The romanticism of lighthouse life has motivated many a traveler to seek out Maine’s 64 beacons. Some of Maine’s lighthouses can be viewed from land, others only by boat. Some lighthouses are regularly open (Owls Head and Rockland Breakwater, for instance), and lighthouse-themed excursion boats depart from many coastal communities. Other beacons are only accessible by special tour or during events and some are only open to overnight guests. Here are six special ways to experience Maine’s lightkeeping heritage.
Become enlightened at a museum
The Maine Lighthouse Museum, in Rockland, is home to the nation’s largest collection of Fresnel lenses, along with a boatload of other artifacts related to lighthouses, the Coast Guard, lifesaving stations, and the sea. It’s a must for any lighthouse lover.
While that’s the biggie for lighthouse museums, other troves of lighthouse lore can be seen in museums at Owls Head Light, Portland Headlight, Cape Elizabeth, and Marshall Point Lighthouse tipping the Port Clyde Peninsula.
Take the Midcoast Maine Lighthouse Challenge
Visit and climb the towers of seven Mid-coast lighthouses during the annual Midcoast Maine Lighthouse Challenge in late June. Register at any of the participating lighthouses; there’s no cost to participate, but some beacons have admission or parking fees. Participating lights are Dyce Head, Castine; Fort Point, Stockton Springs; Grindle Point, Islesboro; Rockland Breakwater, Rockland; Owls Head, Owls Head; Marshall Point, Port Clyde; and Pemaquid Point, Bristol. Two special activities complement the challenge. Usually there are special programs that coincide with the challenge, such as a lighthouse sunset cruise or an evening concert.
Follow the Deer Isle Lighthouse Trail
Follow the Deer Isle Lighthouse Trail to see eight lighthouses guarding the local waters: Pumpkin Island, Eagle Island, Mark Island, Isle au Haut, Goose Rocks, Brown’s Head, Saddleback Ledge, and Heron Neck. Three are viewable from shore, but the rest require a boat. Excursion boat outfitters offering lighthouse-themed tours include Guided Island Tours, Isle au Haut Ferry Service, and Old Quarry Ocean Adventures.
Join the party at a special lighthouse open house
While some Maine lighthouses are regularly open to the public, these beacons are accessible only during special events.
The West Quoddy Head Light Keepers Association hosts an annual Lighthouse Celebration at the Lubec beacon in early July. In addition to live music, food vendors, raffles, and special activities, the U.S. Coast Guard usually offers tours of the tower during the day.
The Friends of Cutler’s Little River Lighthouse usually schedules a couple of open houses each summer (Dates for 2013 are July 27 at 1:30 p.m. and Aug. 24 at 12:30 p.m. Transportation is provided from Cutler Town Wharf to the island in small open boats; children must supply their own life jackets. Refreshments will be available on the island. Event is weather dependent.
On Maine Open Lighthouse Day held in mid September each year (Sept. 14, 2013), tour more than 20 lighthouses salting the Maine Coast from Biddeford to Lubec. Most participating sites are open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for guided or self-guided tours of the keeper’s houses and/or the light towers. Some are only accessible by boat, and usually excursion boats operate special tours for the event.
Visit Wood Island Light
Volunteers from the Friends of Wood Island Lighthouse, located off the coast of Biddeford, offer 1.5-hour guided tours of the light, which dates from 1806. Those age 12 and older may climb the 60 stairs to the tower’s lantern room and even crawl through the two-foot-square hatch that accesses the walkway ringing the top. Tours, offered at 10 and 11 a.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays and 5 and 6 p.m. on Thursdays in July and August (2013), depart from Vine’s Landing in Biddeford Pool. Reservations are required, available by phone during the current week or online one week prior). A minimum donation of $15 per adult or $8 per child younger than 13, is appreciated.
Overnight in a lighthouse
Few lighthouses are as dramatically sited at Pemaquid Point; fewer still have been featured on the Maine state quarter. Inside the Keepers House at Pemaquid Point Light, a second-floor, one-bedroom apartment that sleeps four is available for one-week rental (2013: $1,200, plus a $60 cleaning fee) through Newcastle Square Vacation Rentals.
The Keeper’s House Inn on Isle au Haut has reopened under new ownership, making it possible once again to slumber, without camping, on the island that’s home to a remote section of Acadia National Park. Inside the keeper’s house are three rooms that share a bath and a third-floor suite with a private bath. Also available are the Oil House, which offers primitive accommodations on the shoreline, and the Woodshed Cottage, with private bath and full kitchen. Rates (2013) begin around $350 and include all meals.
Friends of the Little River Light House have made it possible to overnight at the light guarding Cutler’s harbor. Guests stay in three bedrooms (2013: Keeper’s Room, $225; Ocean View, $175; and Woodsview, $150). All share two bathrooms, a living room, and a kitchen. Guests must bring their own linens or sleeping bags, towels, food, beverages, and bottled water. Minimum age for an overnight stay is 12. Boat transportation is provided, with tide determining times.
Beacon Preservation, which is working to restore and preserve Goose Rocks Light, uses overnights as a fund raiser for restoration projects. The light, located off North Haven Island, is completely surrounded by water; there is no accessible land. Up to six adults (min. age is 18) can sleep in two bedrooms and one bunkroom; requested donation begins at (2013) $600 per night. Lighthouse volunteers provide transportation from the North Haven island ferry terminal.
Whitehead Light Station, located on Whitehead Island at the mouth of Penobscot Bay, now offers rentals as well as three- to five-day adult enrichment courses. The 11.1-acre island is home to a seven-bedroom keeper’s house. Rental (2013: $4,900-$6,900) includes full use of the island, transportation, mainland parking, local boating excursions, services of a skipper, and linens. Special offerings for summer 2013 include a course focused on the craft of beer, a knitter’s retreat, mindfulness-based stress reduction, and a cooking class.
Join the Friends of Seguin Island Light Station (207-443-4808, , from $30 individual or $55 family) and be eligible to spend a night at Seguin, located at the mouth of the Kennebec River. The rustic accommodations include two bedrooms, minimal kitchen facilities, a private bathroom (composting toilet) with running water, and an outhouse. Linens and drinking water are provided and light breakfast is delivered in the morning. Guests must provide their own transportation, and getting to the dock can be tricky. Suggested donation is (2013) $150 per couple per night.