34 Best New England Lighthouses

New England has some 200 historic beacons scattered across its shores. Which ones should be on your summer travel list? Read on to find the best lighthouses for every kind of traveler. 

By William Scheller

Jul 15 2022


Few places bring out the camera-toting crowds like Cape Neddick Lighthouse, aka Nubble Light, in York, Maine.

Photo Credit : Jeremy Pawlowski/Stocksy
Few places bring out the camera-toting crowds like Cape Neddick Lighthouse, aka Nubble Light, in York, Maine.
Photo Credit : Jeremy Pawlowski/Stocksy

George Bernard Shaw once said, “I can think of no other edifice constructed by man as altruistic as a lighthouse. They were built only to serve.” And in truth these simple structures continue to endure as symbols of security and hope even after retired from use. From the candy cane–striped West Quoddy Head Light in the farthest reaches of Down East Maine to Newport, Rhode Island’s trim and tidy Rose Island Light, New England has some 200 historic beacons scattered across its shores. Which ones should be on your bucket list? Read on to find the best lighthouses for every kind of traveler. 

New England Lighthouses For Photo Buffs

Bass Harbor Head Light Station,Tremont, ME. The only lighthouse standing on Mount Desert Island has lit the way into Blue Hill Bay and Bass Harbor since 1858. Still in service— and located adjacent to its owner and operator, Acadia National Park—the beacon is popular with photographers, especially at sunrise and sunset, because of the wide variety of vantage points afforded by a paved walkway that leads to views of the harbor, the 32-foot tower itself, and a stairway to the seaside revealing the dramatic cliff face on which it stands.

Cape Neddick Lighthouse,York, ME. What does Cape Neddick Light have in common with India’s Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China? There are photos of all three aboard Voyager I, to show possible denizens of other worlds what we build here on Earth. Nicknamed “Nubble Light” after the craggy islet on which it stands, the cast-iron tower has shone its red beacon to mariners entering the mouth of the York River since 1879. There’s no access for visitors, but Sohier Park, on the mainland, offers a fine vantage point for photos and a welcome center with historical displays.

Gay Head Lighthouse,Gay Head (Aquinnah), Martha’s Vineyard, MA. The sole working lighthouse on Martha’s Vineyard stands atop Gay Head cliffs, renowned for the earthen rainbow revealed when the setting sun strikes their multicolored layers of clay. Built of brick in 1855 to replace earlier wooden structures, it was initially equipped with a first-order Fresnel lens, an elaborate series of prisms now on display in an adjacent museum complex. The museum also houses a collection of whaling memorabilia and exhibits chronicling the 2015 relocation of the tower from its precarious position atop those lovely but eroding cliffs.

Marshall Point Lighthouse,St. George, ME. Think Marshall Point is a photogenic lighthouse? So did Forrest Gump director Robert Zemeckis, who had Forrest conclude his cross-country run by sprinting over the wooden footbridge leading from the rocky shore to the tower. Rising at the tip of the St. George peninsula, the 1858 beacon guides fishing boat captains to harbor in the picturesque working village of Port Clyde. A museum in the keeper’s house tells the story of the local fishing and quarrying industries, and of the light and its moment in cinema history.

Pemaquid Point Light,Bristol, ME. The beacon immortalized on the Maine state quarter is a stone pepperbox of a lighthouse, rising from a striated granite bluff that typifies the state’s storied “rockbound coast” and commanding the entrance to Muscongus Bay. Commissioned in 1827, the shoddily built original structure was replaced eight years later by the lighthouse you see standing here today. Pemaquid Point is one of the most photographed of all Maine’s beacons, thanks to the striking rock formations that slope dramatically from the tower to the sea. Alongside, the former keeper’s house now holds a fishermen’s museum.

