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10 must-see lighthouses in New England

These American castles offer breathtaking views and a taste of history.

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 COME SUMMER, my family enjoys lighthouse hopping. Like hikers who “bag” mountain peaks, we “collect” lighthouses. They’re America’s castles, harboring stories of sunken ships, Revolutionary battles, desperate drownings, daring rescues, and keepers’ isolated lives. Climb up spiraling stairs and a steep ladder and through a tight hatch into the lamp room and claim your reward: a breathtaking 360-degree view. Navigation technology has rendered lighthouses mostly obsolete. Yet many mariners still look to them to negotiate New England’s rocky coastline, and they attract tourists from around the world. Here are 10 for you to collect this summer.


Block Island Southeast Light


Established 1875


Height 52 feet

Light flashing green every five seconds

Of Note Sitting on the Mohegan Bluffs, this red-brick lighthouse and its attached keeper’s quarters, built in High Victorian Gothic style, were an architectural showcase for the US Lighthouse Bureau.

Exhibit open weekends now and September 7-October 13, and daily June 22-September 2; tower tours as staffing permits, adults $10, seniors and students $5; 401-466-5009


Colchester Reef Lighthouse


Established 1871

Height 35 feet

Light none now

Of Note Originally located on a rock foundation in Lake Champlain, this wooden lighthouse, designed in the popular French Second Empire style, was reconstructed on the grounds of the Shelburne Museum in 1952.

Open daily through October 31; museum tickets: adults $22, children 5-18 $11, Vermont residents half price; 802-985-3346, shelburnemuseum.org

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Nauset Light


Established 1838, replaced 1877

Height 48 feet

Light alternating red and white flashes every five seconds

Of Note In 1996, when coastal erosion threatened the red-and-white-painted cast-iron lighthouse, it was moved 300 feet from a 60-foot-high cliff to its current location. Nauset Light’s image is part of the Cape Cod Potato Chips logo.

Free tours on Sundays until October 27 and Wednesdays in July and August, full-moon tour on October 18; 508-240-2612, nausetlight.org


Portland Head Light, Portland, Maine
Portland Head Light, Portland, Maineistock

Portland Head Light


Established 1791

Height 80 feet

Light rotating white every four seconds

Of Note On a clear day, from the base of the rubble-stone-and-brick Portland Head, you can see four more lighthouses: Spring Point Ledge, Ram Island Ledge, Cape Elizabeth, and Halfway Rock. There’s a museum in the keeper’s quarters.

Lighthouse open on September 14 and museum open daily until October 31 and weekends in November and through mid-December; adults $2, children 6-18 $1; 207-799-2661, portlandheadlight.com

Nicki Noble/Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce

Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse


Established 1771, replaced 1878

Height 48 feet

Light fixed green

Of Note Every December, a “Flying Santa” arrives by helicopter bearing gifts for Coast Guard families at this cast-iron tower (as well as some others on our list). Captain William Wincapaw, a Maine floatplane pilot, began the Christmas tradition in 1929 at lighthouses in Maine, and it later spread throughout New England.

Open Sundays until October 6, haunted tours on July 20, August 17, and September 14; adults $4, children 12 and under $2; 603-271-3556, nhstateparks.org, portsmouthharborlighthouse.org


Race Point Light Station


Established 1816, replaced 1876

Height 45 feet

Light flashing white every 10 seconds

Of Note The cast-iron beacon is solar-powered, while the keeper’s house and neighboring whistle house operate off solar, thermal, and windmill power. You can rent a room overnight in the keeper’s house and by the week in the whistle house.

Free tours on the first and third Saturdays until October 5, unless suspended for piping plover nesting; 508-487-9930, racepointlighthouse.org



Scituate Lighthouse


Established 1811

Height 50 feet

Light flashing white every 15 seconds

Of Note During the War of 1812, “the army of two” — the keeper’s young daughters, Abigail and Rebecca Bates — scared off the British, impersonating a band of armed men by noisily playing fife and drum. The tower is made of granite and brick. The tower and keeper’s house are the oldest complete lighthouse in the United States.

Tours on July 14, August 3-4, August 18, and September 22; adults $2, 12 and under free; 781-545-1083, scituatehistoricalsociety.org


Stonington Harbor Light


Established 1823, replaced 1840

Height 35 feet

Light none now

Of Note Only a five-minute drive from Mystic Seaport, this octagonal granite light, designed to look like a castle, offers a panoramic view of Little Narragansett Bay. Deactivated in 1889, it boasts the country’s oldest lighthouse museum, opened in 1925.

Open daily except Wednesdays until October 31; tour of tower and museum, adults $9, children 12 and under $6, tower only $5; 860-535-8445, stoningtonhistory.org


White Island Lighthouse


Established 1821, replaced 1859

Height 58 feet

Light flashing white every 15 seconds

Of Note In 2000, adults and schoolchildren from seacoast New Hampshire banded together as The Lighthouse Kids to save this white beacon from deterioration. You can view the light up close if you have your own boat transportation; there are also cruises that go past, but don’t stop at, this spartan island.

Free tours until September 30 when volunteers available; 603-271-3556, nhstateparks.org, or 603-978-2097, lighthousekids.com


Brad Coupe/Handout

Wood Island Lighthouse


Established 1808, replaced 1858

Height 47 feet

Light white and green flashes every 10 seconds

Of Note Commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson, this stone beacon (now with an LED light) is accessible only by boat. The Friends of Wood Island Lighthouse group offers trips to Wood Island, where guests can explore the grounds and climb the tower.

Open Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays July 3-August 31, reservations required; adults $15 (suggested), children 12 and under $8; 207-200-4552, woodislandlighthouse.org

Kathy Shiels Tully is a writer in Melrose. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.