24 Jun Photo tour of Maine’s iconic lighthouses
Lobster, outdoor spaces and lighthouses. Road trip, anyone?
Maine continues to rank among our favorite travel destinations, and is the topic of several Wandering Rose Travels articles. We recommend visiting in September, when the summer crowds are gone and the temperatures are still mild. You may wish to time your visit for seeing the fall leaves, but be warned that throngs of “peepers” (“leaf peepers” is the term locals use to describe autumn color tourists) will be by your side. The turning leaves of fall are also beautiful in our home state of North Carolina, so we prefer to visit Maine after the summer hordes and before the fall leaf peepers.
So what do we adore so much about Maine? The lobster speaks to our palate. Boating along the rocky coast and hiking/biking the trails of Acadia National Park stimulates our sense of adventure. And Maine’s many lighthouses spark our artistic side. B, Thorny and contributor Jim collaborated on this virtual visit to some of our favorite Maine lighthouses.
Our journey begins with Portland Head Light (pictured above). Maine’s oldest lighthouse began protecting the Cape Elizabeth/Portland coastline in 1791 and continues operation to this day. Portland Head Light sits within Fort Williams Park, a 90-acre wonderland of hiking trails, historic buildings and beautiful views of Maine’s rocky coastline.
Nubble Light sits on a rock island off Cape Neddick near York, Maine. One hour north of Boston and just off I-95, this is the first lighthouse most visitors see when arriving in Maine by car or RV. You cannot access the actual lighthouse grounds, but you’ll enjoy amazing views from the shoreline. Artists flock here to paint and fishermen dot the shore. We flew into Portland to begin our Maine adventure. Nubble Light was the first stop on a day-trip tracing the Maine coast from York to Ogunquit to Kennebunkport. Yes, we stopped along the way for a photo of Walker’s Point Estate, the summer retreat home of the George H. W. Bush family.
Ram Island Ledge Light Station marks the main channel leading to Portland’s harbor and sits within sight of Portland Head Light. Commissioned in 1905, the lighthouse is 90-feet tall and was designed to help ships navigate the passage between the rocky Rams Head Ledge and Portland Head at Cape Elizabeth. According to news reports, a Maine surgeon purchased this lighthouse at auction in 2010 after the General Services Administration offered it free of charge to any qualifying government or non-profit agency, but had no takers.
Portland Breakwater Lighthouse is a mouthful to say, so locals call this coastal icon “Bug Light.” We visited the lighthouse and 9-acre Bug Light Park near sunset and discovered it’s a favorite place for Portland residents to end their day. The site was a hub of ship building activity during WWII, employing 30,000 people building liberty ships. Today, it’s popular for walking, picnics, boating and fishing. If you’re looking at the photo and scratching your head about the design, you’re not alone. The lighthouse is constructed of six curved cast-iron plates. Seams between the plates are covered by Greek Corinthian columns. The architect also designed the Washington Capitol east and west wings and current dome.
Lighthouse aren’t exclusive to the ocean coastline. We discovered the Doubling Point Light and nearby Doubling Point Range Lights during a boat tour of the Kennebec River sponsored by Maine Martime Museum. The structures help ships navigate a sharp turn in the river near Bath Iron works, a major U.S. shipbuilder since 1884.
We stopped in Boothbay Harbor for one night while driving up Highway 1 from Portland to Mount Desert Island. During this one-night stand we fell in love with this coastal community and its hiking, botanical gardens and boats (it’s called the boating capital of New England). Our hotel, Spruce Point Inn, provides a complimentary boat tour of the harbor for guests where we discovered Burnt Island Lighthouse. Burnt Island is the second oldest surviving lighthouse, commissioned in 1821. The 5-acre island is open seven days a week for tours (reservations required).
Burnt Coast Harbor Light Station, also called Swan’s Island Lighthouse, is another off the beaten path. Accessed by ferry near Bar Harbor, the island is home to 380 year-round residents. We toured the island on bicycles, reaching the lighthouse at the island’s southern most point. First lit in 1872, the lighthouse still functions to this day, marking the entrance to Burnt Coat Harbor for local lobster boats. The lighthouse tower and adjacent Keeper’s House are open daily for guided tours in season, though both are closed at time of publication because of COVID-19 precautions.
Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse sits atop a cliff in Acadia National Park, marking the entrance to Bass Harbor on the southwestern side of Mount Desert Island. The brick lighthouse has operated since 1858. Tours are self-guided along a path that provides stunning views of the lighthouse, rocky coast and offshore islands. Sorry, you can’t tour this one inside. It is a private residence.
Egg Rock Light, built in 1875, is architecturally unique for its light tower projecting through the roof of the keeper’s house. Located off the coast of Bar Harbor, the lighthouse is best viewed from a boat tour or from the top of Cadillac Mountain (binoculars or telephoto lens recommended).