Portsmouth Harbor Light,New Castle, NH. Heir to a long tradition of beacons marking the entrance to the mouth of the Piscataqua River, Portsmouth Harbor’s classic white cast-iron lighthouse—one of New England’s earliest that were built of that economical material—stands on the grounds of historic Fort Constitution. Perched at the narrowest point in the harbor entrance, it affords splendid photogenic views of Maine’s Pepperrell Cove, Whaleback Ledge Light across the river mouth in Kittery, and the open Atlantic beyond.

Southeast Light,Block Island, RI. Photographers find it hard to decide which makes the better picture: the dramatic, 200-foot Monhegan Bluffs on which Southeast Light stands, or the handsome red brick Victorian Gothic keeper’s house with its attached octagonal beacon. Remarkably, the 1875 structure—all 2,000 tons of it—was trundled 300 feet from the bluff in 1993, after erosion left it perilously close to the edge. Just down the road from the lighthouse, 141 steps lead down the bluff face to one of Block Island’s loveliest beaches.

New England Lighthouses For History Lovers

Beavertail Lighthouse,Jamestown, RI. Mariners entering Narragansett Bay have been welcomed by a Conanicut Island beacon since 1749. Today’s square-sided Beavertail tower has stood since 1856, and—except for Boston Light—was the last American lighthouse with a resident keeper, a Coast Guard member who signed off in 1972 when automation took over. The assistant keeper’s house today houses a maritime museum and a handmade collection of models depicting every Rhode Island lighthouse. In good weather, visitors can access the tower catwalk by stairs and ladder.

Boston Light,Boston, MA. North America’s oldest light station is the only one still staffed by a resident keeper, who welcomes visitors taking harbor tours. Established in 1716 to help ships navigate the island-strewn entrance to Boston Harbor, the beacon shining from 1½-acre Little Brewster Island is visible 27 miles out to sea. The original tower was destroyed by the British in 1776, rebuilt in 1783, and elevated to its present 89-foot height in 1859. Thanks to an act of Congress sponsored by Senator Edward Kennedy, Boston Light will be forever maintained.

Colchester Reef Light,Shelburne, VT. Vermont is New England’s only landlocked state—but only in saltwater terms. Lake Champlain’s reefs can be as treacherous as anything along Atlantic shores, and this mansard-roofed lighthouse was built in 1871 as an aid to shipping traffic entering the port of Burlington. Deactivated in 1933, it was moved piece by piece to the Shelburne Museum in 1952 and now features exhibits documenting the lonely lives of its keepers. Fittingly, it stands near the majestic steamer Ticonderoga, which once depended on its welcoming beacon.

Highland Lighthouse,Truro, MA. When Henry David Thoreau visited Highland Light’s predecessor in the early 1850s, the tower was located a safe 500 feet back from Truro’s cliffs. By 1996, erosion had claimed all but 100 feet of the clifftop, and the 1857 structure standing here today was moved a safe distance west. Surrounded by Cape Cod National Seashore—and adjacent to a windswept golf course—this oldest and tallest Cape beacon invites visitors to climb to the top, and hails mariners with its new LED beacon.

Maine Lighthouse Museum,Rockland, ME. Though not a lighthouse itself, this museum is an indispensable stop for beacon-loving history buffs. Located in Maine’s windjammer capital and founded by a Coast Guard officer who had held responsibility for numerous lighthouses, the museum maintains America’s largest trove of lighthouse equipment, Fresnel lenses, lifesaving tools, and foghorns, and features detailed interpretive displays chronicling the stalwart men and women who kept our coastal beacons burning over the centuries. The museum’s Discovery Center houses a rotating collection of materials on loan from the Farnsworth Art Museum, Owls Head Transportation Museum, Penobscot Marine Museum, and others.

Portland Head Light,Cape Elizabeth, ME. Lit longer than Maine has been a state and never extinguished, the lighthouse standing at the entrance to Casco Bay was authorized by Massachusetts Governor John Hancock in 1790 and completed the following year. Although one of the last New England lights to be automated, in 1989, its keeper’s quarters remain in use as a maritime museum displaying, among other artifacts, the second-order Fresnel lens that once shone from the tower.

