Thrilling shipwrecks with heroic rescues. Stormy weather-beaten beaches. Spanish galleons brimming with treasure. Virginia lighthouses bring those scenes to life in our mind’s eye–the romance and excitement of a bye-gone era draw us in.
Not only that, but Virginia lighthouses and their picturesque surroundings are worth visiting on their own–and that is especially true in Virginia. Virginia is lucky to have a treasure trove of lighthouses of various styles and ages–many close to 200 years old.
One lighthouse we feature is the first construction project authorized by the newly minted United States Government under the Constitution.
Another lighthouse in Virginia is the second tallest in America–and it’s in a quaint, charming beach town that’s worth a visit all on its own.
If you need to know where the lighthouses in Virginia are, we have all the current information from their history, location, tours, and the best ways to see every lighthouse in Virginia.
Table of contents
Land-based Virginia Lighthouses
Most Virginia lighthouses are land-based (but not all). Here are the ones accessible by land.
Assateague Virginia Lighthouse: Romance and Adventure
Address: Assateague Island National Seashore, Chincoteague, VA 23336, USA
Tours and Hours of operation: Open for tours April through November from 9 am to 3 pm (as of this writing). Free admission.
This stretch of the Atlantic Coast between Cape Henlopen and Cape Charles had no Virginia lighthouses before 1833, causing many deadly shipwrecks due to the dangerous shoals. In 1831, Congress funded the construction of a lighthouse on Assateague Island.
The lighthouse was lit for the first time in the spring of 1833 and was maintained by keepers who lived in complete isolation until the bridge was built to Assateague Island in 1962. This lighthouse was poorly constructed and fell apart not long after. So funds were requested for a new 150-foot-tall lighthouse in 1860.
However, work was delayed due to the Civil War.
Work resumed in 1865, and the new 140-foot lighthouse was completed in 1867 and had a fixed white light from a first-order Fresnel lens. The tower was built of red brick and was covered with “brick-colored cement.”
The lighthouse received its distinctive red-and-white bands in 1968. Of all the lighthouses in Virginia, only the New Cape Henry lighthouse in Virginia Beach is as striking as Assateague’s. But none are in a more beautiful or romantic location.
Several daring rescues occurred at the lighthouse, the most notable on October 10, 1891. The presidential yacht, Despatch, a 730-ton steamship that ferried high-ranking officials from Washington D.C. up and down the coast, ran aground on a sandbar a mile off Assateague Island.
The valiant lifesaving crew rescued all those aboard. Still, the yacht, which had faithfully served Presidents Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland, and then-president Benjamin Harrison, was a total loss.
See it Today
Standing tall above the tree line, the 142-foot tall Assateague Virginia Lighthouse is the third tallest lighthouse in the state and the 22nd tallest in the US. You’ll find this brilliant beacon south of the Virginia/Maryland border in the 14,000-acre, breathtaking Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.
Not only will you see the lighthouse, but this barrier island is home to an enormous variety of protected wildlife and plants, including 300 species of birds. You can hike dunes, beaches, and marshes while getting amazing views and photographs. Hunting and fishing are permitted seasonally.
After seeing the lighthouse and wildlife refuge, head over to the quaint town of Chincoteague for shopping and dinner. For a gorgeous view of the water, Ropewalk Restaurant hits the spot. The tropical decor and delicious crab cake sandwiches make for the perfect ending to the day!
Cape Charles Virginia Lighthouse: 2nd Tallest Lighthouse in America
Address: Smith Island at Cape Charles, VA 23310
Tours and Hours of Operation: No public tours. Guests can’t get to the lighthouse by car. But it can be seen from Fisherman Island on the Chesapeake Bay-Bridge Tunnel or by boat.
Cape Charles Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse in Virginia and the second in the US (Cape Hatteras in North Carolina is the tallest). Standing at an impressive 191 feet tall, the Cape Charles Lighthouse on Smith Island is a pillar of protection on the Eastern Shore.
Three lighthouses have occupied Smith Island. The first lighthouse was completed in 1828, a 60-foot white masonry tower. In 1856, $35,000 was allocated for a new tower, but the Civil War disrupted construction. The Confederates destroyed the light and took many valuable items.
