16 Stunning Lighthouses from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast

Did you know that Michigan has the most lighthouses out of any state, having as many as 140 in its heyday? And that the Gulf Coast had as many as 80 at its peak? Travel inland with us to explore some of the lighthouses that grace our Great Lakes and a few that remain in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida today.

  1. Gross Pointe Light in Evanston, Illinois

    Grosse Point Lighthouse

    Mariners had to be careful navigating the shoals close to Chicago. The tragic sinking of Lady Elgin, a passenger steamer, occurred in the shallow waters near Grosse Point, Illinois in 1860; this incident spurred the United States government to build a lighthouse on the shores in 1874. Today, you can tour the lighthouse, learn about the history of the shipwreck, and walk the 141 stairs to the top of the tower.

  2. Exterior shot of Cana Island Lighthouse in Bailey Harbor, Wisconsin.

    Cana Island Lighthouse

    Constructed in 1869, this 89-foot historic lighthouse guided ships on the shore of Lake Michigan. Today, you can ride a hay wagon over the causeway to explore the island. Visit the newly renovated keeper’s quarters and walk the 97 steps to the top of Door County’s most iconic lighthouse tower.

  3. Exterior shot of Old Michigan City Lighthouse in Michigan City, Indiana

    Photo By: Chris Light

    Old Michigan City Light

    Indiana’s oldest remaining lighthouse is located on the edge of Lake Michigan. The natural harbors were remarkably busy in the early 1800s, and one of the first acts of Indiana’s frontier legislature was to construct the state’s first lighthouse in Michigan City. Today, you can visit this lighthouse museum to learn the history of Michigan City and its relationship to Lake Michigan as well as more about the six men and two women who served as lighthouse keepers.

  4. Exterior shot of Whitefish Point Light Station in Paradise, MI

    Photo By: Myron Reynard

    Whitefish Point Light Station

    Located on the southern shores of Lake Superior, Whitefish Point is the oldest continually operating lighthouse on Lake Superior. There are more than 200 shipwrecks in the area, and today the lighthouse is home to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. Learn about the perils of maritime travel and the safety and security that the lighthouse’s beacon provides.

  5. Exterior shot of Marblehead Lighthouse in Marblehead, Ohio

    Marblehead Lighthouse

    Lit in June 1822, Marblehead is the oldest Great Lakes lighthouse in continuous service. Over the years, sixteen keepers kept watch, including the first female keeper on the Great Lakes. When you visit today, enjoy scenic views of Lake Erie at the picnic spots near the rocky shore.

  6. Exterior shot of Presque Isle Lighthouse in Erie, PA

    Photo By: Andre Carrotflower

    Presque Isle Lighthouse

    This 1873 lighthouse’s original plan was to be built entirely of cut stone bricks, but it proved to be cost prohibitive. So, it was built five bricks thick from the ground up. While the outside of the tower is square, the interior is actually circular with a 78-step spiral staircase. Enjoy views of the shores of Lake Erie from the 30-foot tower.

  7. Exterior shot of Dunkirk Lighthouse in Dunkirk, NY

    Dunkirk Lighthouse

    While the first Dunkirk Lighthouse was built in 1827, the one standing today was rebuilt in the 1870s with bricks from the original. With a 27-mile range, its beacon is one of the most prominent on Lake Erie.

  8. Exterior shot of Two Harbors Lighthouse in Two Harbors, Minnesota

    Photo By: Anita Ritenour

    Two Harbors Lighthouse Museum

    Two Harbors Light Station, constructed in 1892, is the oldest operating light house in Minnesota. It got its start thanks to the success of Minnesota’s first commercial iron mine, which began a robust shipping operation of iron ore through Agate Bay. Today, the Lake County Historical Society has turned it into a bed-and-breakfast to generate funding to maintain the active lighthouse. Stay in one of the three guest bedrooms on the second floor of the Keeper’s Quarters or rent the quaint cottage, the Skiff House, on the lighthouse grounds.

