By Ellee Thalheimer
With thousands of miles of coastline, there’s no shortage of lighthouses in Washington. Lighthouses capture the imagination, perching on rocky cliffs and standing sentinel near sandy shoals. They harken back to a time when keepers fought the elements and endured isolation so boats could navigate safely to shore. Today, dedicated volunteers maintain these facilities, allowing visitors to get a taste of history and sometimes even climb the lights for incomparable panoramas.
Washington Lighthouses: Peninsulas and Pacific Coast
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse
Located on the Long Beach Peninsula in Southwest Washington, this lighthouse is the original of two lighthouses at Cape Disappointment. The oldest working lighthouse on the West Coast (1856) overlooks the confluence between the Columbia River and Pacific Ocean. The lighthouse was set to be shut down in 1965. However, the Columbia River Bar Pilots protested so much that the light was left in service. In 1973, the light switched to an automated system but still maintains its vintage Fresnel lens.
The inside isn’t open to the public, but visitors can hike to the lighthouse from the parking lot of the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center (Discovery Pass required). The 0.3-mile trail winds along the bluffs above oft-photographed Dead Man’s Cove before reaching the lighthouse. Coming back, pop into the interpretive center. Displays highlight Lewis and Clark’s journey to the mouth of the Columbia River.
See also: Experience Storm Watching Along Washington’s Coast
North Head Lighthouse
Despite the best efforts of the original Cape Disappointment Lighthouse (1856), shipwrecks continued to plague the treacherous area known as the “Graveyard of the Pacific,” so in 1898 an additional lighthouse was built on the northwestern spur known as North Head. Today, the North Head Lighthouse continues to aid navigation with an automated beacon. From the lighthouse, expect sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, Long Beach Peninsula, Columbia River Bar, and northern Oregon Coast. From May through September, the lighthouse is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday-Sunday.
Point Wilson Lighthouse
Built in 1879, Point Wilson Lighthouse stands at the entrance of Admiralty Inlet and Puget Sound inside Fort Worden Historical State Park. Miles of forested trails and walkable beach provide impressive views of the Olympic and Cascade mountains and the San Juan Islands. Fort Worden’s campus includes 73 historic buildings and four museums.
From April through September, catch a lighthouse tour Saturdays 11 a.m.-4 p.m. If volunteers are available, there are Sunday tours as well. For those who want more time to explore the area’s history and natural beauty, consider staying right in Fort Walden State Park at the beachside keepers quarters. One of the quarters, the historic duplex, was part of the original buildings and accommodates four people. The ranch house that accommodates eight people was originally built as coast guard officer quarters in the 1960s. Contact the United State Lighthouse Society for rental inquiries.
New Dungeness Lighthouse
Situated at the tip of Dungeness Spit in the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, the New Dungeness Lighthouse overlooks the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Getting to this lighthouse is half the fun. From the refuge parking lot, visitors can hike five miles down the narrow and remarkably scenic Dungeness Spit (note the beach is only walkable at low tide). Kayakers and boaters can access the lighthouse from Cline Spit (5.5 miles north of Sequim) and are required to contact the Refuge office before landing.
The New Dungeness Keeper Program is a special way to experience the light. Spend a week maintaining the lighthouse, greeting the visitors who have hiked in, and relaxing by the coast. A four-wheel drive vehicle will bring your luggage and supplies for the week. The facilities accommodate up to eight people, which can be rented by a whole group or different parties.
See also: Top Things to Do on the Olympic Peninsula
Grays Harbor Lighthouse
Grays Harbor Lighthouse, the tallest in Washington at 107 feet, still boasts its original clamshell-shaped Fresnel lens built in Paris in 1895. Visitors can climb the 135 steps leading up to the lantern room while admiring the original cast-iron staircase. Visiting hours vary by season, so check the website and call ahead (360-268-6214). The lighthouse borders Westport Light State Park, a 560-acre day-use park that includes Half Moon Bay. Stroll along the park’s 1.3-mile ADA-accessible hiking trail hugging the beach to the South Jetty. On the other side of the park, two miles from the lighthouse, the Westport Maritime Museum displays exhibits on marine mammals, local maritime history, shipwrecks, and more.
Washington Lighthouses: Metro Puget Sound and Northwest Washington
The special Fresnel lens in the Mukilteo Lighthouse makes a 150-watt bulb visible from 10 miles away and guides ships to Everett, north of Seattle. The lighthouse is situated in Mukilteo Lighthouse Park on Possession Sound. Its little campus has quaint historic buildings set along a beach with tranquil views of the surrounding islands. The park’s fire pits and shelter are ideal for gatherings and watching the ferries glide to and from Whidbey Island. Check the website for the lighthouse’s seasonal hours.
