Lighthouses can be appreciated on several different levels. For history buffs, these lights represent a link to our maritime heritage. Those who love architecture and engineering can marvel at these structures that have stood the test of time, while photographers visit searching for the perfect photo. There are hundreds of lighthouses located along the American coasts, each with its own special charm. But here are 10 often acknowledged among the best in the U.S.
10. Eldred Rock Lighthouse
Opened in 1906, the Eldred Rock Lighthouse overlooks Lynn Canal, a deep fjord and vital shipping passage in Southeast Alaska. At first glance, the lighthouse itself isn’t all that awe-inspiring, but add the towering mountains of the Kakuhan Range as a backdrop and no wonder it’s been featured on postcards, calendars, etc.
9. Morris Island Light
Shifting currents and erosion have left the Morris Island Lighthouse stranded several hundred feet offshore near Folly Beach, S.C. Built in 1876, it’s still standing, despite weathering several major hurricanes and even an earthquake in nearby Charleston. Although the lighthouse itself is not open, boat tours run out to the island, promising views of dolphins along the way.
8. Block Island Southeast Light
This unique lighthouse off the Rhode Island coast went into operation in 1874, and it’s surprising more lights and keeper’s houses from that era didn’t incorporate a Victorian design. They didn’t, which is why the Block Island Light stands out. The lighthouse and a gift shop are open during the summer.
7. Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
This light on North Carolina’s Outer Banks overlooks an area so hazardous to shipping it long ago earned the nickname “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” Built in 1870, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse stands 210 feet tall, making it the second-tallest brick lighthouse in the world. In an amazing feat of engineering, in 1999 this massive structure was moved more than a half-mile inland to protect it from the encroaching sea. Part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, this light, along with the equally impressive Bodie Island Lighthouse nearby, are open for self-guided climbs.
6. Big Sable Point Lighthouse
Built in 1867, this tower on Lake Michigan started out a yellow-cream color, then later was painted red and white, before donning its current black-and-white paint scheme. Located in Ludington, Mich., the light is open for tours from early May through early November.
5. Lorain Lighthouse
This light in Lorain, Ohio, on Lake Erie celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2017, although it hasn’t been operational since 1965. The lighthouse is a popular tour site during the summer months, and it is also available to host private events.
4. Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse
One of the most iconic sights in Maine’s Acadia National Park, this picturesque light is actually a private residence. The light tower itself dates to 1885.
3. Split Rock Lighthouse
Why were lighthouses so important back in the day? The Split Rock Light was completed in 1905, in response to a massive storm a few years earlier that sank 29(!) ships on Lake Superior. Located just off Minnesota Highway 61 along the North Shore Scenic Drive, this lighthouse is a stunning sight for those who can make the steep hike down an endless series of stairs to the shoreline (and it is a beast coming back up). This light’s spot on a towering cliff overlooking Lake Superior has made it one of the most photographed lighthouses in America, and it was even featured on a U.S. postage stamp.
2. Heceta Head Lighthouse
Located in central Oregon, this 56-foot-tall light on a craggy headland gets our vote for the most picturesque lighthouse on the West Coast. The powerful light is visible up to 24 miles away. Completed in 1893, the structure is open for tours year-round, and the light keeper’s house is now a bed-and-breakfast inn that is famously haunted.
1. Portland Head Lighthouse
None other than George Washington commissioned this lighthouse back in 1791. The oldest lighthouse in Maine, the Portland Head Light towers 80 feet over Casco Bay. Now the centerpiece of a beautiful coastal park (Fort Williams Park), the light is automated today, and the former light keeper’s house is home to a museum.
One More: Pigeon Point Lighthouse
Standing 115 feet tall, this tower just south of the Bay Area is tied with the Point Arena Light for the tallest lighthouse on the West Coast. Located just off the Pacific Coast Highway, it’s a popular draw for tourists. Built in 1871, it’s still used for navigation.