Stonington Harbor Light,Stonington, CT. Stubby and rough-hewn, the beacon tower that once faithfully guided ships past Stonington Point hasn’t seen service since 1889; however, for nearly a century it has housed America’s oldest lighthouse museum. The Stonington Historical Society has amassed an impressive collection of artifacts relating to local maritime history, including whaling memorabilia and even a “dud” rocket fired on the town by the British during the war of 1812. Climb the tower’s circular stairs for a three-state view: Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New York.

New England Lighthouses For Hikers & Strollers

Block Island North Light,Block Island, RI. “Old Granitesides,” the fourth lighthouse to warn ships away from the tip of the island mariners called “the stumbling block,” is itself a great block of stone, resembling a small-town courthouse sporting a red beacon tower. Abandoned in 1973 after a century’s service, relit in 1989, and adapted as an interpretive center four years later, it marks the start of a ¾-mile beachside trail to Sandy Point and is surrounded by much of the 134-acre Block Island National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge hosts over 70 species of migrating songbirds and the largest gull colony in Rhode Island.

Long Point Lighthouse,Provincetown, MA. Of the three lighthouses needed to guide ships around the treacherous shoals of the 3,000-wreck “ocean graveyard” that surrounds the tip of Cape Cod, Long Point is the one for die-hard dune trekkers. Located at the very tip of the finger of sand that curves around the entrance to Provincetown Harbor, it’s accessible either by following a breakwater out to the sands or, if you’re at Herring Cove Beach, by walking the shoreline until … until you run out of shoreline. Either way, to quote Thoreau, you’ll have put all America behind you.

Rockland Harbor Breakwater Light,Rockland, ME. When was the last time you walked a mile out to sea? Rockland’s stout brick Breakwater Light, with its attached (unoccupied) keeper’s house, stands that far out from the northeast point of the city’s picturesque harbor. Built to protect the harbor from the open Atlantic, the breakwater was capped with a warning beacon in 1902, to keep the long granite-block structure itself from becoming a hazard. City and sea views from the lighthouse are superb, and you may even see one of Rockport’s famed windjammers gliding into port, or filling its sails for a run Down East.

Sankaty Head Light,Nantucket, MA. This classic lighthouse with its distinctive red band has crowned ’Sconset bluff since 1849—but not always in the same place. As erosion claimed more and more of the bluff, the structure was left standing only 68 feet from disaster. Moved in 2007, it’s now a safe 267 feet from the edge. The ’Sconset Trust, keeper (and mover) of the light, also maintains the seven acres of meadow that surround it, along with other ’Sconset properties including the 45-acre heathland of Ruddick Commons. The starring ’Sconset attraction, though, is the two-mile Bluff Walk, which skirts silver-shingled village homes, thickets strewn with wildflowers, and spectacular seascapes.

West Quoddy Head Lighthouse,Lubec, ME. Location, location … and no location in the U.S. lies farther east than West Quoddy Head, whose distinctive, red-striped lighthouse stands against the foggy Bay of Fundy. The beacon is the focal point of Quoddy Head State Park, laced with over six miles of nature trails. Two favorites are the Coastal Trail, where hikers stand high above surging Fundy tides and look across to New Brunswick’s Grand Manan Island, and the short Bog Trail, a raised boardwalk that offers a close-up look at pitcher plants and other unusual bog vegetation.

New England Lighthouses For Overnight Guests

Bakers Island Light,Salem, MA. Even if you’re not part of the summer cottage community on Bakers Island, four miles out in the Atlantic, you can enjoy a sojourn at the rockbound island’s most historic property. Built in 1820, when Salem was the powerhouse of New England’s maritime trade, Bakers’s 59-foot light stands alongside two keeper’s houses, one of which welcomes guests during the summer. Guests have access to 10 of the island’s 55 acres and enjoy swimming, fishing, and rambles along a half mile of trails. There are even two campsites, with raised tent platforms.

