Doggin’ America's Lighthouse

West Quoddy Head Light (Lubec, Maine).
Perched on 80-foot black rock cliffs, Quoddy Head State Park is the easternmost point of land in the United States. West Quoddy Head Light, built in 1808 as America’s easternmost lighthouse, still guides ships through the Grand Manan Channel with its original Fresnel lens. The moist climate around Quoddy Head is frequently foggy and the lighthouse was one of the first to employ a fog bell that was eventually replaced with a steam-powered foghorn. The lawn around the squat, red-andwhite striped lighthouse is ideal for relaxing with your dog and look for whales in the channel.

Some of the best canine hiking directly on the rocky Maine Coast is found at Quoddy Head State Park. The Coastal Trail dips up and down along the clifftops for two miles before dropping to water level at Carrying Place Cove where your dog can play in the shallow waters. Your dog will love this rollercoaster walk at land’s end; eagerly bounding to the top of the many hillocks to see what awaits on the other side. The return trip can be made over the inland Thompson Trailthrough light forests of shallow-rooted white spruce and hardy balsam treesbattling the wind and salt spray. Many of these arboreal warriors remain standing after losing the fight, leaving spectral sculptures along the coast. A side trip leads to the Carrying Place Cove Bog, a National Natural Landmark. This subarctic remnant is home to plants that survive in low temperatures and thin, non-nurturing soil. Here carniverous plants such as the sundew and pitcher plants gobble insects for nutrients unavailable in the soil.

Montauk Point Lighthouse (Montauk, New York).
At the eastern tip of Long Island the land rises slightly. The Montaukett tribe who reigned over this area called the hill “Womponamon,” an Algonquian word meaning “to the east.” Great tribal councils were convened from the point.

During the American Revolution the British Royal Navy controlled Montauk Point, lighting enormous fires on the bluff to guide its warships stationed in nearby Gardiner’s Bay. When the British departed after the war the American government quickly realized the importance of a lighthouse on Montauk Point. In 1792 Congress appropriated $255.12 to buy land upon which a light was to be built to guide boats past the perilous rocks. The first whale oil was lit in 1797 in New York’s first lighthouse and America’s fourth. The historic Montauk Lighthouse was the first building seen by millions of immigrants sailing to America. 

In Montauk Point State Park dogs can only go west of the concession stand which works out well since that is where the trails are. You didn’t really want to use the playground did you? There are two trailheads here. The red-blazed trail dives towards the shoreline down a service road and the green-blazed Money Pond Trail starts a little ways up the road.

The Money Pond is where the pirate Captain Kidd supposedly stashed two treasure chests but no loot has ever been found. Your dog may feel as if he’s discovered gold on this tight, twisty route however. The sandy surface is a delight on the paw and the many dips and rolls are certain to pique any dog’s interest.

The Money Pond Trail joins the yellow-blazed Seal Haulout Trail for a longer journey out to Oyster Pond and the red-blazed stem that closes the loop to the parking lot. Both lead to the shore with occasional side trips to the beach. The further your dog hikes from the point the sandier the beaches become.

Sandy Hook Light (Highlands, New Jersey).
The Sandy Hook Lighthouse has been guiding ships through the sandy shoals for 240 years. You can walk your dog around the grassy base of the National Historic Landmark and well-behaved dogs can even sit in on the short video history of the illumination of New York harbor. While looking at the old brick sentinel, you can grasp the dynamics of land-building at Sandy Hook - when first built, the lighthouse was a mere 500 feet from shore and today is more than one and one-half miles from the northern end of the peninsula.

Ships sailing into New York harbor have always needed to navigate around the shifting sands of Sandy Hook. The first lighthouse was built from lottery funds in 1764. The strategic peninsula has been fortified since the War of 1812 and the Hook was the site of the first United States Army Proving Ground. The last active military base, Fort Hancock, closed in 1974 but the United States Coast Guard still maintains an active presence at Sandy Hook. 

The best canine hiking in the 1,655-acre Sandy Hook Unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area is on the seven miles of ocean beach. The open sands of North Beach curl around to reveal views of the Brooklyn skyline and the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in the world when it opened in 1964. Open all year to dogs are short nature trails through a 264-acre maritime forest that holds the greatest concentration of American Holly on the East Coast. 

When hiking around sand trails, steer your dog clear of low-lying prickly pear cacti that grow in abundance on the peninsula. In addition to the unspoiled natural areas at Sandy Hook, there are plenty of places to explore with your dog through historic Fort Hancock, much of which is used for educational purposes today. Interpretive trails describe missile testing sites, anti-aircraft defenses, and lead into overgrown gun batteries.  

Dogs are not allowed in the recreation area from March 15 to Labor Day to protect nesting shorebirds, dogs are also not allowed on the Old Dune Trail. 

Cape May Light (Cape May, New Jersey).
The clean, white tower at the bottom of New Jersey is the third beacon to guide ships around the tip of Delaware Bay. This one has been standing since 1859; its light at 157 feet was automated in 1946. Visitors can climb 199 steps to the top (no dogs).

The Cape May Light stands at Cape May Point State Park. In the interest of nesting shorebirds dogs are prohibited in the park from April 15 to September 15. But when permitted, this is a primo spot to bring your dog. The wide sandy beach provides hours of hiking time and a trio of short trails wind through the wetlands and marine forest fronting the beach.

Cape May is also one of the premier birding spots in America. In the fall hundreds of hawks use this migratory route favored by songbirds, dragonflies and Monarch butterflies.  

