1 for seniors from out of state. The West Quoddy Head Light Keepers Association operates a lighthouse Visitor's Center, which is open daily from Memorial Day weekend through mid-October.
Tips for Photographers: Sunrise seekers should plan to arrive at the park a half-hour before the sun is due up. You'll need to park outside the gates and walk in, since the park does not open until 9 a.m. Bring a flashlight.
Marshall Point Lighthouse
Port Clyde, Maine’s small but lovely lighthouse may look oddly familiar. Located in the authentic fishing village that captivated renowned father and son painters, N.C. and Andrew Wyeth, Marshall Point Lighthouse appears in a pivotal scene in the 1994 movie, Forrest Gump. Visitors enjoy retracing Oscar winner Tom Hanks’ strides up the 1858 lighthouse’s latticework gangway, where the title character he portrays reaches the Atlantic Ocean on his cross-country, “for no particular reason” run.
Location: You’ll find this movie star lighthouse on Marshall Point Road in Port Clyde, Maine.
Visit: The lighthouse grounds are open year-round from sunrise until sunset. Daily from Memorial Day weekend through Columbus Day and weekends in early May, step inside the restored 1895 Keeper’s House, where exhibits focus on lighthouse and local history and the on-location filming of Forrest Gump. There is also a gift shop. Parking and admission are free.
Tips for Photographers: Because this still-active beacon shines a fixed white light, long-exposure shots captured at night or pre-dawn can be very dramatic.
Pemaquid Point Light
This simple white beacon in Bristol, Maine, has watched over the entrance to Muscongus Bay since 1835. It is so emblematic, it was chosen to appear on the Maine state quarter. What makes Pemaquid Point Light so picturesque isn’t the tower itself. Below the lighthouse, seemingly spilling toward the sea, is a geologically intriguing bedrock formation that is hundreds of millions of years old. Dark, buckled layers of metamorphic rock are streaked with pale veins of igneous rock, and saltwater’s daily assault continually erodes and sculpts this dramatic ledge.
Location: The entrance to Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Park is at 3115 Bristol Road in Pemaquid, Maine.
Visit: The lighthouse grounds are open year-round. From mid-May through mid-October, you can climb the spiral stairs to the top of the tower daily from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. (children must be at least 42 inches tall). Although there is no charge, the American Lighthouse Foundation, which staffs the lighthouse with volunteers, welcomes donations.
Tips for Photographers: It is estimated that more than 100,000 people visit this free attraction yearly, so if you want photos without people in your shot, consider visiting early or late in the day or in the off-season. The most beautiful photos of Pemaquid Point Light always feature the rocky ledge below the lighthouse in the foreground. Wear sturdy shoes both for scaling the rocks and for climbing the stairs to the lighthouse’s lantern room.
Portland Head Light
You can see six lighthouses near Portland—Maine’s largest city—and the one that will really wow you is Portland Head Light. This conical tower stands an imposing 80 feet tall. Its red-roofed Keepers’ Quarters, which dates to 1891, adds color to the scene. Like most of the lighthouses that stand along Maine’s chiseled coast, Portland Head Light wasn’t built to be beautiful. Since 1791, Maine’s oldest lighthouse has served a vital function: helping mariners navigate this perilous stretch of coast.
Location: Portland Head Light is tucked inside Fort Williams Park at 1000 Shore Road in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.
Visit: Fort Williams Park is open free to the public from sunrise until sunset daily year-round. There is a small fee ($2 for adults, $1 for kids 6 to 18) to visit the museum in the Keepers’ Quarters, which is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily Memorial Day weekend through October 31 and weekends only late April through Memorial Day and November through the first weekend in December. In addition to the lighthouse and museum, explore what remains of this former military installation, which is now a 90-acre, town-owned park.
Tips for Photographers: Portland Head Light has such gorgeous lines, it shoots well from many angles, so walk along the crushed stone Cliff Walk seeking a variety of views. The waves get pretty wild around Portland Head Light when a storm is kicking up, so be there to capture the drama if you can.
Cape Neddick "Nubble" Light
What does Maine’s Nubble Light have in common with the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal? Photos of these three magnificent structures were selected to be among the 116 images sent into space in 1977 to show inhabitants of distant planets the beauty of life here on Earth. Cool, huh? Reported to be Maine’s most photographed lighthouse, the Cape Neddick “Nubble” Light and its Victorian keeper’s cottage are even more stunning when outlined in white LED lights during the holiday season and again for a week each summer during Christmas in July.
Location: Although Nubble Light’s island home is not accessible to visitors, you’ll have perfect views of the lighthouse from Sohier Park on Nubble Road in York, Maine. Parking is free.
Visit: The park is open year-round, and a gift shop operates daily from mid-April through mid-October.
Tips for Photographers: Bring your telephoto lens! You may see harbor seals, sunfish and seabirds like cormorants and great black backed gulls from this scenic point.
