“A lighthouse is such a potent image: practical, because lives depend on it, and
at the same time, utterly romantic, this lonely building on the cusp of land and
sea, sending out light into the darkness.”
When I was young girl, someone told me this riddle that will stick with me forever. "One night, a man returned home to get ready for bed. He brushed his teeth, changed into his pajamas, turned out his light, and went to bed. When he awoke in the morning, everyone around him was dead. Why were they dead?" In case you can't see where this is going...everyone was dead because the man lived in a lighthouse. By turning off his light before he went to sleep, the ships were unable to navigate safely to their destination.
Importance of Lighthouses
Lighthouses are many things. Points of reference for lost travelers, pillars of safety for fishermen out at sea, landmarks that signify your arrival to your destination. No matter what these structures mean to you, their significance is undeniable. Join WeNeedaVacation as we take a deeper dive into iconic Cape and Islands lighthouses and tell you why they're so special.
Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard are home to 22 majestic lighthouses,
one of the highest concentrations of lighthouses anywhere. The abundance of these landmarks is no coincidence as the waters around the Cape and Islands are among some of the most dangerous for ships. Characterized by quickly developing fog, a rugged coastline, numerous sand bars, and fierce rip tides, the Cape and Islands coastline is volatile. These environmental factors lead to the construction of many lighthouses during the mid 19th century. These pillars of light held two main purposes — to provide navigational aid and warn boats of dangerous areas. Today, most lighthouses have lights that run automatically, but for many years lighthouse keepers manually lit the lighthouse lantern, rang a bell, and even shot a cannon.
Each lighthouse on the Cape and Islands has its own story. Here are
a few fun facts about some of these beacons of light:
- Great Point Lighthouse on Nantucket is accessible only by 4-wheel drive vehicle,
unless you are up for walking seven miles in deep sand.
- In 1996, the Truro lighthouse was moved back 450 feet from its original location.
Prior to that, it stood only about 100 feet from the edge of the eroding bluff.
- Until 1988, when it was painted white, the East Chop Light on Martha’s Vineyard
was called the “Chocolate Lighthouse” for its brown-red color.
- Nauset Light in Eastham is the logo on the Cape Cod Potato Chip bag.
- The oldest original lighthouse structure is the Bass River Light in Dennis. The
lighthouse was built in 1855, and its tower still stands today.
Take a Tour
Take a summer tour to learn about Cape and Islands lighthouses. Discover their interesting history and the keepers who protected ships, crews, and cargo. Below is some information about hours of operation and tours. Admission is free unless otherwise noted.
- Nauset Light, Eastham - From June to September the lighthouse will be open for tours on Sundays and Wednesdays 4:30 - 7:30.
- Highland Light, Truro - Starting May 5th, Highland Lighthouse will be open daily from 9:00 - 5:00 for visitors. Please note that the last tour is 4:30!
- Race Point Light, Provincetown - Race Point Lighthouse is open for tours on the first and third Saturdays from June to October. Hours of operation are 10:00 - 2:00.
- Gay Head Lighthouse, Martha’s Vineyard - May 27th - June 30th Friday - Monday 10:00 - 4:00, July & August 7 days a week 10:00 - 4:00, Labor Day - Columbus Day Friday - Monday $6 admission kids under 13 free.
WeNeedaVacation's Lighthouse Scavenger Hunt and Interactive Map
Feeling adventurous? Check out our lighthouse scavenger hunt and map below to help guide you on your adventure to visit all of the Cape and Islands lighthouses!
The Full Lighthouse Experience
Looking for the full lighthouse experience? Try an overnight at Race Point Light
in Provincetown. Overnight accommodations through mid-October are available in both
the Keeper’s house and Whistle house. Accommodations are basic — bring your own
linens, towels, food and drinking water. You could also stay in a newly renovated US Coast Guard Lighthouse located in Pocasset. Whether staying in a “lighthouse” vacation rental or not, the next time you stay on Cape Cod, Nantucket, or Martha’s Vineyard, see how many of these lighthouses you can visit. The * starred lighthouses are still operational.
- Nobska Point Lighthouse-Woods Hole
- Lewis Bay Lighthouse-Hyannis
- Sandy Neck Lighthouse-Barnstable
- Wings Neck Lighthouse-Pocasset
- Bass River Lighthouse-West Dennis
- Stage Harbor Lighthouse-Chatham *
- Chatham Lighthouse-Chatham *
- Monomoy Lighthouse-Chatham *
- Three Sisters Lighthouses-Eastham *
- Nauset Lighthouse-Eastham *
- Highland Lighthouse-Truro *
- Race Point Lighthouse-Provincetown *
- Wood End Lighthouse-Provincetown
- Long Point Lighthouse-Provincetown
- Brant Point Light *
- Great Point Light *
- Sankaty Head Light *
- East Chop Lighthouse *
- The Cape Poge Lighthouse *
- The West Chop Lighthouse *
- Edgartown Lighthouse *
- Gayhead Lighthouse *
Be sure to check out our Lighthouses of Cape Cod and the Islands on Pinterest.