Long Island lighthouses are a beacon into the past. To explore them is to immerse yourself in the history of the region, from the Revolutionary War to the whaling age and the great steamship era of the 19th century.
There are about 20 lighthouses on Long Island, from New York Harbor to Montauk and the North Fork, but just five—Bug Light, Fire Island, Huntington Harbor, Horton Point, and Montauk Point—are open for public exploration.
Read on for our guide to visiting these incredible lighthouses on Long Island. A word of advice before you go: Limber up, as some of these lighthouses boast steep climbs, although we think you’ll agree the panoramic views are worth the effort.
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Bug Light, formally called the Long Beach Bar Light Station, is one of only a handful of offshore lighthouses in the United States that admits visitors. First lit in 1871, it burned down in 1963, but was fully restored in 1990 as a private aid to navigation. Today, it is owned and maintained by the East End Seaport Museum, which offers a limited series of trips via boat. As you travel, you'll also see the Orient Point (Plum Gut) Lighthouse, Plum Island Lighthouse, and Little Gull Light. Note: These cruises are not appropriate for children younger than 10 who are not permitted to visit Bug Light. There are no changing facilities nor any room to play aboard the ship. Greenport, however, is full of family-friendly fun. Check out our day-tripper's guide to the village.
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At 168 feet tall, the Fire Island Lighthouse is the tallest such structure on Long Island. Photo courtesy of the NPS
The Fire Island Lighthouse, set among sandy dunes at the western tip of Fire Island, was one of the first landmarks visitors saw when arriving by ship from Europe. It guides ships safely into Great South Bay on their way to New York City. Park at Robert Moses Field 5 and enjoy a mile-long, flat, boardwalk trek to the buildings. Curious deer will approach you, but it's best not to feed them. Learn about its history and peruse the gift shop for a treasure to mark your trip. Take in the sights from the bay on one side and the ocean on the other. The calm, flat bay side is perfect for barefoot exploration. Call ahead to see if volunteers are available for mid-week hikes. It is Long Island's tallest lighthouse tower at 168 feet tall (about 16 stories) with 182 steps to the top. You can, however, climb only to the lower balcony and the service room. Note: Children must be at least 42 inches tall to climb the tower. In addition to the tower and keeper’s house, visit the Lens Building, which has a collection of lighthouse lenses and an explanation of how these magnify and focus the small lights used. On the second floor, see interesting exhibits on navigation techniques, shipwrecks, and life-saving. The Fire Island Lighthouse is open year-round.
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Climb down the stairs from Horton Point Lighthouse to the Long Island Sound. Photo by the author
The waters off Horton Point in Southold were known as “Dead Man’s Cove.” Today, an automated metal tower just offshore has replaced this lighthouse. The 58-foot-tall lighthouse, commissioned by President George Washington in 1790 and constructed in 1857, houses a maritime museum operated by the Southold Historical Society. The museum contains logbooks, paintings, whaling tools, and more. A lush green lawn and picnic tables provide a great afternoon of exploring and sun-basking. From the grounds, enjoy panoramic views of Long Island Sound or take a steep set of stairs down to the rocky beach. There are no age or height restrictions to climb the lighthouse, which is open on summer weekends. The tower remained closed for the entirety of the 2021 season, and 2022 hours have not been announced. Check the website before visiting.
The original lighthouse was erected in 1857, on the coast of Lloyd Harbor, to guide ships in the night. That lighthouse, however, wasn't much help to the sailors, so a new one was commissioned by Congress and completed in 1912. This lighthouse's unique Venetian design gives it the look of a castle. Built on a reef, it stands at the entrance to the harbor. The original lighthouse was destroyed by a fire in 1947, but visitors can still see its remnants today. Tours of Huntington Harbor Lighthouse are held on designated dates each summer. Tours are by boat and proper footwear is required. Tours launch from Town of Huntington's Goldstar Battalion Beach. For safety reasons, children under 5 are not permitted.
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The Montauk Point Lighthouse sits on the easternmost tip of Long Island.
Montauk Point Lighthouse, on the eastern tip of Long Island, is the oldest lighthouse in the state and the fourth oldest in the country. Commissioned by President George Washington in 1792, construction was completed four years later. Climb the tower and peek at the light, then step outside onto a small balcony and wave to the people below. A visitor favorite is the map of Long Island with tiny models of every lighthouse from Montauk to New York City. Push buttons make each lighthouse light up with its signature color and blinking pattern. Once you have viewed the interior, play outside and admire the incredible views of the Block Island Sound. The lighthouse is set atop a steep hill perfect to roll or run down. Benches and boulders are available to climb or sit on. Children must be at least 41 inches tall to climb the tower. Afterward, walk to the park lodge next door and take the path down the bluffs to the rocky beach. You cannot swim, but it is still fun to explore. On clear days, you can see to Connecticut and Rhode Island. The lighthouse is closed in the winter. Visit its website for current season hours.
A version of this article was first published in 2012. It was updated in 2022.