Coastal landscapes wouldn't be the same without that familiar beacon of safety — the lighthouse.
Most ships today have sophisticated GPS tracking systems to navigate choppy waters around the shoreline, making lighthouses less essential than they once were. But as tourist attractions and romantic reminders of the seafaring adventures of yesteryear, they are irreplaceable.
Dotted around North America’s two great coasts, and on inlets and rocky outposts across Canada and the United States, gorgeous lighthouses welcome visitors from across the world.
These are the best in North America.
Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada
Situated on giant ocean-worn slabs of rock, Peggy’s Cove is home to an iconic red and white lighthouse, one of the most photographed beacons in the world. Built in 1915, it is said to have gained its pretty name from a shipwrecked woman washed ashore. Visitors can check out the museum to learn more and also purchase a fresh lobster lunch.
Cape Spear, Newfoundland, Canada
Experience the first sunrise on the continent standing here in the most easterly part of North America. This oldest surviving lighthouse in the region, built in 1836, is a squat structure standing between Canada and the United States, looking out over the ocean towards Ireland.
Île Aux Perroquets, Québec, Canada
Back in 1888, after two local shipwrecks, the pressure mounted for authorities to install a lighthouse at this “Island of Parrots” located on the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve. Although you won't find tropical parrots here, you will be able to view seabirds including Atlantic Puffins, or the “Parrots of the Sea,” so named for their colorful beaks.
Big Tub, Ontario, Canada
This six-sided white wooden lighthouse with red accents is still responsible for safely guiding boats through to Big Tub harbor in Tobermory. Although there have been many improvements and repairs over the years, it was actually originally constructed back in 1885.
At a height of 43 foot, it looks out over the waters and the Chi-Cheemaun ferry.
Gull Harbor, Manitoba, Canada
Located on Lake Winnipeg, this lighthouse is one of two on the site. At 77 feet high, it’s perched on a steel tower on Hecla Island, about two hours away from Winnipeg. There is a restaurant and bar nearby, and you can to stay in accommodations on the island.
Estevan Point, British Columbia, Canada
On the west coast at Hesquiat Peninsula on Vancouver Island, you’ll find this 100-foot octagonal tower. Thanks to its eight flying buttresses and red dome, it is commonly referred to as a “rocket.”
The lighthouse was constructed after the wreck of the Valencia in 1906 near Pachena Point; by 1910 it was fully operational, and also included a wireless telegram station.
Cobourg East Pierhead, Cobourg, Ontario, Canada
Erected in 1844, this white lighthouse located less than an hour from the city of Peterborough features red Canadian maple leaves on the door and makes for great photos. This area is the perfect quaint location for a walk or a picnic lunch, and is picturesque in all seasons.
Gibraltar Point, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
On the Toronto Islands, this stone lighthouse is the oldest building of its kind still standing on the Great Lakes. Decommissioned in 1950, the red door welcomes visitors for a photograph but holds a spooky secret: its first lighthouse keeper, who mysteriously disappeared in 1815, is said to haunt the space.
Pointe-Au-Père, Quebec, Canada
This historical maritime site on the banks of the St Lawrence River features Canada’s first accessible submarine as well as the Pointe-Au-Père lighthouse, constructed in 1909. You can climb up the 128 steps inside the tower for great 360-degree views of the river from the top of Canada’s second-highest lighthouse.
Sambro Island, Nova Scotia, Canada
This jolly, striped, red and white lighthouse is a historic and important site for the continent. But those pretty patterns have a very practical purpose — they help the lighthouse to be more visible in deep snow.
Sambro Island lighthouse is the oldest operating lighthouse in the Americas. Running on solar power, this wood-covered stone structure is an iconic Canadian symbol.
Cape D’Or Nova Scotia, Canada
On the North Shore of the Bay of Fundy, where you’ll find some of the highest tides in the world, a lighthouse has been the difference between life and death for seafaring folk.
The cottages and tower here are available to rent as vacation accommodations.
East Quoddy, New Brunswick, Canada
A collection of red-roofed cottages beautifully coordinate with the large red cross decorating this white lighthouse on Head harbor Island. The attraction is only accessible by foot, so you’ll need to wait for low tide.
Built in 1829, the lighthouse’s red cross has been a feature since 1850.
Fisgard, British Columbia, Canada
Fisgard lighthouse was the first on the west coast of Canada, built in 1860 by the British. A red brick house stands behind the tall white tower. Step inside to see two floors of various maritime exhibits on the navy, shipwrecks and life as a lighthouse keeper.
Point Amour, Labrador, Canada
Located on the south coast of Labrador, this lighthouse stands at 108 feet, making it the tallest tower in Atlantic Canada. Climb the 132 steps to the top for views across the Gulf of St Lawrence.
Fancy lantern-lit dinners are served inside the lighthouse, often following whale-watching adventures.
Machias Seal Island, U.S. or Canada?
The lighthouse here sits on the only disputed land claim between Canada and the United States, bounded by Maine and New Brunswick. Canadians built the lighthouse back in 1832, and it still has lighthouse keepers on duty.
The U.S. officially refuses to admit the lighthouse exists — so visit just to prove it’s there!
