Beautiful Lighthouses in America
Shrouded in fog and booby-trapped by rocks hiding in the shallows, Maine’s Portland Harbor is treacherous. Since 1791, the shining beacon of the Portland Head Light has been warning sailors of this dangerous approach.
The Portland Head Light, a local landmark, is just one of the notable picturesque lighthouses that have guarded America’s coastlines for centuries. A look through these beautiful lighthouse photos—submitted by Travel + Leisure community members—will inspire you to head to America’s coasts.
One T+L community member took a vivid shot of Split Rock Lighthouse on its cliffside ledge 130 feet above Lake Superior’s shores and surrounded by a yellow birch forest. Another captured Ohio’s postcard-worthy Marblehead Lighthouse on Lake Erie with its pure white tower and red trim standing in bright contrast to its natural surroundings.
Many of these lighthouses you see today are cut stone towers, a strategic choice as many of the earliest lighthouses were built from wood and prone to catching fire (the very first was established in Boston in 1716).
The Point Reyes Light House on California’s northern coast is among those retired from active duty, yet it remains open as a museum. Regardless of their function, lighthouses add a beautiful architectural touch to coastal landscapes and bring to mind summers at the beach and America’s long-standing nautical traditions.
See for yourself by checking out these beautiful lighthouse photos.
Bass Harbor Head Light, Mount Desert Island, ME
Sitting atop a pink rock cliff surrounded by pine trees, this 1858 lighthouse is still in operation on the southern tip of Mount Desert Island in Maine’s Acadia National Park.
Nobska Point Light, Falmouth, MA
The light at the top of this 40-foot-tall cast-iron tower was first activated in 1876 and continues to alert arrivals to the entrance to Woods Hole Harbor. The U.S. Coast Guard has been manning the lighthouse since 1939.
Point Reyes Lighthouse, Point Reyes National Seashore, CA
The Point Reyes Light was built in 1870 to protect mariners from the treacherously foggy Point Reyes headlands—which jut 10 miles into the sea near San Francisco Bay—and stayed on duty until 1975. The red-roofed lighthouse is now a museum operated by the National Park Service.
Cape Hatteras Light Station, Buxton, NC
Black and white spirals make this 1870 tower the most recognizable lighthouse in America. Rising nearly 200 feet, it is also America’s tallest lighthouse tower.
Portland Head Light, Cape Elizabeth, ME
Completed in 1791, the Portland Head Light has become a Maine icon and continues to function today. George Washington commissioned two masons in 1787 to construct a lighthouse on Portland Head from local rubblestone and a majority of that original structure remains today.
Old Cape Henry Lighthouse, Virginia Beach, VA
Alexander Hamilton oversaw the construction of the sandstone Old Cape Henry Lighthouse—one of the oldest in America, dating back to 1792. A new tower rose in 1881 here along the Chesapeake Bay.
East Quoddy Lighthouse, Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada
Located on Campobello Island, where FDR summered as both a child and adult, East Quoddy's lighthouse is also referred to as the Head Harbour Lighthouse. Manned until 1986, this wooden lighthouse with the red Cross of St. George painted on it is still operational today.
Pemaquid Point Light, Bristol, ME
This lighthouse (est. 1835) still guards the entrance to Maine’s Muscongus Bay. Its distinctive conical white tower with a black lantern is made of rubblestone.
Coquille River Light, Bandon, OR
At the entrance to the Coquille River on Oregon’s southern coast, this lighthouse was illuminated in 1896 and deactivated in 1939. Visitors can explore the grounds and camp at one of the 13 yurts at nearby Bullards Beach State Park.
Dry Tortugas (Loggerhead Key) Light, Dry Tortugas, FL
First lit in 1858, this 150-foot-tall lighthouse is still an active aid to navigation and therefore closed to the public. Dry Tortugas's light is the final lighthouse seen as ships head from Key West into the Gulf of Mexico.
Monhegan Island Lighthouse, Monhegan Island, ME
The original 1824 lighthouse at this station was razed to make way for this 47-foot-tall tower. Located 10 miles from the mainland, the keeper’s house serves as a museum today. In the summer, the tower is occasionally opened for tours.
