Light up your life: Eight great ways to enjoy Maine’s lighthouses

Sleep, tour, visit, or cruise by Maine's lighthouses.

Take a passenger ferry to Monhegan Island to visit its lighthouse complex. ©Hilary Nangle
If you visit Monhegan Island, walk up the hill to visit the lighthouse and also the museums in the former Keeper’s House and newly rebuilt Assistant Keeper’s House. @Hilary Nangle

TVisit Owls Head Light and the ALF Interpretive Center. Tom Nangle photohe romanticism of lighthouse life has motivated many a traveler to seek out a Maine lighthouse or two, and there are numerous ways to do so.

Many of Maine’s 64 beacons can be viewed from land, some only by boat, and lighthouse-themed excursion boats depart from many coastal communities.

A few Maine lighthouses are regularly open to visitors (Owls Head and Rockland Breakwater, for instance). Other beacons are accessible only by special tour or during events. One even offers an immersive historical experience.

If you’re keen to sleep in a Maine lighthouse, a few offer that opportunity.

Here are eight special ways to experience Maine’s light-keeping heritage.

One Maine lighthouse with a museum is Portland Head Light. ©Hilary Nangle
Portland Head Light, in Cape Elizabeth, is easy to visit and the complex also has a museum in the former Keeper’s House. ©Hilary Nangle

Become enlightened at a Maine lighthouse 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. And don’t miss Monhegan Island Light, part of the Monhegan Museum complex, where the Keeper’s House and Assistant Keeper’s House are filled with history and art.

Visit lighthouses along Maine's coast on Maine Open Lighthouse Day. Hilary Nangle photo.
In addition to being open on a regular schedule by volunteers, Rockland Breakwater Light participates in the Mid-coast Maine Lighthouse Challenge and Maine Open Lighthouse Day. ©Hilary Nangle photo.

Take the Mid-coast 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. Usually special programs, such as a lighthouse sunset cruise or evening entertainment, coincide with the challenge.

Tour beacons on Maine Open Lighthouse Day

On Maine Open Lighthouse Day, held in early to mid September each year, tour more than two dozen 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.

The easiest view of Pumpkin Island Light is from the east end of Little Deer Isle. ©Hilary Nangle
View Pumpkin Island Light, one of the beacons on the Deer Isle Lighthouse Trail, from the eastern end of Little Deer Isle. ©Hilary Nangle

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. Purchase a Lighthouse Passport and get it stamped at each.

Three area beacons are viewable from shore, but the rest require a boat. Excursion boat outfitters offering lighthouse-themed tours include Isle au Haut Ferry Service and Old Quarry Ocean Adventures.

One Maine lighthouse that opens its tower for tours is West Quddy Head in Lubec. ©Hilary Nangle
You can climb the tower of West Quoddy Head, Maine’s candy-stripped Lighthouse, on special event days. ©Hilary Nangle

Join the party at a special Maine 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. NOTE: The tower may also be open on Saturdays, check the site for details.

The Friends of Cutler’s Little River Lighthouse usually schedule a couple of open houses each summer. Transportation is provided from Cutler Town Wharf to the island in small open boats; children must supply their own life jackets. Refreshments usually are available on the island. Events are weather dependent.

Time travel to Burnt Island Light

Travel via excursion boat from 21st-century Boothbay Harbor to Burnt Island, circa 1950, where actors portray the family of lighthouse keeper Joseph Muise, who lived here 1936-1951. During the three-hour Burnt Island Living Lighthouse presentation, you’ll spend time with the light keeper, his wife, and each of his children, learning about their lifestyles and views on island life. You also can climb the tower into the lantern room and take a natural history walk. This living- and natural-history program presented by the Maine Department of Marine Resources entertains all ages, but is especially great for kids.

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 in July and August, depart from Vine’s Landing in Biddeford Pool. Reservations are required and can be made online. A suggested donation of $15 per adult or $8 per child 10-13, is appreciated.

Visit lighthouses along Maine's coast on Maine Open Lighthouse Day. Hilary Nangle photo.
You can rent an apartment in the Keeper’s House at Pemaquid Point. ©Hilary Nangle photo.

Overnight in a Maine 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 through Newcastle Vacation Rentals.

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. 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.

If you want to visit Acadia National Park on Isle au Haut without camping, splurge on The Keeper's House. ©HilaryNangle
The Keeper’s House on Isle au Haut. ©Hilary Nangle

The Keeper’s House Inn on Isle au Haut makes it possible 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 is the Oil House, which offers primitive accommodations on the shoreline. All meals are provided. Guests in the Woodshed Cottage, with private bath and full kitchen, need to prepare their own meals.

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. Lighthouse volunteers provide transportation from the North Haven island ferry terminal.

Whitehead Light Station, located on Whitehead Island at the mouth of Penobscot Bay, offers rentals as well as three- to five-day adult enrichment courses, such as a knitters retreat, craft beer appreciation, and writing and history programs. The 11.1-acre island is home to a seven-bedroom keeper’s house (rental includes full use of the island, transportation, mainland parking, local boating excursions, services of a skipper, and linens).

Join the Friends of Seguin Island Light Station (207-443-4808, from $30 individual/$75 family) and be eligible (with a $250 donation) 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 arrange their own transportation, and getting to the dock can be tricky.

For lighthouse luxury, check into one of the two suites at The Inn at Cuckold's.
The Inn at Cuckold’s.

Newest addition to Maine’s lighthouse lodging is the Inn at Cuckolds Lighthouse, a two-suite luxury inn capping a small rocky island off Southport Island. Rates include a full breakfast; lunch and dinner are available at extra fees. Parking and transport are provided (fee for guided tours or extra trips to and fro). Flexibility is required, as seas may prevent transport. Minimum age is 18.



Post updated May 6, 2018


Sleep in a lighthouse keeper's house on Isle au Haut. ©Hilary Nangle
Sunset view from The Keepers House, an inn on Isle au Haut. ©Hilary Nangle