The new tower was eventually completed and lit in 1864 but had to be replaced again in 1895 due to erosion. The current lighthouse is a cast-iron skeleton tower, first lit on August 15, 1895.
The 1st order Fresnel lens was removed during automation in 1963 and is now on display at the Newport News Mariners’ Museum.
In 2000, a brush fire destroyed the 1895 keeper’s quarters but only caused minor damage to the lighthouse. The light in the lighthouse stopped working in 2013, and the Coast Guard never repaired it.
This lighthouse is safely located 600 feet from the shoreline allowing it to survive the unpredictable water levels and inevitable erosion along the shore. Because of its skeletal structure, the Cape Charles Lighthouse is technically just a light, serving the same purpose as a traditional lighthouse.
About 200 years since the original Cape Charles Lighthouse was built, it’s one of the longest-tenured lighthouses in America. Even though it is deactivated, it remains a significant landmark on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
See it Today
While the first two lighthouses built on Smith Island have given way to age and the unstable shoreline, this current lighthouse stands impressively above everything else in its unique skeletal glory.
Is the Cape Charles lighthouse open to the public? The lighthouse has no organized tours, and because of its location, getting close to this historic lighthouse is tough, but if you have a long enough lens, you can grab some fantastic shots from the mainland. The adventurous can kayak or use a shallow draft boat to get close.
The charming town of Cape Charles is nearby with its picturesque beach and historic district with plenty of shopping and dining. Cape Charles is one of my favorite weekend getaways, and we always visit the Cape Charles Distillery for its raw bar, cocktails, and tastings. The outdoor patio is relaxing and perfect for enjoying the incredible scenery while sipping an excellent whisky.
Jones Point Lighthouse: The Only River Lighthouse In Virginia
Jones Point Dr, Alexandria, VA 22314
Tours and Hours of Operation: Jones Point Park is open 6 am – 10 pm daily. No overnight parking. The Jones Point Lighthouse does not offer tours since its “in the rough” interior provides safety issues.
The lighthouse at Jones Point operated from 1856 to 1926, serving as a navigational aid for ships in the Potomac River. It had a fifth-order Fresnel lens, the most advanced technology of its time, and could be seen from nine miles away.
The lighthouse–manned by a keeper appointed by the president–lived in the building for free with his family. The keeper had various duties, including maintaining the lighthouse, keeping records of shipping traffic, weather, and tides, and keeping the beacon lit 24 hours a day.
Despite the harsh working conditions, the lighthouse was a popular recreational spot for Alexandrians, who would visit Jones Point to picnic, fish, and swim. However, a shipyard constructed in 1918 obstructed the lighthouse’s light, making it less valuable. An automated light tower eventually replaced it in 1926.
The lighthouse was then maintained by the Mount Vernon Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) as a museum until 1936 when the Army Signal Corps built a classified communication facility.
In 1953, the Army opened Jones Point to the public, but the lighthouse suffered significant damage from weather, tides, vandalism, and target practice during WWII.
Due to shore erosion and damage to the lighthouse, the DAR worked with the National Park Service to establish Jones Point Park in 1964 and restore the lighthouse.
See it Today
Located Immediately south of Old Town Alexandria on the Potomac River, you’ll see the most diminutive lighthouse in Virginia. A rarity to see a lighthouse on a river, this is the last you’ll find along a river in Virginia.
The park itself is an integral part of Alexandria’s history. The area was an essential hub for US shipping, transportation, and manufacturing. There is a gravel trail with signage that explains the geological and historical past of Jones Point Park.
There are two fishing piers for catching catfish, eels, and rock bass. You can venture onto the Potomac via canoe or kayak from the canoe launch. There are two playgrounds and a few open spaces available.
Two kid-oriented educational programs are offered to the public kids at Jones Point Park. These are led by park Rangers and are Lighthouse Life and Learn to Ride. Check out the Schedule of Events so you don’t miss out.
Jones Point Park isn’t far from Old Town Alexandria. If you want a family-friendly waterside restaurant and bar, our favorite is Vola’s Dockside Grill and Hi-Tide Lounge. You’ll find a gorgeous waterside patio and a great happy hour!
