You won’t want to miss the sunset from the lighthouse or a chance to stargaze with the waves crashing nearby. Seals are often spotted in the surf, and whales are sometimes seen offshore.
The scenic and serene location makes Race Point Light the perfect spot for a romantic getaway, or memorable trip with friends or family. Some even make the trip a tradition, reconnecting each year in the sandy seclusion the historic lighthouse provides.
Gazing out at the horizon, it’s not hard for the years to fall away, imagining a former Race Point lighthouse keeper eyeing a storm on the horizon, hoping his light will burn bright for mariners at this tricky point where Cape Cod Bay meets the Atlantic.
History of Race Point Light
Before the Cape Cod Canal opened in 1914, ships traveling between Boston and New York City had to sail around Cape Cod to reach their destinations. The waters off of the peninsula were treacherous, particularly at the tip where a strong crosscurrent or “race” pushed passing ships towards a number of dangerous shoals.
To keep ships off of the shoals, Provincetown erected the Race Point Light in 1816. Perched on the very tip of the Cape Cod peninsula, this lighthouse was an isolated outpost located in “sandy desolation,” as one early visitor put it. To reach Provincetown, the lighthouse keepers and their families had to walk two miles in soft sand. On horseback, the trip took more than an hour.
The Danger Lurking Off the Shores at Race Point
The weather on Race Point was harsh and unforgiving, even in the summer. Race Point is one of the windiest spots on the coast and, year-round, the wind threw sand against the tower, the keeper’s house, and at anyone brave enough to venture outside, necessitating a rebuild in 1876. In the winter, keepers had to fight through a cutting mixture of sand and snow on their way to and from the facility.
To make life easier for the keeper, builders constructed a covered passageway between the tower and the keeper’s house. Ducking into this passageway at night, the keeper would visit the tower every four hours to fill the oil lamps and trim their wicks. These lamps lit up a revolving beacon, which ships could see as far as nineteen miles away.
Even after Provincetown erected the lighthouse, the shoals off Race Point were still a danger to passing ships. In her diary, the wife of keeper William H. Lowther remembers watching helplessly from shore as two men drowned in a shipwreck off the point. In his diary, keeper Clifford Morong writes about how his children once unearthed human bones on a nearby beach.
Though its whale oil lamps, and Fresnel lens have been replaced with a more efficient automated and solar powered light system, the beacon still shines bright, managed by the US Coast Guard.
A Great Lovers or Family Getaway Amongst the Dunes at Race Point Light
Today, people are drawn to stay at Race Point Light for the very reasons that people once found it so unappealing. Visitors looking for a quiet escape will enjoy walking along the beach, spending time connecting with loved ones, falling asleep to the sounds of the wind and waves, or curling up with a book on the porch of the Keeper’s House.
The Keeper’s House and Whistle House are maintained by the Cape Cod Chapter of the American Lighthouse Foundation, a non-profit that rents them for overnight stays.
Nestled in the dunes, surrounded by the fragrant sea salt rose and swaying dune grasses, the Keeper’s House’s white walls and red roof contrast beautifully against the blues of the sea and sky. Just a short distance away from the lighthouse, the house offers three quaint bedrooms for rent.
Housing up to eleven guests, visitors can rent all the rooms for a larger gathering or rent a single room, meeting other guests who’ve chosen to spend a night out on the dunes. Visitors bring their own food, drinking water, and linens, though the site has electricity and plumbing. Transportation is provided and a volunteer Keeper from the Lighthouse Foundation will guide visitors through their stay at Race Point, often providing tours of the lighthouse.
The nearby Whistle House provides a more private experience for visitors. The brick structure which once held a bellowing foghorn can now house up to 8 guests and is a great choice for families or groups.
Race Point Light offers stunning views and an unforgettable experience for those willing to venture off the beaten track.