  9. Exterior shot of Sand Island Lighthouse in Alabama

    Sand Island Lighthouse

    With four towers on Sand Island since 1830, the current lighthouse was built in 1873. The Sand Island Light is a simple brick tower lighthouse located in Mobile Bay, three miles from the Gulf Coast on a small island. Once 400 acres at its heyday, the island has been slowly eroding into the Gulf. Following the BP oil spill, an island renourishment project was carried out in late 2011 to restore the island, but most of that restoration washed away a year later during Hurricane Isaac. Today, you can rent a boat or take a boat tour to see the lighthouse by sea, as it is too unstable to enter.

  10. Exterior shot of Middle Bay Lighthouse in Alabama

    Middle Bay Lighthouse

    This hexagonal cottage style lighthouse sits on stilts in the center of Mobile Bay. It was activated in 1885. Called a screw-pile lighthouse for the metal piling screwed directly into the seafloor, this style was commonly used in bays with soft, muddy bottoms. Now one of the 10 remaining screwpile lighthouses in the United States, today it serves as navigation for leisure boats as well as hosting a real-time weather station for the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. While it’s not open to the public, you can see the lighthouse from the water by private boat or via a local boat tour.

  11. Exterior shot of Cedar Key Lighthouse on Cedar Key, Florida

    Cedar Key Lighthouse

    Constructed in 1854, the Cedar Key Lighthouse is the oldest standing lighthouse on the west coast of Florida, located three miles from Cedar Key by boat. Today, it’s managed by the Lower Suwanee National Wildlife Refuge, and it is opened to the public four times per year, accessible only by watercraft.

  12. Exterior shot of Port Boca Grande Lighthouse

    Photo By: Peter J Markham

    Port Boca Grande Lighthouse

    Built in 1890, the lighthouse is the oldest structure on Gasparilla Island. Congress greenlit a lighthouse after a burgeoning phosphate industry cropped up on the Peace River, which flowed west through the Boca Grande Channel to the Gulf of Mexico. The light is still an active aid for navigation of anglers, pleasure boaters, and park visitors. The one-story dwelling, supported by pilings, currently houses a history and nature museum run by the Barrier Island Parks Society. The lighthouse is closed during the month of August; check the website for details before planning a visit.

  13. Exterior shot of Port Bolivar Lighthouse

    Photo By: Patrick Feller

    Point Bolivar Lighthouse

    One of two remaining 19th-century iron lighthouses in Texas, this lighthouse has weathered some of the worst storms to hit the Gulf. During the 1900 and 1915 storms, the lighthouse sheltered many residents, saving them from the deadly hurricane. The lighthouse is privately owned; a nonprofit foundation is working to restore the lighthouse to one day be open to visitors.

  14. Exterior shot of Port Isabel Lighthouse

    Photo By: Billy D. Wagner

    Point Isabel Lighthouse State Historic Park

    The last remaining Texas lighthouse open to the public, this lighthouse was constructed in 1852 to help with navigation around the low-lying Texas coast. Today, the lighthouse is Texas’ smallest state park. It has been fully restored with a replica of the keeper's dwelling. Climb the 75 winding stairs and three short ladders to take in panoramic views of South Padre Island.

  15. Exterior shot of Biloxi Lighthouse

    Photo By: Detroit Photographic Co.

    Biloxi Lighthouse

    Built in 1848, Biloxi Lighthouse was one of the first cast-iron lighthouses in the South. It has the distinction of being kept by female keepers for more years than any other American lighthouse. During the strenuous climb up the stairs, you can see waterlines from hurricanes past. The lighthouse withstood Hurricane Katrina, which enveloped nearly a third of the 64-foot-tall building. Its restoration is associated with the city’s resilience in the aftermath of the historic storm.

  16. Exterior shot of New Canal Lighthouse

    New Canal Lighthouse

    The original lighthouse was built in 1838, but it has been rebuilt several times over the years due to hurricanes. Most recently, it suffered devastating damage in Hurricane Katrina. The Pontchartrain Conservancy restored the lighthouse to the museum and education center that is currently open and operating today. The lighthouse may hold the record for the most female keepers with at least five serving the station to date; the last keeper, Maggie Norvell, saved 200 people when a ferry caught fire in 1925 and, in 1926, rescued a Navy pilot by rowboat.

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