Cape Cod National Seashore | RACE POINT LIGHTHOUSE

Race Point Lighthouse

Race Point Lighthouse

See the Lighthouses web page for an interactive location map.


LIGHT HOUSE HISTORY

A lighthouse at Race Point was first erected in 1816 and was the third lighthouse on Cape Cod. Made of stone, it stood 25 feet tall and could be seen nineteen miles out to sea. In 1845 it was extended five feet and a fog bell was installed. This lighthouse lasted until 1876, at which time it was replaced with the current structure, a 45-foot tower with a cast iron exterior and a brick interior. At that time a new lightkeeper’s house was also built, though it has been modified a number of times since then.

The Race Point Lighthouse was electrified in 1957 and automated in 1972, so a lightkeeper was no longer needed. The house still stands, as does a brick whistle house built in 1888. The whistle house held a steam whistle that replaced the 1845 fog bell.

TOURS AND RENTALS

Since 1995, Race Point Lighthouse has been maintained by the American Lighthouse Foundation (ALF), though it is still owned by the U. S. Coast Guard. The ALF modernized the keeper’s house, and it is now available for overnight stays. The brick whistle house was restored in 2008 and is also available for rent. The facilities can be reserved for weddings as well.

Those who want to stay at the lightkeeper’s house or the whistle house must provide their own transportation (4-Wheel Drive required) and must obtain an Off-Road Vehicle permit from the National Park Service. See the Cape Cod National Seashore Oversand Beach Driving web page for information.

The lighthouse is open for tours on the first and third Saturdays from June through early October. Opening hours are 10 AM to 2 PM. There is no charge, but donations are welcome. Keep in mind that if shore birds end up nesting in a place that will block vehicle or foot traffic, the tours may be cancelled.

For more information on rentals and tours, see the Race Point Light Station website.

Race Point Lighthouse and Lightkeeper’s House

Race Point Lighthouse and Lightkeeper’s House

GETTING THERE

Race Point Lighthouse sits at the mouth of Cape Cod Bay and is one of the most remote lighthouses at Cape Cod National Seashore.

BEACH ROUTE

There is a sand road that runs from the Race Point Beach parking lot to the lighthouse. Those with an Off-Road Vehicle permit can drive on the road, but everyone else must walk. The hike is 1.75 miles, one way, and takes about an hour. The entire hike is on deep beach sand, so expect your normal walking pace to be cut in half.

Road from Race Point Beach to Race Point Lighthouse

Road from Race Point Beach to Race Point Lighthouse

HATHCES HARBOR ROUTE

You can also reach the Race Point Lighthouse by hiking from the Hatches Harbor parking lot on what I’ll call the Hatches Harbor Trail—there is no official name that I know of. This is the route I took. It is 1.75 miles as well, one way, but while the scenery along the road from Race Point Beach never changes—ocean on one side, dunes on the other—the Hatches Harbor Trail leads through a variety of terrains. In fact, I might go so far as to say that it is one of the prettiest areas on the upper cape.

The Hatches Harbor parking lot is located on the west side of the Province Lands area of Cape Cod National Seashore off of Province Lands Road. There are only a few spots in the “parking lot,” but you can also park along the road. There is no fee to park here. See the Hiking Trails web page for an interactive location map.

I was warned beforehand about mosquitoes, so I applied repellent and was lucky I did. The reports are correct; I was attacked right from the start. The mosquitoes don’t pester you once you reach the beach-type terrain near the lighthouse, but they are a big problem at the start of the hike and in the marsh area.

The hike begins on an old fire road and passes through a forest of scrub pine trees. None are tall enough to provide shade—in fact the entire hike is out in the open. Wear a hat and apply sunscreen if avoiding the sun is important to you.

Start of the Hatches Harbor Trail

Start of the Hatches Harbor Trail

About .3 mile into the hike the trail surface begins turning from a hard-packed sand to a beach-sand surface. Walking on beach sand is like taking two steps forward and one step backward, so expect your typical pace to be cut in half. Keep in mind that if you take the road from Race Point Beach that you deal with beach sand every step of the way.

Deep beach sand on the Hatches Harbor Trail

Deep beach sand on the Hatches Harbor Trail

In another quarter mile the trail leaves the wooded area and emerges at the marsh. You will eventually find yourself walking on what appears to be an elevated road, but this is actually a dike that was built in the 1930s to control water levels and drain part of the marsh in an attempt to cut down on the mosquito population. The National Park Service is now trying to restore the marsh to its natural state. Seawater has always flowed through the marsh on the south side of the dike (left when hiking to the lighthouse). It is the land on your right that was blocked from receiving a natural flow of saltwater. In 1987 the National Park Service removed a tide gate that blocked a culvert under the dike, allowing saltwater to flow to the north side once again. The original culvert was later replaced with four larger ones.

Walk along the dike

Walk along the dike

The marsh is some of the most beautiful area within Cape Cod National Seashore. The photo below is probably the best I took on my visit. You can even see the buildings at Race Point Beach from here. The scene in the photo is at the far end of the dike where the culverts were installed.

Marsh along the Hatches Harbor Trail

Marsh along the Hatches Harbor Trail

Buildings at Race Point Beach in the far distance

Buildings at Race Point Beach in the far distance

The Hatches Harbor Trail remains relatively flat up until the 1.25 mile mark, at which point it climbs over a fairly steep sand dune. This is the only sizable hill on the hike.

Climb up a large sand dune

Climb up a large sand dune

When you get to the other side of the dune, the trail basically disappears and you’ll be wondering where to go…or if you can even get to the lighthouse from here. Not to worry. Though you can’t see it because of a small hill, the road between Race Point Beach and the Race Point Lighthouse is just 200 yards ahead. The lighthouse is off to your left. All you have to do is stay on the sand and wiggle your way between the dunes and you’ll either come to the road or see the lighthouse.

A discernible trail vanishes on the other side of the sand dune

A discernible trail vanishes on the other side of the sand dune

First view of Race Point Lighthouse

First view of Race Point Lighthouse

You can head directly towards the lighthouse by climbing over sand dunes, but the best way to go is on the road. If you don’t see it, just walk straight ahead. You have about a quarter mile to go once you reach the road. Of course you will be on deep beach sand the entire way.

Road to Race Point Lighthouse

Road to Race Point Lighthouse

Keep in mind that you must find your way back to the trail, so make a mental note of where you need to turn off the road. Luckily a man who was doing restoration work on the lighthouse was just leaving when I was ready to leave, and he offered me a ride back.

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Last updated on June 8, 2020
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