Long Point Lighthouse, Provincetown, MA
This square-shaped tower made of white brick can be found on Long Point at the southwestern side of the entrance to Provincetown Harbor. It’s been standing guard since 1875.
St. Augustine Lighthouse, St. Augustine, FL
While it might be easy to confuse its black and white spirals with the lighthouse on Cape Hatteras, you can distinguish the St. Augustine Lighthouse by the red lantern atop its 165-foot tower. The light still operates today and is privately owned by the nonprofit St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum.
Grand Island East Channel Light, Grand Island, MI
Portland Head Light, Cape Elizabeth, ME
In 1989 the Portland Head Light was automated, and soon after the Victorian keeper’s quarters were transformed into a museum where visitors can see the tower’s old second-order lens, which stands seven feet tall. The lighthouse tower is currently not open to the public.
Split Rock Lighthouse, Two Harbors, MN
Open to the public from May to October at Split Rock State Park, this lighthouse is one of the most visited in the United States. Although the tower is only 54 feet tall, it can be seen for 22 miles thanks to its location atop a rock jutting out from the north shore of Lake Superior.
Scituate Light, Scituate, MA
Located at Cedar Point on Scituate Harbor, this white octagonal tower topped with a green lantern room debuted in 1811. After 134 years out of service, the light was reactivated in 1994 as a private aid to navigation. The Scituate Historical Society offers occasional tours.
Marblehead Lighthouse, Marblehead, OH
This native limestone white conical tower with red trim continues to watch over the entrance to Sandusky Bay on Lake Erie, as it has since 1821.
Point Judith Lighthouse, Narragansett, RI
Positioned on the west side of the entrance to Narragansett Bay, the light atop this octagonal conical tower has been operating since 1857. Constructed of brownstone, this tower is white on the bottom, brown on the upper parts, and topped with a black lantern.
West Quoddy Head Light, Lubec, ME
The light atop this red-and-white-banded conical tower was first lit in 1858 and sits across the Bay of Fundy from the East Quoddy Lighthouse in Canada.
Ocracoke Island Light, Ocracoke, NC
Simpler than the bold black and white bands of nearby Bodie and Cape Hatteras, this conical white tower was constructed in 1823. As it remains operational today, only the grounds are open to the public.
Portsmouth Harbor Light, New Castle, NH
The first wooden lighthouse at New Castle’s Fort Point was established in 1771 and visited by George Washington. Now built of cast iron, the lighthouse was first lit in 1877 and is still operational today.
Sandy Neck Lighthouse, Barnstable, MA
Located at the entrance to Barnstable Harbor on the north side of Cape Cod, the current tower was built in 1857. For years the lighthouse was a headless tower missing its lantern room, but the top was restored in 2007 for its 150th anniversary. Privately owned and not open to the public, the light is best seen from whale-watching cruises leaving the harbor.
Bodie Island Light Station, Nags Head, NC
This black-and-white-banded tower isn’t the first lighthouse to stand at this station. It’s actually the third. The original began to lean toward the sea soon after it was constructed, and Confederate troops blew up the second tower in 1861 during the Civil War.
Cape Neddick (“Nubble”) Light, York, ME
This lighthouse is on a rock island a few hundred feet from the “nub” of land that its nickname references. The original Fresnel lens that topped this cylindrical white tower was damaged in 1928 in an explosion and replaced with a lens from 1891. Although the island isn’t open to visitors, the views of the lighthouse are great from Sohier Park on the mainland.
Brant Point Light, Nantucket, MA
Established in 1746, this station on Nantucket Island was built to protect whaling vessels docking at the harbor. The current wooden tower dates back to 1901 and is the shortest in New England at 26 feet tall. While the still-functioning tower is closed to the public, the grounds are open.
New Point Loma Lighthouse, San Diego
Part of the Cabrillo National Monument on the southern tip of Point Loma, this “new” tower was first lit in 1891. It replaced an earlier lighthouse that was often obscured by fog because of its location more than 400 feet above the sea.
Cape Hatteras Light Station, Buxton, NC
In 1999, the light station had to be relocated 2,900 feet because of shoreline erosion.