Borden Flats,Fall River, MA. Built to warn ships off a treacherous reef that lurks where the Taunton River meets Mount Hope Bay, Borden Flats is a brick-and-cast-iron lighthouse built in 1881, automated in 1963, and lovingly restored by private owners. The four handsomely furnished levels of living space feature a full kitchen and, up top, a queen bedroom. Guest “keepers” can arrange for fresh seafood delivery at dockside, when they check in for boat transport to the light. Nearby, Fall River attractions include Battleship Cove, where “Big Mamie”—WWII’s famous USS Massachusetts—is permanently moored.

Burnt Coat Harbor Light Station,Swan’s Island, ME. Have a week to commit to a lighthouse sojourn? That’s the minimum stay at the keeper’s house adjacent to the stout, square beacon that stands on Swan’s Island’s Hockamock Head, lighting the way to Burnt Coat Harbor. Upstairs at the keeper’s quarters is a cozy little apartment with kitchen and bath, available from June to September. Sea views from the apartment are wonderful—and even more so if you climb to the platform atop the lighthouse. As for getting there? The state ferry service sails from Bass Harbor on the mainland.

Goose Rocks Light,North Haven, ME. America’s lighthouses were made of wood, brick, stone, and, yes, cast iron. One iron beauty is Goose Rocks Light, a “sparkplug”-styled lighthouse whose beacon still marks the eastern entrance to Penobscot Bay. The only East Coast offshore lighthouse that accommodates overnighters, Goose Rocks is all lighthouse—there’s no surrounding apron of land or a separate keeper’s house. Climb a ladder to six-level quarters that feature an antique four-poster bed, a propane fireplace, and a 360-degree canopied catwalk with a grill and outdoor dining table.

Isle au Haut,Maine. Pack up your groceries, hop on the mailboat out of Stonington, and experience double isolation: You’re leaving the mainland behind for Isle au Haut, and leaving the island’s village for a stay at a lighthouse keeper’s home. Linked by a wooden walkway with the 1907 light and surrounded by water and woods, the four-bedroom cottage features private and shared-bath accommodations—one room has a wood stove—and a kitchen. Nearby, the Oil House Cottage is private but more primitive, with an outhouse and solar shower. There are bikes for exploring the island, and a 15-foot rowboat guests can use on calm days.

Race Point Light,Provincetown, MA. Perched at the knuckles of Cape Cod’s curling fist, Race Point Light’s 1876 45-foot cast-iron tower is flanked by two guest accommodations. The keeper’s house offers rooms by the night, with shared bath and kitchen; the two-bedroom Whistle House rents to groups of up to eight by the week, or for two-night stays. Getting there involves a two-mile trek through the dunes from the nearest road, or arrange a ride with the local chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation, which maintains the properties. You can also obtain a weekly permit for your own four-wheel-drive vehicle.

Rose Island Lighthouse,Newport, RI. Looking like a mansard-roofed home that somehow sprouted a beacon tower, Rose Island Lighthouse graces an 18-acre islet at the entrance to Newport Harbor. Built in 1870, it shone for a century until navigation aids mounted on Newport Bridge took over its task. Restored following years of neglect, its beacon was relit in 1993. Rose Island offers accommodations in the keeper’s apartment, the former foghorn room with its working woodstove, a one-time barracks for nearby Fort Hamilton, and even a suite that’s part of the on-site lighthouse museum.

Seguin Island Light Station,Georgetown, ME. Seguin Island is a lovely, lonely sentinel at the mouth of the Kennebec River. Its lighthouse—an 1857 successor to the original commissioned by George Washington in 1795—rises higher above sea level than any beacon on the Maine coast, and offers clear-weather views ranging from Mount Washington to Monhegan Island. Venture out on the Seguin Island ferry and put up at the keeper’s house, which features a two-bedroom apartment with a microwave and mini fridge. Campsites are also available; for either accommodation, guests must join Friends of Seguin Island Light Station.

