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Guide to the Best Lighthouses in Cape Cod: A Beacon of Beauty

Table of Contents

1. Highland Light: Cape Cod's Oldest Lighthouse

2. Nobska Light: Overlooking Vineyard Sound

3. Chatham Light: Guarding the Shores

4. Race Point Light: Remote Beauty

5. Sandy Neck Light: A Historic Gem

6. Cape Cod Lighthouse Tours: Making the Most of Your Visit

7. Photography Tips for Lighthouse Enthusiasts

8. Supporting Lighthouse Preservation

9. Conclusion

Standing sentinel along the shores of Cape Cod (Massachusetts), lighthouses are more than just historical landmarks. They are testaments to the region's rich maritime past, beacons of beauty amidst the ever-changing seascapes, and silent storytellers whispering tales of mariners, shipwrecks, and rescues.

These guardians were once vital for guiding ships safely along the treacherous shores of New England, particularly for those traveling the busy trade routes between Boston and points further north. Today, they serve as a reminder of the ingenuity and perseverance required to navigate the Atlantic waters.

This guide will illuminate the best lighthouses to visit in Cape Cod, offering glimpses into their history and providing tips to make your lighthouse adventure truly unforgettable.



Highland Light: Cape Cod's Oldest Lighthouse

Having kept watch over Cape Cod's coastline for over two centuries, Highland Light (previously known as Cape Cod Light) is not just the first lighthouse (and the tallest) on the Cape, but also a testament to American maritime history and perseverance. Established in 1797 by order of President George Washington, the Highland Lighthouse has undergone several transformations throughout the years. The original wooden tower was replaced by a brick structure in 1831, and the current 66-foot tower was built in 1857.

In the 1990s, erosion threatened to topple this historic lighthouse into the sea. Thanks to a community fundraising effort led by the Truro Historical Society, the original lighthouse was successfully moved 450 feet inland to its current location. Today, visitors can climb the 69 steps to the top of the lighthouse and be rewarded with breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean and the surrounding coastline. 

Managed by the National Park Service and operated by Eastern National, a non-profit partner, Highland Light offers guided tours that delve into its fascinating history. Whether you're interested in history, maritime culture, or simply stunning coastal scenery, Highland Light is a must-visit for any Cape Cod explorer.

Open daily, May through October, from 9 AM to 5 PM, with the last tour starting at 4:30 PM


Nobska Light: Overlooking Vineyard Sound

Nobska Light or Nobska Point Lighthouse (originally "Nobsque Light") in Woods Hole, Falmouth has guided mariners from the southwestern tip of Cape Cod for nearly two centuries. Originally constructed in 1828, the lighthouse replaced a wooden structure with a keeper's house incorporated into the tower itself. The current 42-foot iron tower, however, dates back to 1876. This historic lighthouse played a crucial role in ensuring the safety of countless ships navigating the waters around Buzzards Bay, Nantucket Sound, and Vineyard Sound.

Over the years, Nobska Light has witnessed the evolution of lighthouse technology. In 1841, the first Fresnel lens, a revolutionary invention that dramatically enhanced the range of a lighthouse beam, was installed. The current Fresnel lens is still in operation and can be viewed during a tower tour. The 20th century brought further advancements, with the addition of a radio tower in 1937 and the replacement of the fog bell with a more powerful diaphragm horn in the 1940s.

The lighthouse itself was automated in 1985, and is still active today as an aid to navigation. The grounds are open to the public, offering visitors a chance to explore this piece of maritime history. The "Friends of Nobska Light" organization is dedicated to the preservation of the lighthouse and the keeper's house. They offer tours, allowing visitors to climb the tower and witness the breathtaking views that once guided countless sailors home. 

In season, tours are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 AM to 12:15 PM. Tours may be canceled due to inclement weather.

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Chatham Light: Guarding the Shores

Shining bright from the "elbow" of Cape Cod, Chatham Light boasts a rich history dating back to 1808. Originally christened the "Twin Lights" due to its unique dual tower design, it was the second lighthouse built on Cape Cod. These early wooden towers, constructed to distinguish Chatham Lighthouse from its neighbor at North Truro, were replaced with brick iterations in 1841. As erosion threatened the ever-shifting coastline, the station relocated further inland in 1877, with the cast-iron towers we see today taking their place. 

Chatham Light's story is one of innovation and adaptation. In 1923, the towers were separated, with the northern one finding a new home as Nauset Light in Eastham. Kerosene-fueled lanterns gave way to electric lights in 1939, and the iconic Fresnel lens, installed in 1857, was eventually replaced by modern technology in 1969. Today, the lighthouse stands proudly as an active U.S. Coast Guard Station.

Visitors to Cape Cod can not only marvel at the lighthouse's historic presence, but also peer into its past. The original Fresnel lens is now on display at the Atwood House Museum, while the Chatham Coast Guard Station grounds showcase the original concrete base of the relocated north tower. During the summer months, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary offers tours, allowing visitors to climb the 44 steps to the top and witness its breathtaking views. 