Scituate Lighthouse (Old Scituate Light)
Scituate is situated just 25 miles from Boston on the Massachusetts South Shore, yet few tourists find their way to this seaside town: one of the oldest communities in New England. If you’re a lighthouse fan, though, you’ll want to see Scituate Lighthouse. It’s the oldest complete lighthouse and keeper’s quarters in America. Built in 1811, this distinctively shaped beacon sat inactive from 1860 until 1994, when it was relit at last thanks to the efforts of the Scituate Historical Society.
Location: You’ll find this well-preserved lighthouse and its scenic setting at 100 Lighthouse Road in Scituate, Massachusetts.
Visit: Interpretive signs tell the story of Scituate Lighthouse year-round, but if you want a look inside, you’ll have to time your visit to coincide with one of the open house events occasionally held by the Scituate Historical Society.
Tips for Photographers: Walk out on the stone jetty and look back at the lighthouse for the best shots, particularly at sunset.
Race Point Light Station
The sandy dunes of Cape Cod are the unique setting for this lighthouse. The current tower and keeper’s house were built in America’s centennial year: 1876. The remoteness of this landmark ensures the view is beautifully natural and undisturbed for those who make the effort to reach it.
Location: Race Point Light Station is located at the northern tip of Cape Cod in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
Visit: To reach this still-active aid to navigation, you’ll need to park at Race Point Beach at the end of Race Point Road, then walk about two miles along the shoreline. Driving your own four-wheel-drive vehicle to the lighthouse is another option if you purchase the proper oversand beach driving permit. Free tours of the lighthouse are offered on the first and third Saturday of each month from June through the first Saturday in October. For a memorable experience, reserve accommodations in the restored keeper’s house or the whistle house.
Tips for Photographers: Summer… when grasses turn green and beach roses bloom… is the best season for landscape shots at Race Point Light. Even though it’s a hike to reach the lighthouse, consider toting a tripod.
Point Judith Lighthouse
Visitors build cairns out of the ocean-smoothed rocks that tumble ashore below Point Judith Lighthouse, adding a whimsical touch to this stunning coastal scene. Since the present brown and white octagonal lighthouse was built in 1857, it has watched over the western entrance to Narragansett Bay: one of the most treacherous spots to navigate in all of New England. As you stand on this high ledge, perhaps watching surfers or commercial fishing boats, what you may not realize is that the ocean floor just off this point is littered with shipwrecks.
Location: The lighthouse is located within Point Judith Coast Guard Station at 1460 Ocean Road in Narragansett, Rhode Island. There is plenty of free parking.
Visit: Although the tower is not open to visitors, the grounds are open free year-round from 8 a.m. until sunset.
Tips for Photographers: Coast Guard personnel will chase you out of the park at sunset and lock the gates, so don’t wait to take your shots as daylight fades. The Point Judith Fishermen’s Memorial, also located off Ocean Road, is another prime spot for taking photographs of Point Judith Lighthouse.
Block Island Southeast Light
This gorgeous brick lighthouse and its attached Gothic Revival keeper’s house has stood atop Mohegan Bluffs—Block Island’s dramatic, 150-foot clay cliffs—since 1874. Erosion of the cliffs made Southeast Light’s position precarious, so in 1993, after a decade of fundraising by a passionate group of islanders, the 2,000-ton structure was moved back 300 feet to prevent what seemed like certain doom.
Location: Southeast Light is located at 122 Mohegan Trail in New Shoreham on Rhode Island’s Block Island.
Visit: You’ll need to reach Block Island by ferry or flight. Taxi cabs are readily available to take you anywhere on the island including this scenic sight. Southeast Light is open for tours weekends from Memorial Day weekend through Columbus Day, plus every day from late June through Labor Day. There is an admission fee. A museum and gift shop are open free, and the grounds are also accessible free year-round.
Tips for Photographers: From an overlook just west of the lighthouse, you can descend more than 140 wooden steps to the beach below Mohegan Bluffs. Each step along the descent opens up new, panoramic lighthouse photo angles.
New London Ledge Light
This unusual structure looks more like a brick mansion that floated out to sea than a lighthouse. And that’s not the only quirky thing about Connecticut’s New London Ledge Light. Built in 1909 on a manmade island at the mouth of the Thames River, the three-story, 11-room building modeled after the homes of two wealthy locals is rumored to be New England’s most haunted lighthouse.
Location: This offshore light is located at the entrance to New London Harbor in Groton, Connecticut.
Visit: The Ledge Lighthouse Foundation, which cares for this historic landmark, periodically offers tours that provide the only interior access to New London Ledge Light. You can also see the lighthouse up-close on lighthouse cruises offered by Cross Sound Ferry. New London Ledge Light is visible from many onshore points, as well, including Avery Point, which has a lighthouse of its own, and Eastern Point Beach in Groton.
Tips for Photographers: From the water, it’s possible to capture photos with two lighthouses in one shot: New London Ledge Light in the foreground and either New London Harbor Light or Avery Point Light in the background. If you’re lucky, you might also capture images of the Ledge Light with a nuclear submarine. These fascinating vessels are built and repaired at General Dynamic Electric Boat, located near the lighthouse in Groton.