Thacher Island,Rockport, MA. North America’s only working twin light station, established to warn ships away from treacherous reefs off the tip of Cape Ann, the 124-foot towers on Thacher Island were built of Rockport granite in 1861. Their short-lived predecessors were the last lighthouses erected under colonial rule; they were destroyed by Minutemen in 1775 for fear they would aid British invaders. Accommodations here are limited to primitive campsites linked by three miles of trails, although roughing it comes with a bonus: Campers can climb the towers for spectacular views of the Boston skyline and Maine’s mountains.

New England Lighthouses For Cruise Aficionados

Boston Harbor Islands Lighthouse Tour,Boston, MA. America’s oldest lighthouse is the star of a two-hour cruise that threads its way among Boston’s storied Harbor Islands. Leaving port in downtown Boston, the cruise—under the auspices of Harbor Islands State and National parks—takes in Long Island Light, Graves Light, and the original harbor beacon, Boston Light. Park staff and Coast Guard volunteers share the lore of the lights and surrounding waters—and city skyline views are a bonus.

Cape Ann Lighthouse Cruise,Gloucester, MA. Book this two-and-a-half-hour trip offered by Cape Ann Harbor Tours and you’ll wend your way past no fewer than six Gloucester-area lighthouses, from the beacon on stilts that marks the Dog Bar Breakwater to Ten Pound Island Light, which briefly hosted painter Winslow Homer. You’ll also see the Cape Ann Light Station, whose twin lights are the only active examples of their kind in the nation.

Lighthouse Weekend Tours,Isle au Haut, ME. On one special weekend each September, Open Lighthouse Day—actually two days—offers an opportunity to view some of Midcoast Maine’s most scenic beacons via Isle au Haut Boat Services. Saturday cruises out of Stonington Harbor take in Goose Rocks, Brown’s Head, Heron Neck, and Isle au Haut lights, with a stop for photos at Saddleback Ledge. On Sunday, head out of Stonington for a look at the lights crowning Hockamock Head, Great Duck Island, Bass Harbor Head, and Blue Hill Bay.

Maine Maritime Museum Cruises,Bath, ME. Maine’s most comprehensive treasure trove of maritime history gets visitors out on the water with an impressive variety of cruising options, including the Lighthouse Lovers’ Cruise, which offers an up-close look at 10 of the Maine coast’s legendary beacons: Doubling Point Light, Kennebec Range Lights, Squirrel Point Light, Perkins Island & Light, Pond Island & Light, Seguin Island & Light, Cuckolds Light, Ram Island Light, Burnt Island Light, and Hendricks Head Light.

Ten Lighthouses Tour,North Kingstown, RI. Narragansett Bay’s 10 lighthouses—Beavertail, Rose Island, Conanicut, Newport Harbor, Lime Rock, Castle Hill, Whale Rock, Dutch Island, Poplar Point, and Plum Beach—are the focus of Rhode Island Bay Cruises’ 90-minute trip that takes passengers under the Pell and Jamestown-Verrazzano bridges, past Newport’s Gilded Age mansions and historic Fort Adams, and along 60 miles of the bay’s wonderfully scenic coastline.

Sheffield Island Lighthouse Tours,Norwalk, CT. Norwalk Harbor, situated on Long Island Sound, is home to three historic lighthouses: Peck Ledge, Greens Ledge, and the oldest, Sheffield Island. The Seaport Association’s cruise includes a narrated tour of the harbor, plus a sail-by of the two innermost lights, Peck and Greens, and finishes with a stop at Sheffield Island for a ramble along nature trails, a talk on the island and its history, and a guided tour of the 1868 lighthouse.