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (Hatteras, North Carolina).
There are five lighthouses on the Outer Banks your dog can visit - three in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The oldest operating lighthouse in North Carolina is the 75-foot tower on Ocracoke Island and the 150-foot Bodie Island Lighthouse dates to 1872. The most famous, and America’s tallest at 208 feet, is the black-and-white swirl-striped Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Its light can be seen 20 miles out to sea and has been reported to have been seen from 51 miles. Although your dog can’t do it, you can climb the 268 steps to the top. The current location of the Hatteras Light is not the original - in 1999 the entire 208-foot structure was moved a half-mile away from the encroaching ocean.
The journey took 23 days.

There is no better place for loooong hikes with your dog on dune-backed beaches than Cape Hatteras National Seashore but there are also a trio of short nature trails - one on each island - to try with your dog.

The best of the lot is in Buxton Woods on Hatteras Island, near the Visitor Center and lighthouse. This trail bounds across pine and oak-covered dunes with marshy wetlands tossed into the mix. The gnarled trees and shrub thickets provide a shady respite from a day on the beach with your dog.

Hunting Island Lighthouse (Hunting Island, South Carolina).
The 5000-acre Hunting Island was once a hunting preserve, hence its name. Before that it was a stopover for sailors and pirates. Much of the park was developed as a Depression-era project and its 1120-foot fishing pier is one of the longest on the East Coast.

The lighthouse in the park, built in 1859 and destroyed in the Civil War before being rebuilt with cast iron plates designed to be dismantled and moved, is the only public light in South Carolina. When open, you can climb the 167 steps - without your dog - to the top for a commanding view of the shoreline. The Hunting Island Light is the only lighthouse
in South Carolina open to the public. 

Hunting Island State Park is one of the best places you can bring your dog. Dogs are allowed on the park trails and the ocean beach - four miles of natural sand - is open for long canine hikes beside the Atlantic waves.

There is a good chance that you have already seen Hunting Island. The Viet Nam scenes from the movie Forrest Gump were filmed here. The trees come right down to the beach and the lush, tropical feel of the vegetation indeed give off the aura of a jungle. 
A trail leads along the length of the inland lagoon - man-made from sand dredging - that is where Forrest saved Lieutenant Dan in the movie.

St. Simons Light (St. Simons, Georgia).
The first structure to illuminate this coastal Georgia island began in 1807 and was built of tabby, a common Southern coastal building material of lime and crushed oyster shells. The original octagonal tower was steadily improved but destroyed by Confederate troops during the Civil War to prevent its use by Union troops. 

A 104-foot replacement rose in 1872 and is still in use today. The lighthouse and adjoining Victorian keeper’s house (the light was automated in 1954) are now a museum. The sandy beach in front of the St. Simons Light, hard by the downtown of the heavily residential St. Simons Island, welcomes dogs and the easy waves of the sound make it a fine place for a doggie dip.  

St. Marks Lighthouse (St. Marks, Florida).
The St. Marks Lighthouse got off to an inauspicious start in 1830 when its walls were discovered to be hollow instead of solid and the builders were charged with deliberate fraud against the United States. Calvin Knowlton rebuilt the tower (with the only wooden staircase in any Florida lighthouse) and the light was properly commissioned in January 1831.

In 1842, with its base threatened by erosion, the original brick tower was dismantled and rebuilt further inland - just in time for the Great Hurricane of 1843 with its 10-foot storm surges. Every building in the area was destroyed except the lighthouse. The 82-foot tower has remained stout ever since, even withstanding a Confederate attempt to blow it up during the Civil War. The last keeper retired in 1960 and now an automated St. Marks Light guides mariners across 15 miles of Apalachee Bay.

The Light is now part of the expansive St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge with over 68,000 acres under protection. At the lighthouse the Levee Trail and Cedar Point Trail introduce more hardy plants adapting to the whipping winds and salt spray. Your dog will only have to deal with the potentially harsh conditions for about one mile. The star walk for canine day hikers is the Mounds Pool Interpretive Trail that dips in and out of woods around freshwater and salt marshes. Highlights include close-up looks at Cabbage Palms, the Florida state tree.  

Point Iroquois Lighthouse (Brimley, Michigan).
The Point Iroquois Lightstation stands high above the waters of Lake Superior in the Hiawatha National Forest, at the entry to St. Mary's River, the only water connection between Lake Superior and the remaining Great Lakes. It served passing sailors by marking the narrow channel between the shallow sand beaches and shoals of Point Iroquois and the rocky reefs of Gros Cap on the Canadian side of Whitefish Bay.

The first lighthouse and lightkeepers residence were built in 1855, and the light was exhibited for the first time on September 20, 1857. With the growth of traffic through the locks, the importance of the lightstation increased. In 1870 the wooden tower and residence were replaced with the brick buildings that stand today. The tower is 65 feet high. After 107 years of service, the light at Point Iroquois became history; it was replaced by an automatic light in the channel off Gros Cap, Ontario. The Point Iroquois Lighthouse is now part of the Hiawatha National Forest.

A spiral staircase leads to the top of the 65-foot light tower. Short walking trails descend to the Lake Superior shoreline where your dog can enjoy first-rate swimming in the frisky waves or just watch the 1000-foot freighters pass by as they come and go through the Soo Locks.

Old Mission Lighthouse (Old Mission Point, Michigan).
Old Mission Point Lighthouse was built in 1870 at the end of Old Mission Point, 17 miles north of Traverse City. The lighthouse sits almost on the 45th parallel, halfway between the Equator and the North Pole.

The wooden clapboard sided house is painted white with black trim, and a small 30 foot white tower is stationed at the crest of the roofline. The light was decommissioned in 1933 and is now part of Lighthouse Park. The park features several miles of trails to enjoy with your dog in light woods and on the shores of Lake Michigan.