NEW JERSEY - With many schools off for spring break this week and with Memorial Day only 35 days away, plan a trek to one of the Garden State's 11 lighthouses to experience breathtaking views as well as a bit of New Jersey history. Lighthouses date all the way back to ancient times with the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks using hundred-foot towers to help fishermen find their way through the waters. The first lighthouse in America was built in 1716 off the coast of Boston on Little Brewster Island. It would take a while for New Jersey to join the ranks of states with lighthouses to guide mariners and the coast, but finally in the spring of 1764 the Garden State's first lighthouse was lit.
The Sandy Hook Lighthouse was the first of 25 lighthouses which eventually stood along the more than 1700 miles of New Jersey shoreline. Today, 11 remain with many welcoming visitors year-round while others are seasonal or open for special climbing tours. From the tip of New Jersey in Cape May to Sandy Hook, lighthouses remain one of the Garden State's finest treasures and a fun day trip for residents and tourists.
Sandy Hook Lighthouse
Located in the Gateway National Recreation Area in the Atlantic Highlands, the Sandy Hook Lighthouse is the oldest operating lighthouse in the United States. Admission is free. Parking is $15 for visitors going to the beach from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. However, parking to visit the lighthouse and nearby Fort Hancock is always free. Lighthouse tours are offered from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. during the month of April. On May 1, tours are conducted from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. until October 31. There is an adjacent visitor's center with rangers available to answer questions from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. In May when the park is busier, the center is open until 5 p.m. Children must be at least 48 inches in height to climb to the tower.
Situated in the Highlands, the Twin Lights boasts stunning views of Sandy Hook. The dual lighthouses have a museum as well as park grounds to explore. One of the Twin Lights is open for visitors to climb. The lighhouse and museum is closed on Mondays and open from Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. The park is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visitors are encouraged to check the website before coming to ensure the museum and lighthouse are open that day especially during inclement weather.
Sea Girt Lighthouse
Located a block in from the beachfront, the Sea Girt Lighthouse is open for guided tours on Sundays from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m. from now through November 18. The tour includes a look into the lighthouse keepers quarters and the tower. Tours are free though donations are encouraged. Visitors looking to arrange group tours on any other day should submit a request through the Sea Girt Lighthouse's website.
Tucker's Beach Lighthouse
The actual Tucker's Beach Lighthouse was destroyed in the 1920s, but a replica of the lighthouse currently stands in the Tuckerton Seaport. The lighthouse and grounds are typically open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., but visitors should check the Tuckerton Seaport website before heading out.
The Abescon Lighthouse in Atlantic City is New Jersey’s tallest lighthouse, standing 171 feet. Built in 1857, the lighthouse is a popular attraction in AC. The lighthouse will be open daily during spring break week and through April 29 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The last climb begins at 3:30 p.m. The cost to climb is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors and students and $5 for children. Kids under four years of age are free. The lighthouse is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from September to June with the exception of spring break time. It is open daily during July and August from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Barnegat Lighthouse delivers stunning views of Long Beach Island, Island Beach State Park and the Barnegat Inlet. Barnegat Lighthouse State Park is open daily from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. beginning on April 6. The lighthouse is now open daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The lighthouse is free to climb for most of the year. However, fees take effect from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. The cost during that time period is $3 for people 12 years of age and up and $1 for children ages six through 11. Children five years of age and under are free. The lighthouse does close in bad weather.
Hereford Inlet Lighthouse
The lighthouse has been in the news a great deal lately as the Keepers of the Hereford Lighthouse and the town of North Wildwood battle over ownership. This serene spot offers stunning gardens and a historical tour that is worth the trip down the parkway. A lighthouse visit is always free. The lighthouse is closed from December through March. It is currently open on Fridays only from now through May 9. Hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. From May 10 through October 20 the lighthouse is open all week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cape May Lighthouse
It takes 199 steps to climb to the top of the Cape May Lighthouse, but the view is most certainly worth it. Special evening climbs and ghost tours are offered throughout the year with more during the popular summer months. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children from three years of age to 12. Veterans and active military service personnel are free. Tickets can be purchased in advance online or at the lighthouse. Veteran and military service members must purchase tickets at the lighthouse to take advantage of a free climb. Climbing hours are typically 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on regular days, but different hours are offered for special events. For a detailed list of lighthouse attractions, check the Cape May Lighthouse webpage.
East Point Lighthouse
East Point Lighthouse in Heirslerville is the second oldest lighthouse in the Garden State. The active lighthouse also boasts a museum and is typically open on Saturdays and Sundays from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. and for special events. Visitors are advised to check the website since the lighthouse does close for inclement weather and flooding.
Finn’s Point Rear Range Light
This wrought iron lighthouse is on the National Registry of Historic Places and is situated near Fort Mott State Park. It is not open year round and only offers climbs on certain days during the year. The days are listed on the Finn’s Point Rear Range Light’s website.
Tinicum Rear Range Lighthouse
A special site along the banks of the Delaware River, the Tinicum Rear Range Lighthouse is listed on both the National and State Registry of Historic Places. Located in Paulsboro, the Tinicum Rear Range Lighthouse Society holds tours on the third Sunday of each month from April through October from noon to 4 p.m. Special tours can be booked with advanced notice and the lighthouse also hosts weddings. Admission is free, but donations are suggested to help with the upkeep of the lighthouse.
The Lighthouse Challenge takes place in the Garden State every October. Participants are invited to climb all 11 of the state's lighthouses during a weekend period. The 2019 Lighthouse Challenge will take place on October 19 and October 20. Plan you Lighthouse Challenge weekend in advance since it is a popular event, attracting lighthouse lovers from all around the globe.