Old Point Comfort Lighthouse: African and Native American History
Address: 69 Fenwick Rd. Hampton 23663
Tours and Hours of operation: Daily 9 am – 5 pm. Owned by the Coast Guard. The grounds are open to exploring, but the dwelling/tower is closed to the public.
The Old Point Comfort Lighthouse marks the historic Hampton Roads harbor entrance and stands on ground that has seen many forts built nearby to defend this vital waterway.
While the lighthouse has only stood for 225 years, historical records indicate that light was present at the point dating back to the 16th century when Native Americans were known to aid Spanish ships coming into the area by lighting bonfires.
In 1798 Elzy Burroughs was contracted to build the octagonal stone structure. Burroughs completed the 54-foot-tall lighthouse in 1803, featuring a spiral staircase, and ten oil lanterns were set in reflectors to produce a light that could be seen from 14 miles at sea.
Captain Eli Vickery was appointed the first keeper of the lighthouse in 1804.
During the War of 1812, the lighthouse was briefly used by the British as an observation post. After the war, Old Point Comfort was transformed by both the government and private investors. A Henry-Lepaute Fresnel lens was added in 1854, and a fog bell in 1855.
During the Civil War, Old Point Comfort remained under Union control and witnessed significant events such as President Lincoln’s visit and the battle of the ironclads. It was also where the first 20 enslaved people in North America were unloaded in 1619.
See it Today
Old Point Comfort Lighthouse is located at Fort Monroe near downtown Hampton, Virginia. It is now part of Fort Monroe National Monument, which is accessible to the public.
The area features walking trails, picnic areas, and a museum, and admission is free. Situated ideally at the mouths of three important rivers, the James, Nansemond, and Elizabeth Rivers, the Old Point Comfort Lighthouse stands at the entrance to Hampton Roads.
The National Park Service runs Fort Monroe. The beautiful 565-acre is a wonderful place to hike, bike, swim at the beach, see summer concerts, visit the Casemate Museum, or photograph wildlife.
You can even visit a brewery! Oozlefinch Beers and Blending is a favorite of locals and visitors alike. Food trucks, live music, great beer, and a superb outdoor location near the water make this a must-do!
Old Cape Henry Lighthouse: An Important Piece of History
Address: 583 Atlantic Ave, Fort Story, VA 23459
Tour and Hours of operation: Open 10 am – 4 pm daily. Access to Ft Story is easiest for visitors with a DoD/Military ID who can drive directly to the Cape Henry lighthouses. You can get in with a valid ID if you come on foot or by bicycle. For others 16 years and older, a valid picture ID is required to get on the base. The driver must also have a valid vehicle registration and insurance card.
Old Cape Henry Lighthouse is located on Fort Story Army Base in Virginia Beach. It was built in 1792 and operated until 1881, making it one of the oldest lighthouses in the country.
The Cape Henry lighthouse protected and guided ships entering and leaving the Chesapeake Bay for a long time. Today, two lighthouses stand at the Cape Henry location, guardians of the Chesapeake Bay’s gateway. They are listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark.
Old Cape Henry lighthouse, built of stone by John McComb Jr. in 1792, was the first construction project approved by the newly established United States government under its fledgling Constitution.
During the Civil War, it was damaged by Confederate forces and later repaired by Union forces to provide maritime services in the bay. In 1881, a second lighthouse was constructed due to concerns over the stability of the original lighthouse.
See it Today
The old lighthouse remains a daylight marker owned and operated by Preservation Virginia. It is open to the public on a seasonal schedule, with more information on the website or by calling (757) 422-9421.
The park also features walking trails, picnic areas, and beach access, offering stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay. General admission is $14. AAA, Senior, and Military discounts are $9.
The second lighthouse, completed in 1881 and located about 350 feet from the original, is painted black and white and maintained and operated by the U.S. Coast Guard. It is still in use today but has yet to be opened to the public.
A beautiful beach across the street for military members is perfect for walking, swimming, or sunning.
