Lighthouses and lobster. Two of the most sought-after quests of visitors to our Cape Cod bed and breakfast inn. 14 lighthouses dot the shoreline of the Cape, some still active and others open for tours for their historic value. It helps to know a little bit about the history of our lighthouses, however, and their role in protecting seafarers as far back as the 19th century. So here are some tips for touring Cape Cod Lighthouses to get you started.
Extending over 50 miles into the Atlantic Ocean, the waters of Cape Cod are notably difficult to navigate due to the rugged coastline, dangerous sandbars, and rip tides. Often called the Graveyard of the Atlantic, more than 3,000 shipwrecks scarred the waters off Cape Cod over the past 300 years, mainly along the treacherous outer shore between Provincetown and Chatham.
Before the days of the Cape Cod Canal, during the heyday of busy shipping between Boston and New York, lighthouses were essential to protect ships from dangerous shoals. Lighthouse keepers tended the beacons, and the brave men of the U.S. Lifesaving Service manned lifeboats in an attempt to assist when ships floundered in storms off the coast.
Today, many lighthouses still function as a beacon of hope for sailors plying the waters surrounding Cape Cod. Others remain as an historic symbol of their once important role as lifesavers. Grab your camera and head out to explore any or all of these iconic towers that offer tours.
Nobska Point Light, Woods Hole
Nobska Point Light Station is extremely picturesque and may appear familiar, because it is so frequently photographed. It towers over the waters of Vineyard Sound and serves as a beacon for Woods Hole Harbor and as a guide for mariners traveling between Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard. The light is easily accessible, and the view from the grounds looking across Vineyard Sound to Martha’s Vineyard is breathtaking.
*Tours: Tuesdays and Thursdays only, from 10:00 AM – 12 Noon
Chatham Light, Chatham
Today Chatham Light is also Chatham Coast Guard Station, a very important lifeboat station along this dangerous shore. There is ample parking at this site for a magnificent view of the Atlantic Ocean and the North Beach break, known as the Chatham Spit. Coin-operated telescopes along the bluff give you an enhanced view of the barrier beach beyond the entrance to the little harbor. The beach is easily accessible by stairs leading down from the parking lot. Look carefully and you might see seals sunning themselves on the beach any time of year.
*Tours: May through mid-October, select Wednesdays and Saturdays, 1:00 – 3:30 PM
Nauset Light, Eastham
Nauset Beach Light was, until recently, located atop a bluff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Thanks to the efforts of friends of the lighthouse and the funds they raised, the light tower and keepers’ home (which is privately owned) was moved just west of its former site on property of the Cape Cod National Seashore to protect it from encroaching dune erosion. This working lighthouse is visible 15½ miles out to sea.
*Tours: Mid-May through October. Check the calendar for details.
Highland Light, Truro
Also known as Cape Cod Light, this is the Cape’s first lighthouse, built in 1797 at the request of George Washington. The light was rebuilt in 1857 and this is the 66-foot tower that you see today. This lighthouse’s other claim to fame is that it was moved away from the eroding high dune cliffs during 1996 and part of 1997 to save it from falling into the ocean. One of the most important lights on the East Coast for mariners, it is also a favorite destination for photographers and travelers. The current beacon, with over 620,000 candlepower, is the most powerful light in New England and shines about 20 miles to sea.
*Tours: Late May through late October; 10 AM – 5:30 PM
Race Point Lighthouse, Provincetown
Built in 1876, Race Point Lighthouse was manned by a lightkeeper until 1972 when the light station was automated and the last keeper vacated the house. After the light station was automated (it now runs on solar power) the lightkeeper’s house fell into disrepair. In recent years, the New England Lighthouse Foundation has completed a splendid renovation of the house, which is now used as a retreat for scientists and artists.
*Tours: June through early October on first and third Saturdays, 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
After taking advantage of these tips for touring Cape Cod Lighthouses, come back to your luxury suite or beautiful guest room at the Captain Farris House located in historic Bass River Village.
* Please Note: Tour times are subject to change due to weather and shorebird nesting. Check the websites for accurate information on visiting hours.