Lighthouse tours are available every Wednesday in July and August, and every other Wednesday through September. Note that there is a 30-minute parking lot along the road at the beach, just a short walk away. It is enforced, and during the summer fills up fast.


Race Point Light: Remote Beauty

For the adventurous traveler seeking a unique Cape Cod experience, Race Point Lighthouse on the Cape Cod National Seashore beckons. Located in Provincetown at the very tip of the peninsula, this historic lighthouse offers a glimpse into maritime history and stunning natural beauty. Established in 1816, it boasts the distinction of being the third lighthouse built on Cape Cod. The original rubblestone tower, featuring an early rotating beacon, gave way to a more substantial 45-foot cast iron structure erected in 1876.

Reaching Race Point Light requires a bit of dedication. Visitors can choose between a scenic 45-minute walk along the sand or, with a permit, a four-wheel drive adventure across the dunes. This seclusion adds to the lighthouse's charm, offering a chance to escape the crowds and commune with nature. The surrounding landscape is a haven for wildlife and boasts breathtaking vistas of endless beaches and crashing waves.

Today, Race Point Light is much more than just a navigational aid. Managed by the American Lighthouse Foundation, the site offers a unique opportunity to stay overnight in the historic keeper's house or the whistle house. For history buffs, tours are available on select Saturdays during the summer months, allowing visitors to explore the lighthouse and learn about its fascinating past. Whether you choose to climb the tower, spend a night amidst the tranquility, or simply soak in the beauty of the surrounding beach, Race Point Light promises an unforgettable Cape Cod experience.


Sandy Neck Light: A Historic Gem

Standing sentinel at the entrance to Barnstable Harbor, Sandy Neck Light boasts a rich history that stretches back to 1826. Originally constructed with a wooden tower incorporated into the keeper's house, this lighthouse has weathered countless storms and witnessed the evolution of maritime commerce in the region. The current brick lighthouse tower, built in 1857 and strengthened in the 1880s, stands as a testament to its enduring presence.

However, Sandy Neck Light's story took an unexpected turn in 1931. Due to shifting sands and the declining prominence of Barnstable Harbor, the lighthouse was decommissioned. The lantern room was removed, leaving the tower headless for over seven decades.

Yet, the year 2007 marked a remarkable revival. Fueled by a community effort led by the Sandy Neck Lighthouse Restoration Committee, the lighthouse was finally restored to its former glory. A new lantern room was installed, and a solar-powered beacon rekindled the light, guiding mariners once again. 

Today, Sandy Neck Light stands as a private aid to navigation. While inaccessible to the public due to its location on private property, the lighthouse is a cherished landmark visible from whale-watching excursions departing Barnstable Harbor, or from Yarmouthport from the Long Pasture Audobon property. 

Also, check out Barnstable Vacation Rentals at Del Mar to stay at your favorite place. 

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Cape Cod Lighthouse Tours: Making the Most of Your Visit

Planning a lighthouse tour in Cape Cod is an excellent way to delve deeper into the region's maritime heritage. Consider timing your visit during the off-season to avoid crowds and enjoy a more intimate experience. Public transportation options are limited, so renting a car is recommended for maximum flexibility.

To create a full day of exploration, combine your lighthouse visits with stops at charming seaside towns, fresh seafood shacks, or art galleries showcasing local talent.


Photography Tips for Lighthouse Enthusiasts

Capturing the essence of Cape Cod's lighthouses through photography requires planning and a touch of creative flair. Aim for early mornings or golden hour for the most flattering light. A sturdy tripod will ensure sharp images, especially when using telephoto lenses to zoom in on landscape and architectural details. Don't be afraid to experiment with different compositions, incorporating foreground elements like rocks or wildflowers to add depth and interest to your photos.

Supporting Lighthouse Preservation

These iconic landmarks rely on ongoing preservation efforts to ensure they continue to grace Cape Cod's shores for generations to come. Visitors can contribute to this vital cause through donations to lighthouse preservation societies or by volunteering their time.

Keep an eye out for fundraising events throughout the year, as they offer the opportunity to learn more about lighthouse history while supporting their continued legacy.


Cape Cod's lighthouses are far more than just brick-and-mortar structures! They are symbols of resilience, innovation, and the enduring connection between humankind and the sea.

Embark on your own lighthouse journey, and discover a world of history, breathtaking scenery, and unique experiences that will leave a lasting impression. Let these beacons of light guide you toward an unforgettable Cape Cod adventure.



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About the Author


In 2015, driven by his own challenges as a homeowner dealing with a rental management company and a desire for a better solution, Luke Chapman founded Del Mar Vacations. His goal was to simplify the process of managing and caring for rental homes and their guests, offering a comprehensive, full-service solution. As a lifelong Cape Codder, Luke's deep-rooted love and knowledge of the area infuse every aspect of his business. Through this blog, he shares his insider tips and local insights, aiming to transform each visitor's trip into an unforgettable Cape Cod adventure.