For fun in the area, we love Chick’s Oyster Bar. This is a rustic, laid-back place on the water with great drinks and sweet potato fries. Sure, they have oysters, but they have a full menu, including burgers. Go at sunset and sit on the extensive outdoor patio for an unforgettable view.
New Cape Henry Lighthouse: Still A Critical Part of Navigation
Address: 583 Atlantic Ave, Fort Story, VA 23459
Tour and Hours of operation: 10 am – 4 pm daily. Access to Ft Story is easiest for visitors with a DoD/Military ID and can drive directly to Cape Henry Lighthouse. You can get in with a valid ID on foot or by bicycle. For others 16 years and older, a valid picture ID is required to get on the base. The driver must also have a valid vehicle registration and insurance card.
The old Cape Henry Lighthouse was found to have structural damage during an 1872 inspection, with “large cracks or openings” on six of its eight walls, especially the north and south faces. The inspector warned that the existing tower was in danger of collapsing.
The following years saw repeated warnings until Congress finally allocated $75,000 for a replacement lighthouse in 1878 (I guess Congress has always been a mess).
The Lighthouse Board was eager to begin the project and requested an additional $25,000 for its completion.
The construction of the new lighthouse faced delays and challenges, including the collapse of a pier. The new lighthouse was officially given to Keeper Jay Edwards in December 1881.
The old tower was left as a daymark, and the new lighthouse became operational with a 157-foot focal plane and 18 ¾ miles of visibility.
Today, both the old and new lighthouses stand in the critical shipping channel of Chesapeake Bay, accessing the ports of Norfolk, Newport News, Baltimore, and Washington.
See it Today
The new Cape Henry Lighthouse, located just 400 feet away from the old one, is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard. This is the most famous lighthouse in Virginia Beach.
The lighthouse is not open to the public but can be viewed from the old lighthouse. The lighthouse features a distinctive black and white tower, which sets it apart from other lighthouses.
The entire area is gorgeous and makes for a fun and educational experience. If you’re in town vacationing in Virginia Beach, this is just a few miles north of the hotel area.
Check out First Landing State Park, which abuts Fort Story Army Base. This is one of my favorite state parks. It has a pretty beach, hiking, and biking trails, fishing, boating, and plenty of opportunities for wildlife photography.
Off-Shore Virginia Lighthouses
Some Virginia lighthouses are off-shore. Most can be seen by land with binoculars or a good photo lens. But for the best view, a boat is needed.
New Point Comfort Lighthouse
Address: Port Haywood, VA 23138
Tour and Hours of Operation: Operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. All tours must be scheduled in advance with a tour guide or local outfitter. Get more information here: https://visitmathews.com/new-point-comfort-lighthouse/
New Point Comfort Lighthouse was established in the early 1800s in response to the high shipping volume in North America, particularly in the Chesapeake Bay. The lighthouse is the tenth oldest in the US, located on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay.
An 1801 Congressional act appropriated the funds for New Point Comfort Lighthouse, and the Treasury Department’s Commissioner of Revenue, William Miller, was responsible for its construction.
A preliminary survey of the area by John Patterson noted that New Point Comfort was a low-lying island separated from the mainland by a creek, with an elevated firm spot suitable for the lighthouse.
The lighthouse was completed in 1804 and lit for the first time on January 17, 1805.
The fifty-eight-foot sandstone lighthouse is similar to other lighthouses from the period, with a fixed signal generated by nine lamps and reflectors. The lighthouse has changed throughout history, including updates to the lantern and reflectors.
Despite several threats to its survival, including destruction by the British during the War of 1812, New Point Comfort Lighthouse remains.
See it Today
The lighthouse is near the 105-acre New Point Comfort Natural Area Preserve. The lighthouse can be viewed from the observation walkway. See migratory birds while hiking on the boardwalk through the marsh and forest trails.
Keep an eye out for bald eagles and osprey.
There is a small boat launch for kayaks, canoes, or jet skis to enjoy the water.
You must schedule a lighthouse tour in advance with a tour operator. Contact the Matthews Visitors Center or get a boat or kayak tour. We love Mathews Deadrise Charters. You can charter a boat for fishing, ecotours, sunrise cruises, and to tour the lighthouse. Tours launch from the beautiful B&B Inn at Tabbs Creek. Call Capt. Trey Sowers at 804-815-6132 to schedule.
