Oceanfront Maine is strung with over sixty lighthouses. Which ones should you include in your coastal Maine vacation?
Every lighthouse on the coast of Maine is unique and claims some reason for a visit, but pilgrimages to some of the famous lights yield memorable experiences beyond a photo op.
These four guardians of the waterways are picturesque and accessible; even more, they are representative of the coastal area in which they’re found. The beacons created for the seafaring can also be followed by highway travelers, used as anchors of a week’s trip along the coast of Maine. Driving time between each stop is two to three hours, depending on traffic, distractions, and intentional detours. Visit the lighthouse, then give yourself a day to get acquainted with that part of Maine’s coast. Take as many of those intentional detours as time allows.
Pemaquid Point, the Embodiment of the Maine Coast
Although it’s certainly not the first lighthouse a Maine traveler might encounter, the watchtower standing high on the cliffs of Pemaquid Point is an apt introduction to all that is coastal in this state, a fact acknowledged by the light’s depiction on Maine’s state quarter, on calendars and guidebooks, and in many visitors’ photo albums of Maine vacation memories.
An hour’s visit to this point at the end of the Pemaquid Peninsula can easily turn into two hours, or three, or four. Nature and humanity come face to face here on this piece of land jutting into the sea. The power of the ocean is mesmerizing, as wave after wave crashes onto the striated cliffs. The fog comes and goes, constantly changing the scene. Tides of people flow through the park; a painter perches on a ledge and tries to capture the movement and light; children scramble up and balance on a rock; a silver-haired couple on a bench watch nature’s spectacle in silence. A spot on the high rock formations gives a front-row seat to watch the show of relentless tides, countless birds, and interesting people.
The lighthouse itself is open to those who want to climb the many steps into the tower, and a museum in the adjoining keeper’s house opens the door onto what life must have been like for those who tended these beacons before the days of automation.
Better yet, the curious can find out what life is like now at Pemaquid Point. The second floor of the keeper’s house is available as a weekly vacation rental. It’s a small apartment, most comfortable for two, but would surely be a memorable stay. One thing to remember: Renters will share their dramatic setting with hundreds of others drawn to this point.
In Damariscotta, take Route 130 south to Pemaquid Point lighthouse. A small fee is charged.
Rockland Breakwater Light
A Walk Across a Maine Harbor
Just a little more than an hour up Route 1 is Rockland, a town that has lived by the sea but is busy creating its new image as a center for art and tourism. The lighthouse outpost on Rockland’s harbor sits at the end of a breakwater almost a mile long.
Visiting the Rockland Breakwater Light means walking across the harbor on a giant granite wall. The huge blocks of granite were laid in place to protect the harbor and town from the onslaught of Penobscot Bay’s weather, but the breakwater has become a mecca for walkers. Walkers on the breakwater are surrounded by the waters of the bay and have a ship’s view of the town of Rockland and the traffic of the harbor. The breakwater is a choice spot for special events like lobster boat races and Rockland’s windjammer parade
The lighthouse is open for tours on weekends throughout the summer season, but even if it is not open, walkers can climb to the walkway around the light. Walking across the harbor on the breakwater is free. It is an outing of almost two miles, but it also requires some care; crevices between the granite and uneven walking surfaces make it inappropriate for some visitors.
Bass Harbor Head Light
A Taste of Acadia
A visit to Bass Harbor Head Light introduces travelers to the beauty of Acadia National Park and a delightful part of the park that is often missed. This lighthouse, with an unusual red light, is probably one of the most photographed lighthouses in Maine. For visitors, the fascination might well be the challenge of getting a good look at the tower.
But first, the drive to Bass Harbor. Route 3 in Ellsworth leads to Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park. But instead of heading toward the shopping in well-known Bar Harbor, take Route 102 down the western side of the island to Southwest Harbor. This part of Mount Desert is known as the Quiet Side, but the scenery is just as amazing and the little towns are not as crowded. In Southwest Harbor, Route 102A leads to the tip of the island. Along the way, the area known as Seawall is a favorite area for birdwatchers and a great spot for a picnic. The lighthouse is just off 102A, on Lighthouse Road.
At first glance, the lighthouse itself might be a disappointment. A paved walkway curve around the buildings, but access is limited since the keeper’s house is actually a residence. But don’t miss the trail leading down through the forest to the left of the light. At the end of this trail are dramatic views of cliffs and ocean and lighthouse.
This path is not for everyone; there are stairs to climb and the trail ends on the rocks of the cliffs. Many visitors like to climb the rocks, looking for just the right angle to photograph the lighthouse or simply sit and enjoy the views. It is from this vantage point that most photos show this lighthouse that seems to cling precariously to the side of cliffs dropping straight into the ocean.
West Quoddy Head Light
Mystique of Downeast Maine
No Maine lighthouse tour is complete without a visit to the famous West Quoddy Head Light at the very end of South Lubec Road. This candy-striped lighthouse is on photos everywhere, but no picture can capture the sensory experience of a visit. The crisp air, the constant surge of the strong tides, the pine-scented trails along high cliffs, and the sound of the fog signal linger in the memory.
A drive to this lighthouse takes the Maine coast traveler to the easternmost point of land in the United States, through the wild blueberry country and small Downeast fishing villages. The nearby town of Lubec, Maine, has water views in every direction and the freshest of seafood. Seaglass on the beaches, spruce and fir forests, dramatic tides, and the fog that comes and goes like a living thing make this part of the Maine coast as unforgettable and unique as the red and white stripes of West Quoddy Light.
Visit these four lighthouses, eat a few seafood dinners along the way, and your Maine coast vacation will have sampled the distinctive flavors of the Maine coast.