Want to spend the day chasing lighthouses in Portland, Maine? From Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse to Portland Head Light below are five beauties that are the best ones to put on your must visit map. Each of them comes with a lot of history and their own unique flare, plus one of them is one of the most photographed lighthouses in Maine—if not the entire world!
Seeing all of them is a massive draw for anyone planning to visit the state and definitely one of the best things to do in Portland, but to do all the Maine lighthouses in one day, you’ll need to be a speedster—though it can be done.
The Best Lighthouses in Portland Maine
Bug Light (Portland Breakwater Lighthouse)
Located in South Portland, Portland Breakwater Lighthouse (also known as Bug Light due to its superstructure having been built on granite block caisson) is a lighthouse of a small size. Originally the lighthouse was built in 1855, mainly from wood, but when the breakwater was extended, a new lighthouse was built to take its place in 1875, this time using cast-iron plates.
The lighthouse has since also been accompanied by two shipyards that were built during World War II. Restoration of this lighthouse took place in 1989, and as of 2002 it has been reactivated into use, becoming one of the aids to navigation listed in the US Coast Guard Light List.
Portland Head Light
Located in Cape Elizabeth, Portland Head Light is situated right at the entryway to Portland Harbor’s primary shipping channel, within Gulf of Maine’s Casco Bay. Portland Head Light finished building in 1791, having been commissioned for building by George Washington a couple of years earlier, making Portland Head Light the oldest of the lighthouses in Portland Maine, as well as the most historic one.
After undergoing very few changes and reconstructions, today the lighthouse stands automated, with United States Coast Guard having maintenance rights to its beacon, foghorn, and tower, with the former lighthouse keepers’ house having been turned into a maritime museum that has something for any member of the family to enjoy, with entrance to it within Fort Williams Park; Portland Head Light is also the most photographed and painted of all the Maine lighthouses, and it’s no wonder, as it is truly a gorgeous and photogenic lighthouse. I have been there both in the summer and the winter, and each season offers it’s own beauty.
For an unforgettable adventure, take the Lighthouse Bike Tour that will take you to Portland Head Light and two other famous lighthouses (plus you’ll get a lobster roll along the way!). You can get more information about Portland Head Light on their website.
Ram Island Ledge Light
Ram Island Ledge Light is the lighthouse in Casco Bay, which designates where the northern end of Portland’s harbor’s main channel is, not far from Cushing Island. It is called a ledge light, as the lighthouse is built on a series of stone ledges, forming the tiny Ram Island, with some of these ledges breaking Casco Bay’s southern end’s waters.
These ledges are known to be dangerous and cause of many shipwrecks, which is why in 1850s an iron spindle was erected nearby to make sailors alert and alarmed of the approaching ledges. There was a particular accident at the beginning of 1900, which was how the lighthouse came to be, built off of granite blocks. The lighthouse and island was sold in an auction to a private owner in 2010 in hopes of preserving this historic structure and property.
FYI: It is best viewed from the Portland Head Light area or from the eastern shores of Peaks Island.
Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse
Much like Ram Island Ledge Light, Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse, located in South Portland, is also built on stone ledges, in addition to which it rests on a caisson like Bug Light does, as a structure made of brick. Being built on a caisson makes both lighthouses have the designation of a sparkplug lighthouse.
This lighthouse was built from start to finish in 1897 – being the youngest of the lighthouses in Portland Maine – after several ships ran aground on the Spring Point ledge, and today it has become a popular spot for families to go on a picnic on during the summer season, especially as this is the only lighthouse in the Portland area which you can actually enter. But, also make sure to see it from the water by taking a boat tour!
Adjacent to the lighthouse are also the Southern Maine Community College and Fort Preble, the latter being a military fort that was built in 1808 and remained in active use until 1950, a few years after the ending of World War II.
Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse (aka: Two Lights)
While the Two Lights State Park itself actually does not have a lighthouse on its grounds, the Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse – also called Two Lights – resides adjacent to the park, at Casco Bay’s southwestern entrance in Cape Elizabeth. This lighthouse was originally constructed in 1828 as two towers made of rubble stone, located within 300 yards of each other, hence being named Two Lights, with the west tower carrying the ability to rotate its light.
The western tower was deactivated from being in service in 1924, as well as sold to a private owner in 1971, and the structure of both towers has since been switched to cast-iron. The east tower is still used for lighthouse service, officially running under the name Cape Elizabeth Light now. While from Two Lights State Park you have clear views of the lighthouse, you cannot access the property itself.
Which of these lighthouses in Portland Maine are you most excited to visit and see? Is it Portland Head Light, the crowd favorite, or is it perhaps Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse, which looks especially spectacular at sunset?
Whichever lighthouse is most to your liking, you’ll surely have a beautiful day discovering each one along the gorgeous Portland coastline. And because all of them are within a 20-minute drive away from the city, you’ll get to do a whole ton of exploring during the day and still have plenty of time to hit the Portland food scene in the evening. And if you happen to be in town on Maine’s Open Lighthouse Day, you’ll even get to climb up the lighthouses!
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