To make this a fun weekend getaway, camp at Sun Retreats New Point. They have beautiful RV and tent camping and cottage rentals. There is a full-service marina, fishing, laser tag, kayaking, golf cart rentals, a pool, a playground, and a private beach.
This campground is beautiful, clean, and pet friendly.
Middle Ground Lighthouse: A View From a Bridge
Location: East of the Monitor Merrimac Bridge Tunnel 36°56′42″N 76°23′30″W
Tours and Hours of operation: Remains operational as a navigational aid after being sold to a private party at auction. No tours. It may be seen from the Monitor-Merrimac bridge, local beaches, or by boat.
This caisson lighthouse in the water near Newport News and the Monitor-Merrimac bridge tunnel was completed in 1891 and cost $50,000 to build. This is the oldest caisson lighthouse in Virginia, with amazing views of the Monitor-Merrimac bridge tunnel, the Chesapeake Bay, and the Hampton Roads skyline.
It stands 56 feet tall and has five levels, including a keeper’s quarters. Approximately 51’ can be seen above the water line.
Originally fitted with a fourth-order Fresnel lens, it was refitted with solar lights in 1987.
The lighthouse initially used a bell as its fog signal. It struck twice every 15 seconds. In 1954, the signal was changed to one blow every 15 seconds, and the light was automated.
By the 1990s, the lighthouse had fallen into disrepair. In 2000, congress authorized the Coast Guard to sell lighthouses that were no longer needed or too expensive to maintain.
Middle Ground was sold to a private party, although the Coast Guard still has access to the lighthouse to maintain the solar light. Ships still consider the lighthouse a vital navigation tool.
See it Today
Middle Ground Lighthouse was sold in 2005 to a private party for $31,000, and it is not open for tours. Guess we missed the dream of owning a lighthouse retreat with 360-degree views of the Chesapeake Bay!
You can see it from the northbound lanes of the Monitor-Merrimac Bridge Tunnel, from the land with binoculars, or by boat. See this website for more information on this beautiful lighthouse.
Wolf Trap Lighthouse
Location: West of the mouth of the York River, in Virginia, along the shoreline of the Chesapeake Bay. 37°23′24″N 76°11′24″W
Tours and Hours of Operation: The light was discontinued in 2017 by the Coast Guard. Privately owned, and visitors are not allowed within 25 feet. Best seen by boat.
In 1819, Congress allocated funds for a lightship at Wolf Trap Shoals near the entrance of Mobjack bay.
Two years later, a wooden lightship was set up, but it was destroyed by Confederate forces in 1861. A new lightship was placed in 1864, but a screwpile lighthouse eventually replaced it in 1870.
That lighthouse was lost to ice floes in 1893 and was replaced by the current brick caisson tower that same year.
This current Wolf Trap lighthouse is a caisson tower located in 16 feet of water on the eastern end of Wolf Trap Spit near the Rappahannock River’s entrance to the Chesapeake Bay. The tower, with a height of 55 ft, had a flashing white light at a 52 ft elevation from the mean high water level. It had a nominal visibility range of 14 nautical miles and a flashing period of 15 seconds.
The brick lighthouse was automated in 1971, sold several times, and declared unsafe to maintain by the U.S. Coast Guard in 2017. As of 2020, it was for sale with an asking price of $249,000. The price includes a .68-acre plot of land on the bay. So, if you’re in the market for a lighthouse, here’s your chance.
The current owner’s situation is unknown.
See it Today
This lighthouse was sold to a private party in 2004 for $75,000 and has changed hands a few times. The lighthouse was deactivated entirely, and the light was removed in 2017 when the Coast Guard declared it unsafe to maintain.
The third oldest lighthouse in the Chesapeake Bay and the 10th oldest in the US is now off-limits to visitors. However, you can still appreciate its history from a distance of 25 feet.
Wolf Trap Lighthouse is a three-mile boat ride from the middle peninsula. Check this website for more information on charter tours and boat ramps.