Admiralty Head Lighthouse
On the western side of Whidbey Island in Fort Casey Historical State Park, this lighthouse stands sentinel over Admiralty Inlet off the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This out-of-commission lighthouse houses a gift shop and a museum displaying maritime artifacts (Discovery Pass required). From the top, visitors have superior views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. A 1.8-mile section of the Pacific Northwest Trail runs from the lighthouse along the grassy dunes and uncrowded shores of the Admiralty Head Marine Preserve. Check the lighthouse website for seasonal hours.
Point Robinson Lighthouse
On the east shore of Maury Island near Tacoma, the Point Robinson Lighthouse sits in a 10-acre shoreline park and marine conservancy and has looked over the East Passage since 1885. Before an air-compression fog whistle was installed in 1915, the light used a steam whistle to communicate with ships. To power that steam whistle, water from its V-shaped roof fed two 11,000-gallon cisterns. Tours of the lighthouse are generally available on Sundays from mid-May through mid-September. Fully restored Keepers Quarters A and Keepers Quarters B are available to rent and perch on the shoreline near the lighthouse with views of the sound and Mount Rainier. All profits from these rentals go to restoration and maintenance.
Lime Kiln Lighthouse
San Juan Island
One of the most well-known lighthouses in Washington, Lime Kiln Lighthouse on San Juan Island sits along Haro Strait, a waterway connecting the Puget Sound with the Strait of Georgia. The lighthouse is named for the island’s lime kilns built in the 1860s, and remains of the kilns can be found north of the building. The lighthouse perch–and the surrounding 41-acre Lime Kiln Point State Park–is known as one of the best land-based places to watch for whales. Migrating humpback and minke whales can be spotted from May through September, while orcas, gray whales, and porpoises also frequent the waters. As such, the lighthouse facilities are used for whale research. But mid-May through mid-September tours are offered by Friends of Lime Kiln Society on Thursdays and Saturdays from 7 p.m. to sunset, and whale talks are held on Fridays and Saturdays.
Also see: Get to Know the San Juan Islands
Patos Island Lighthouse
Off Orcas Island
Named by an 18th-century Spanish explorer, 210-acre Patos Island (Duck Island) has coves and caves that were popular hideouts for smugglers hauling contraband into the United States. Due to its isolated location, this is one of the lesser-visited lighthouses in Washington. Today, visitors can arrive at Patos Island Marine State Park by boat or water taxi. Only very experienced kayakers should consider making the significant journey from Orcas Island. The infamously powerful currents of Canal de Haro require advanced kayaking skills. A 1.5-mile trail circumnavigates the forested island, which has a few first-come campsites without potable water. If volunteers from Keepers of the Patos Light are on site and available during the summer season (Memorial Day through Labor Day) they can provide lighthouse tours.
Burrows Island Lighthouse
This lighthouse sits on the easternmost tip of 300-acre Burrows Island, officially Burrows Island Marine State Park, off the coast of Fidalgo Island in Northwest Washington. Only accessible by boat, this lighthouse watches over Rosario Strait, which is known for tricky eddy lines and unpredictable riptides. The shoreline consists primarily of sheer rock with sharp precipices, and the light station resides on one of the few flat areas. For kayakers, the distance from Anacortes is short but filled with strong currents. Tours are currently unavailable.
Point No Point Lighthouse
Near Port Gamble
Built in 1879, the Point No Point Lighthouse is the oldest on the Puget Sound and warns ships of the treacherous Point No Point shoal. Just about an hour from Seattle, this lighthouse on the Kitsap Peninsula has a 90-foot radar tower that still works as a vital navigational tool for the Coast Gaurd’s Vessel Traffic Service. As of spring 2023, the main parking lot at Point No Point Park remains closed due damage from winter storms. However, the park and lighthouse are open to pedestrian traffic, and guests of Point No Point Lighthouse vacation rentals can stay in the picturesque keeper’s quarters and enjoy exclusive vehicle access to the park.
About the Author
Ellee Thalheimer is a freelance writer and guidebook author based in the Pacific Northwest who has contributed to publications like Lonely Planet Guidebooks, Alaska Airlines Magazine, and Adventure Cyclist Magazine. When she can’t get outside, she writes fiction, drinks local IPAs, and perfects her handstands.