Active Traveler: Cape Cod Lighthouses

Lighthouses are as much a part of Cape Cod as the sea. Mile-for-mile, Cape Cod has one of the world’s largest concentrations of working lighthouses. The stoic beacons which have guided vessels through the treacherous waters off of the Cape's shores have been around for centuries.

Though some are no longer functioning, have been destroyed and rebuilt, or were even moved due to erosion, they all are beautiful Cape Cod icons and an integral part of this sandy peninsula’s history.

A few of the Cape’s lighthouses have perhaps become so well known because they are easily accessible to the public (and easily captured by photograph). Chatham’s Chatham Light, Eastham’s Nauset Light, Truro’s Highland Light and Falmouth’s Nobska Light are classic Cape Cod lighthouses, all located within steps of the street. Each also offers public tours in season (Nobska tours did not run in 2015, but are expected to resume in 2016). Also popular are the Three Sisters, 19th-century lighthouses which once provided a beacon for sailors off shore of Nauset Light Beach; the Cape Cod National Seashore provides guided walking tours to these historic structures.

There are other stone and iron giants to be found just off the beaten path.

Enjoy long walks on the beach? This will come in handy when visiting such lighthouses as Stage Harbor Light in Chatham, a headless lighthouse located on private property a one mile walk out onto Harding’s Beach. Sandy Neck Light in West Barnstable is located on the Sandy Neck spit, way out amidst the cottages of the old Sandy Neck Colony.

In Provincetown, there are three beach walk lights to enjoy: Wood End and Long Point Lights are located across the town’s West End Breakwater. One of the most remote of all of the Cape’s lighthouses is Race Point Light, situated in the breathtaking dunes of the Cape Cod National Seashore. To access it, you’ll need to hike nearly two miles across the sandy beach or take your own four-wheel drive vehicle with the proper permit. The easiest way to get there is to take Art’s Dune Tours, a multi-passenger off-road vehicle that will take you right to the lighthouse, with the added bonus of a narrated tour of the historic sand dunes and National Seashore Park. For a truly unique Cape Cod experience, ask about renting out the Race Point Light Keeper's house or Whistle house for your next stay!

Monomoy Point Light, one of the nation's earliest cast-iron lighthouses built on the southern end of Monomoy Island of Chatham, is another difficult one to access. This light was deactivated in 1923 after it was determined the nearby Chatham Light was sufficient for that area. Your best bet to see it is to take a guided tour aboard Monomoy Island Excursions, or take a ferry service there in season, such as Monomoy Island Ferry or Outermost Harbor Marine (once you are dropped off, be prepared to still hike the spectacular Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge to reach the lighthouse).

Dig even further beneath the surface and there are a handful of truly unfamiliar lighthouses, most of them private, which dot the Cape Cod landscape. Structures like Wings Neck Lighthouse in Pocasset, Cleveland Ledge Lighthouse just offshore in Falmouth, Hyannis Rear Range Lighthouse, and Point Gammon Lighthouse on Great Island in South Yarmouth are lesser known, but they all played a role in the rich lighthouse history of Cape Cod.  Be advised these lighthouses are either on private property or out on the water, and thus should only be gazed upon from a respectful distance.

If You Go:  (these are the easily accessible lighthouses)
Nobska Lighthouse: 398 Nobska Rd., Woods Hole
Chatham Lighthouse: 37 Main St., Chatham
Highland Lighthouse: 27 Highland Light Rd., North Truro
Nauset Lighthouse: Ocean View Dr., Eastham         

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