Lake Erie Lighthouses
Lake Erie’s coastline is dotted with many beautiful lighthouses, some withstanding the test of time and offering not just stunning and picturesque views of the lake, but also an insight into Lake Erie’s rich maritime history. In Ohio alone, you’ll find many of these fascinating structures along the shores of Lake Erie — you could even plan a day trip or two to go see them!
While some prohibit visitors from going inside and climbing to the top, and others can only be seen from the water or from outside, these lighthouses are still well worth seeing, even if only to admire from afar. Here are our top picks for some of the best lighthouses to see and visit on Lake Erie.
Must-See Lighthouses on Lake Erie
Cleveland Harbor West Pierhead Light
The Cleveland Harbor West Pierhead Lighthouse is located just north of the Cuyahoga River at the entrance of Cleveland Harbor. First built in 1911, along with its sister the East Pierhead Light, the 67-foot tall Cleveland Harbor West Pierhead Light is a recognizable landmark of the Cleveland coastline and is even known to completely freeze over and get encased with ice during the winter, making for a splendid sight that locals simply love to gaze at and take pictures of.
While the lighthouse itself isn’t open to the public, it can still be viewed by land or by boat.
Easily cruise over to this landmark out of North Coast Harbor Marina!
Fairport Harbor Lighthouse and Marine Museum
Just east of Cleveland, you’ll find the old Fairport Harbor Lighthouse. Now don’t be confused — there are two known lighthouses in Fairport, but only one of them is still operational. The old Fairport Harbor Lighthouse is now part of the Fairport Harbor Marine Museum, though this is one of the few existing lighthouses in Ohio that visitors can scale right up to the very top. The beacon of the lighthouse shone from 1825 to 1925, up until the old lighthouse’s replacement, and is regarded as “the light that shone for 100 years”.
The fully automated new lighthouse, which was built in 1925 to replace the old one, is known as the Fairport Harbor West Breakwater Light and is located at the mouth of the Grand River. Visitors are still able to walk along the breakwater to see the lighthouse.
Toledo Harbor Lighthouse
The Toledo Harbor Lighthouse stands proudly on Lake Erie near Maumee Bay State Park, east of Toledo, Ohio. First completed in 1904, the building is known for its distinct gingerbread-like appearance, owing to the brown bricks that make up the exterior. The lighthouse is still being operated by the United States Coast Guard today, though now with an automated solar-powered lens.
Though not normally accessible to the public because of its offshore location, the lighthouse can still be viewed from the shores of Maumee Bay State Park or by boat. During the annual Toledo Lighthouse Festival, visitors can take a boat to see the lighthouse up close.
Dubbed “the Jewel of the Port”, the Lorain Lighthouse is a beautiful and easily recognizable sight on the coastline of Lorain, Ohio. In fact, it’s often regarded as the “best lighthouse on Lake Erie” due to its popularity with locals and tourists alike. First completed in 1911, the lighthouse stands half a mile off the shore at the end of a long dock, although the actual lighthouse is only accessible by boat. Since it was decommissioned by the United States Coast Guard in 1966, the lighthouse has faced many threats of demolition, but thanks to the efforts of non-profit organizations like the Lorain County Historical Society, it has remained standing to this day.
Perhaps what makes the lighthouse a popular attraction still are the guided tours, 4th of July picnics and fireworks shows, and even romantic sunset dinners that the staff regularly holds. The lighthouse is also available to rent for private events like parties, weddings, and other special occasions.
Take in the beauty of the Lorain Lighthouse at Oasis Marinas at Port Lorain!
South Bass Island Lighthouse
Located on the southwest tip of South Bass Island, accessible by ferry or boat from Port Clinton or Sandusky, the South Bass Island Lighthouse became fully operational in 1897 and was unusual in its time because the 45-foot tower was attached to the two-story, red brick keeper’s quarters. Today, the lighthouse is owned and managed by Ohio State University and houses staff from the university’s Sea Grant program.
The grounds are open for the public to explore for free, while the lighthouse holds guided tours periodically.
This gorgeous 65-foot-tall lighthouse in Lakeside Marblehead, Ohio, has the unique distinction of being the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the Great Lakes, having been in service since 1822. And since 2022, the Marblehead Lighthouse has been in service for over 200 years! It is also one of the few lighthouses in Ohio where visitors can climb up to the very top to see the spectacular view, although this is still no easy feat, as the lighthouse contains a winding staircase with 77 steps.
Guided tours are held daily and the grounds also house a museum, previously the keeper’s house, and a life-size replica of the 1876 U.S. Lifesaving Station.
Port Clinton Lighthouse
The Port Clinton Lighthouse in Port Clinton, Ohio, was first constructed in 1896 to replace the old and first lighthouse, which was built in 1833, at the mouth of the Portage River. When the U.S. Coast Guard called for the lighthouse’s demolition, a local marina owner volunteered to have it moved to his property, where it stayed for decades until it was relocated to Waterworks Park, restored once more to the shores of Lake Erie, in 2016.
Today, visitors can see the lighthouse as they stroll through Waterworks Park. Built in the pepperpot architectural style, it is believed to be the last timber-framed lighthouse on the American side of Lake Erie. Tours of the lighthouse are offered on Saturdays at noon from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Ashtabula Harbor Lighthouse
The Ashtabula Harbor Lighthouse was the last manned lighthouse in the Great Lakes when the U.S. Coast Guard automated the beacon in 1973. Standing at the northern end of Ashtabula Harbor’s western breakwater, the original structure was built in 1905 and moved to its current location in 1916 after being expanded to double its size to accommodate the lighthouse keepers.
As of today, the lighthouse can only be viewed by boat, with the Ashtabula Maritime & Surface Transportation Museum located nearby.
Lighthouses are a link to our maritime past, on top of being some of the most beautiful architectural wonders in the world. Each one offers a fascinating glimpse into each locale’s unique history — and they’re pretty great for taking pictures with too!
Interested in taking off and seeing the local lighthouses by boat? Head to North Coast Harbor Marina and start your journey in Cleveland!