One of the more popular things to do on Nantucket is to take in the grandeur of the island’s lighthouses.
Each of these maritime structures are set against sweeping coastal vistas, showcasing the island’s charm and creating perfect photographic backdrops.
During your stay on Nantucket, you’ll want to visit at least one of these iconic beauties. And while two of the lighthouses are fairly easy to get to, one is reserved only for the most adventurous.
It’s not only the aesthetics that draw visitors to these beacons. Each lighthouse also has it’s own unique story to tell, making for a fascinating historical story.
Here’s everything you need to know about Nantucket’s lighthouses.
Sankaty Head Lighthouse
Sankaty Head Light, the easternmost lighthouse on the island, is perhaps the most photographed as its distinctive red stripe constrasts nicely against bright blue skies. It’s a popular tourist attraction as visitors come to not only see the lighthouse but to also take in the sweeping ocean views.
Built in 1850, for $20,000, Sankaty is located about 1.5 miles north of the village of Siaconset (commonly called ‘Sconset). Its tower is 60 feet high and was initially powered by a Fresnel lens, the first of its kind in the United States. In 1965, that lens was replaced by a modern automated light, negating the need for a lightkeeper.
In 1990, the Army Corps of Engineers voiced concerns that erosion would cause the Sankaty Head Light to topple off the cliff’s edge. In response, the ‘Sconset Trust, meticulously moved the lighthouse 400 feet back from the bluff in 2007, securing its future.
While it’s possible to drive to the lighthouse, a more scenic way to travel is by foot, via the ‘Sconset Bluff Walk. This path provides sweeping cliff views of the beach below as well as glimpses of gorgeous Nantucket residences. Just make sure you’re prepared for the 3-mile round-trip journey before setting out.
This video shows how Sankaty lighthouse was moved to its current location on the Sankaty Head Golf Course.
Brant Point Lighthouse
Brant Point Lighthouse, located a few blocks from Nantucket Town, is often the first Nantucket lighthouse visitors see. Most ferry arrivals sail past Brant Point, which serves as a warm welcome to the island’s idyllic harbor.
With roots in Nantucket’s booming 18th century whaling industry, Brant Point Light was born out of the necessity to navigate around sandbars that caused approximately 700 to 800 shipwrecks over the years. Built in 1746, Brant Point holds the distinction as the second oldest lighthouse in the country.
At only 26 feet and constructed in wood, Brant Point is the smallest of the three Nantucket lighthouses. It’s red beacon, flashing every four seconds and visible up to ten miles away, creates a beautiful glow in the evening sky.
The lighthouse’s journey is one of resilience, having endured fires, storms, and rot. The current structure built in 1901, the ninth at this location, earned a spot on The National Register of Historic Places in 1987.
Great Point Lighthouse
Journeying to the island’s northern edge, lies Great Point Lighthouse, nestled within the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Reserve.
Originating in 1784 as a wooden tower, the Great Point Lighthouse faced multiple trials — a 1816 fire led to a stone replacement in 1818, and the original toppled in 1984. Yet, resilience prevailed, birthing the current 1986 replica of the 1816 tower, standing 60 feet tall.
Unlike the other two Nantucket lighthouses, only a select group of tourists visit Great Point. That’s because its remote roadless location makes getting to the beacon difficult. Four-wheel-drive vehicles can (cautiously and with a permit) traverse the sand to arrive at Great Point’s edge. And while the lighthouse is technically accessible by foot, it involves a seven mile strenuous trek, part of which involves walking on sand.
About Kerry Flatley
Kerry Flatley has lived in New England for the past 26 years. She has roots in Maine & Massachusetts, family in New Hampshire, and grew up close to the Connecticut border. She loves all that this region has to offer – the ocean, mountains, islands, history, villages, and cities. When she’s not writing about New England, she’s relaxing at home in the Boston suburbs with her two teenage daughters and husband.