Thimble Shoal Lighthouse
Location: Four miles east-northeast of the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel in the Chesapeake Bay, Virginia. 37.0146°N 76.2399°W
Tours and Hours of operation: Currently privately owned, so viewing from a boat is the only option.
Thimble Shoal Lighthouse was built to mark the entrance of Hampton Roads waterways, which were navigated by ships passing through two parallel sandbars named Willoughby Spit and Horseshoe Bar.
Thimble Shoal was built on the “thimble” of Horseshoe Bar, and its construction began in 1872 but was delayed due to the compact sand and technical difficulties.
On October 15, 1872, the lighthouse was officially opened, replacing the last remaining lightship in the district. The lighthouse consisted of a wooden cottage built on a screwpile foundation and had an iron lantern room with fog bells on the north and south sides of the dwelling.
John Brown was the first head keeper at Thimble Shoal, but was transferred after serving for over a decade. Unfortunately, his assistant, Alexander J. Lee, was found untrustworthy and often drunk on duty.
The lighthouse was destroyed by fire in 1880 but quickly rebuilt. The new lighthouse was re-opened in December of the same year and had a unique characteristic of a fixed white light followed by flashes in red and white. A compressed-air fog siren replaced the station’s twin fog bells in 1903.
An inspection in 1993 revealed missing parts in the main concrete deck and cracks in other parts. The inspectors recommended painting the lighthouse red for improved visibility and replacing the glass lantern panes with UV-stabilized acrylic to prevent sun damage.
By 2005 the lighthouse was sold to Peter Jurewicz of Smithfield for $65,000.
See it Today
It is not open to the public. Considering it’s three miles from shore, it’s impossible to see without good binoculars.
However, it’s easily accessible by boat from Fort Monroe. The lighthouse has an artificial reef around it, making it a favorite for anglers.
For those wanting a relaxing time, take a Hampton Roads Harbor Tour aboard the Hampton Queen. You’ll see many points of current and historical interest. Contact the team there and see about a tour of the area near the lighthouse.
The Thimble Shoal Lighthouse is considered an essential part of Virginia’s maritime history and remains a well-known symbol of the region’s nautical heritage.
Smith Point Lighthouse
Location: At the mouth of the Potomac River, on the west shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia. 37.8800°N 76.1839°W
Tours and Hours of operation: Automated and privately owned. This lighthouse is best viewed from a boat, but can be seen from some shore points with binoculars.
The Smith Point Lighthouse is located on the southern side of the Virginia-Maryland state line, where the Potomac River flows into the Chesapeake bay. A lighthouse was first erected at this site in 1802, but due to erosion, it was moved in 1807.
For 80 years, a series of lightships and temporary lighthouses were used in this area to protect ships.
A screw-pile lighthouse was placed in 1868, but it was damaged by ice in 1893 and eventually dislodged by ice in 1895. Congress authorized $80,000 for the replacement, and a caisson lighthouse was chosen for the site.
Construction of the current caisson lighthouse was completed in July of 1897, and the fourth-order Fresnel lens and fog signal equipment from the old screw-pile station was used in the new lighthouse.
In the early 1970s, an underwater power cable was run to the light, making it automated. The cable was replaced in 1988 when it failed. In 1991, the Coast Guard performed a major overhaul of the lighthouse.
Today Smith Point Lighthouse is privately owned and not available for public tours.
See it Today
This lighthouse is best viewed from the water. Sawyer Charters offers Chesapeake Bay
lighthouse tours that pass by Smith Point Lighthouse.
Lighthouses in Virginia Are Special
Lighthouses in Virginia tell the story of our nation’s beginnings. Each historic Virginia lighthouse is a proud chapter in America’s seafaring history. Though modern ships have high-tech navigation systems, lighthouses are still essential for vessel safety–just as they have been for thousands of years.
If you love Virginia lighthouses, you probably love the beaches they’re on. Check out our Ultimate Guide to 36 Beaches in Virginia!
Lighthouses bring thoughts of maritime history, romance, adventure, and windswept beaches. Virginia has a treasure trove of historic lighthouses, and we have all the information you need to know on how to see them.