Boston Light, Massachusetts, United States
At Little Brewster Island you’ll find this 89-foot tall lighthouse, which sits upon the same site as the original light tower, constructed in 1715. The oldest U.S. lighthouse, it was the last one to finally succumb to modernization and automation, holding out until 1998.
The lighthouse has been crowned a national historic landmark and employs the country's only serving lighthouse keeper.
Cape Lookout ("Diamond Lady"), North Carolina, United States
The black and white harlequin pattern on this lighthouse marks it as a unique design. The climb to the top is quite tricky, up 207 steps on a narrow winding staircase. If that sounds too strenuous, instead walk around the visitor center and learn more about the history of the area and maritime events. Then spend the rest of the day at the beach or strolling the lighthouse’s boardwalk.
Pigeon Point, California, United States
Proudly overlooking the Pacific coast, Pigeon Point lighthouse was built in 1871 and is the tallest lighthouse on the west coast of the United States. The name of this tower comes from the Carrier Pigeon ship, which was shipwrecked here in 1853 on her maiden voyage. Tours, unfortunately, had to be canceled in the 2000s due to damage to the structure’s brickwork, but it’s still worth a visit to photograph the outside.
Portland Head, Maine, United States
A collection of five lighthouses watch over this area, including Portland Head, which sounds its foghorn in inclement weather. There is also a museum and gift shop on site. But make sure you spend the majority of your time viewing the ocean, as the unusual, layered-quartzite rocks here look like floating driftwood from ghostly shipwrecks.
Heceta Head, Oregon, United States
Located at the cove of Cape Creek, this cliffside lighthouse has watched over both still and stormy waters since 1894 and features the strongest light on the Oregon coast. This is a great spot to bird-watch; from the railings of the lighthouse, you can observe common murres, pelicans and bald eagles.
Battery Point, California, United States
You’d be forgiven for not realizing that this California lighthouse is a lighthouse at all — it looks more like a cottage with a large chimney on top. Visit the museum, go inside the lighthouse, and see the original Fresnel lens. You can only reach Battery Point at low tide though, so plan your visit accordingly.
North Head, Washington, United States
Don’t let the name fool you, the Cape of Disappointment is home to an attraction you’ll be glad you visited — the North Head lighthouse. Built in 1898, this lighthouse has undergone renovation work and shows signs of weathered aging. But it still shines as a beacon to aid in the navigation of the Columbia River and Pacific ocean.
Cape Neddick (Nubble), Maine, United States
On its own island, this pretty lighthouse and cottage have stood at the entrance to the York River since 1879. Although you won't be able to get onto the Island to tour Nubble light (it is closed to the public) you can take beautiful photographs from the mainland. There is also a gift shop to visit and nearby accommodations and restaurants.
Diamond Head, Hawaii, United States
The white tower and red dome of Diamond Head lighthouse can be seen from afar, spreading its light 18 miles out into the Pacific Ocean. Built in 1899, the beacon helps to steer sailors away from the reefs at Waikiki. Taking its name from the extinct Diamond Head volcano, this lighthouse is not open for viewing but can be photographed from Diamond Head road.
Montauk Point, New York, United States
New York state's oldest lighthouse is a white and muted red tower at the height of 110 feet tall. Scale the 137 iron steps to the very top where you can see the light, which flashes every five seconds. Temporary exhibits and an onsite museum are also worth the visit. You can reach the lighthouse via the New York City subway on a three-hour trip.
Lorain, Ohio, United States
A lighthouse of one sort or another has sat on this spot at Lake Eerie since 1836. But in 1917, the Lorain lighthouse was installed and soon became plagued with tales of ghostly occurrences. No doubt these stories are fueled by the fact that Lorain looks more like a spooky haunted house than a traditional tower-style beacon. Known as the “Jewel of the Port,” Lorain lighthouse continues to guard the inner harbor as it has done for decades.
Eldred Rock, Alaska, United States
In the stunning landscape of Lynn Canal, 55 miles northwest of the city of Juneau, sits a large two-story octagonal lighthouse that has been here for over a century. Alaska’s oldest lighthouse was constructed after a series of terrible shipwrecks in this most northern of waters. The aging lighthouse has now been given non-profit status to be restored by the Lighthouse committee.
Split Rock, Minnesota, United States
This Minnesota landmark on Lake Superior is one of the most handsome lighthouses in North America. These waters were declared the most dangerous in the world after one storm wrecked 30 ships, leading to the construction of the lighthouse in 1905. Until 1924, when the highway was completed, it could only be accessed by water.
Tour the state park and visitor center during your trip.
Bodie Island, North Carolina, United States
Bodie Island lighthouse is a slim and narrow black and white striped tower that despite its name is not located on an island any longer, but a peninsula. Built in 1872 and recently unveiled after years of repairs and maintenance work, it’s a colorful member of a collection of Outer Banks lighthouses.
Cove Point, Maryland, United States
The keeper’s house beside the tall white lighthouse at Chesapeake Bay can be rented out as a vacation home or for special occasions and events like weddings. Built in 1828, the tower was watched over by a lighthouse keeper until automation in 1986, and operations are now controlled from Baltimore.
Make the trip to the visitors center to learn more about the history of this area and its maritime past.