These New York State lighthouses along Lake Ontario’s southern shore are all within a two hour drive of Rochester. And where there is a lighthouse there is a beautiful, sweeping view of our great lake.
My best friend Cady’s passion for lighthouses rivals mine for trains. She plans her day trips around which lighthouse she’d like to visit, with things to do along the way and in the area. She has taken photos of all of the lights from Lake Erie to the Saint Lawrence River—many of the lighthouses along Lake Ontario we’re featuring in this article.
Lighthouses along Lake Ontario from west to east:
1. Fort Niagara Lighthouse
There have been multiple lights on this land here at the mouth of the Niagara River. The first Fort Niagara Light was established on the roof of the stone fort in 1781.
From the Old Fort Niagara website, “The architectural collection includes six 18th-century buildings, the oldest extant structures of any type in the entire Great Lakes region. The earliest, known as the French Castle, was built in 1726 and is the oldest building in North America situated between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River.”
The 1872 lighthouse that still stands is the forth iteration. Visitors are able to observe the lighthouse from the grounds, but the tower is closed.
2. Olcott Lighthouse
1873 – replica
In 2003, this replica was built from old photographs. The lighthouse is open to the public 8am-7pm daily.
It is next to the Lakeview Village Shoppes—a colorful little boardwalk of shops featuring ice cream and lake-themed clothing and decor. It is the center of summer activity in Olcott, with parades and concerts throughout the warmer months.
Within a short walk is the Olcott Beach Carousel Park and Krull Park.
3. Thirty Mile Point Lighthouse
Located in Golden Hill State Park, the light served as a coastal light. This point, thirty miles east of the mouth of the Niagara River, is the northernmost point on Lake Ontario’s southern shore.
Because of its distance from the major cities of Rochester and Buffalo, you’ll find one of the darkest skies in the region, perfect for star gazing or trying to catch the Northern Lights in action.
Lighthouse tours are available for $1 per person.
You can also spend the night at the light. According to the NYS Park website, “At the Lighthouse Cottage, renters have a private entrance, kitchen with refrigerator, electric stove, microwave, coffee maker, cooking utensils, silverware and dishes, living room with electric fireplace, couch, two chairs and a writing desk, full bath with an old fashioned bathtub, three bedrooms with queen size beds and pillows and a view of Lake Ontario that is stunning.”
NEARBY: There are few attractions in the immediate area, which is part of the draw, but head south to visit Medina and the Medina Railroad, or south-west to Lockport and the Lockport Locks. Transportation history is alive and well in both. Or enjoy the quiet, natural environment at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge.
4. Oak Orchard Lighthouse
1871 – replica
The original lighthouse stood on the west side of the Oak Orchard Creek (or Oak Orchard River, depending on who you ask!) between 1871 and 1916. Using a 1909 survey, this full-scale replica was constructed in 2010 and now sits in the Orleans County Marine Park on the east side of the river. The grounds are accessible to visitors.
NEARBY: Head straight down NY-98 to NY-104. At this intersection you’ll find The Cobblestone Museum and Tillman’s Historic Village Inn. Or head upstream to Waterport to the Oak Orchard Dam and Lake Alice.
5. Braddock Point Lighthouse
1896 – private bed & breakfast
The light was extinguished between 1954 and 1996. Today, the lighthouse is privately owned and operated as a bed and breakfast. It is one of the few privately owned, fully functioning lighthouses in the country.
According to their website, “the innkeeper’s quarters have been completed restored back to the original government blue prints. The tower, while not completely original, has been rebuilt as a tribute to the original grand tower with the original staircase intact.”
6. Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse
The Charlotte-Genesee Lighthouse was abandoned for 100 years until its rescue and restoration in 1982. Built in 1822, it is the oldest active surviving lighthouse on Lake Ontario. At the time of its construction it was much closer to the shoreline.
You can climb the tower when it is open, but be warned! It is a tight, 40-foot-high, spiral staircase, then you climb an 11-rung ladder, and, once to the top, you crawl through an opening in the ceiling to access the 12-foot-high lantern room. It’s toasty up there in the summer but the view of Lake Ontario, the Genesee River, and Ontario Beach Park is amazing!
There are two additional lights at the end of Charlotte Pier and Summerville Pier, flanking the mouth of the Genesee River.
NEARBY: Ontario Beach Park, Durand Eastman Park, Seneca Park and Zoo. There are two more pier lights heading east along the lake shore; one at the mouth of Irondequoit Bay and the other on Webster Park pier. Walk along the Genesee Riverway Trail to Turning Point Park.
7. Sodus Lighthouse
8. Oswego West Pierhead Lighthouse
1934 – viewable only
From the H. Lee White Museum website, “In 2006 the structure was deemed excess and made available, and in 2009 was acquired by the City of Oswego from the United States Coast Guard to continue serving as a historic and cultural symbol of the City.”
The H. Lee White Maritime Museum at Oswego offers tours to the Oswego West Pierhead Lighthouse by boat each year, mid-June through early September, on Fridays and Saturdays from 1:30 to 4:00 pm (weather pending). Visitors to the Lighthouse should plan to spend roughly two hours (including transit) for their experience and captains reserve the right to cancel or cut-short any trip due to weather or safety concerns.
9. Salmon River Lighthouse
1838 – private vacation rental
The lighthouse at the mouth of the Salmon River is referred to as Selkirk Light, Selkirk Point Light, Port Ontario Light, and Salmon River Light in various texts and at different points in history. Today, the structure is called the Salmon River Lighthouse & Marina.
Salmon River Lighthouse is one of only four in the United States that retains its original birdcage design. The lighthouse was deactivated between 1858 and 1989. It has served as a hotel since 1895, though the original buildings were razed in 1916.
Salmon River Lighthouse still offers the option to spend the night. From their website, “Our fully-operational Selkirk Lighthouse, built in 1838, and five cottages (three right on the Marina property and two across the River) offer spacious and comfortable vacation accommodations throughout the spring, summer, and fall.”
According to AFAR, there are free open houses held the third Sunday of every month from April to November. Call ahead if this is something you’re interested in doing.
Great thanks to Lighthouse Friends for the wealth information on available their website about these lighthouses along Lake Ontario.
Also, to PBS for sharing this exceptional video about New York’s Seaway Lighthouses: (Special – 1h 26m 49s) “Along the New York shores of the Seaway Trail, from Ogdensburg, to Barcelona, New York, are 23 lighthouses. This documentary probes the stories behind when and why these lighthouses were built, the functions they served, and the people who spent their lives keeping the lights burning.” Enjoy!
Which are your favorite lighthouses along Lake Ontario?
Share your thoughts with us in the comments. Your insight and experience is invaluable!