The Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, ME: Complete Guide

The most famous lighthouse in Maine may be The Portland Head Light, but Bass Harbor Head Light Station comes in a close second.  With 180,000 visitors each year, it’s by far the most popular lighthouse in Acadia National Park – and the fifth most popular spot in Acadia National Park (behind only Cadillac Mountain, Jordan Pond, Sand Beach, and Thunder Hole).   

So, what is it, where is it, why is it so popular, and how do you get there?  

This complete guide to The Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse will answer all these questions and more.

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A photo of a white lighthouse near the cliff surrounded by trees, with the text that says EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE VISITING THE BASS HARBOR HEAD LIGHTHOUSE ACADIA NATIONAL PARK
Two photos: Lighthouse near the rock cliffs surrounded by trees and wooden stairs surrounded by trees and near the ocean, with the text that says THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO BASS HARBOR HEAD LIGHTHOUSE - ACADIA NATIONAL PARK

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The Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse Guide

You might also like: 

>> How to Plan a Visit to Acadia National Park 
>> Acadia National Park Travel Guide 
>> Best Things to Do in Acadia National Park 
>> Best Hikes in Acadia National Park 
>> 12 Fun Facts About Acadia National Park 

What’s its actual name?  

You may hear it called Bass Head Harbor Lighthouse – this is incorrect.  It’s “Harbor Head” not “Head Harbor”.   

Its official name is actually Bass Harbor Head Light Station.  However, almost no one calls it a “light station”.   

By far the most common name is Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, and this is the term that I use most often, though I’m using different variations throughout this guide so you can see the different permutations and understand that they are all the same place! 

Bass Harbor Lighthouse Address 

while lighthouse with red light - Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse in Acadia National Park
Credit: NPS-Kent Miller

The lighthouse is located in Tremont, Maine, on the southwest corner of Mount Desert Island.  It sits at the entrance to Bass Harbor and Blue Hill Bay. 

Its official address is 116 Lighthouse Rd, Bass Harbor, ME 04653. 

What should you wear/ take to Bass Harbor Lighthouse, Maine? 

This depends on what you plan to do there.  If you’re just visiting the lighthouse itself and walking to the nearby viewing platform, you don’t need anything special. 

However, if you plan to walk out on to the rocks for the classic photo, you MUST have shoes or boots with good grip.  The rocks are often slippery and potentially dangerous.  I recommend good hiking shoes (if you need some, check out my guide to the Best Hiking Shoes for what to look for and some recommendations), or gym shoes will do.  

If you’re trying to take the perfect sunset shot, you will also need to have a tripod.  This can range from a super-duper professional tripod like this one or a down and dirty gorillapod.  

A brief history of the Bass Harbor Head Light Station 

In 1856, US congress gave $5,000 for the construction of a lighthouse on Bass Harbor Head. 

In 1857, about three acres were purchased where the lighthouse would be built. 

In 1858, the lighthouse and keeper’s home were built. 

In 1876, construction was completed on a pyramidal fog bell and tower, since removed. 

In 1893, a boathouse was built. Until a road was built, all supplies were brought in by boat.  

historic black and white photo of sailing boat and Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse in Acadia National Park
Credit: National Archives 26-LG-1-28A

In 1897, the current (larger) bell house was built. 

In 1900, a 10-foot extension was built on the lighthouse keeper’s house, adding an office, bedroom and bathroom, and enlarging the kitchen. 

In 1901, a Henry-Lepaute fourth-order lens was installed.  It can be seen 13 miles away. 

In 1902, an oil house was constructed about 200 feet northwest of the lighthouse. 

In 1905, a barn was added. 

In 1937, a 52-acre piece of land around the lighthouse was purchased by National Park Service (NPS) from the Worcester family.  This included the entrance road, parking lot, restroom, short hiking trail, and stairway to a shoreline viewpoint area. 

In 1949, a 1,500-pound bell was mounted on a stand near the tower and electrified. 

In 1974, the lighthouse was fully automated. 

In 1988, the lighthouse was listed in the National Register of Historic Places

In 2010, President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to visit Acadia National Park, including Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. 

In 2012, it appeared on the America the Beautiful quarter. The last residents left the lighthouse.

In 2016 it was featured on the NPS centennial postage stamp. 

In 2020, the US Coastal Guard formally transferred ownership of the lighthouse to the National Park Service.  Soon after, the red acrylic “chimney” around the fourth-order Fresnel lens was removed and the white lamp was replaced with a red LED, so light retains its historic red color without the ‘chimney’. 

red led light in Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse in Acadia National Park

What to expect at Acadia Bass Harbor Lighthouse, ME 

The Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse is one of three lighthouses in Acadia National Park (the other two are on Baker and Bear Islands) – but is by far the most famous and most popular.  

From the parking lot, there’s a short walkway on the right side that takes you next to the tower and lighthouse viewing area where you have a great vantage point to see a panoramic view of the harbor and the islands in the distance.  

There are some plaques with detailed information about the grounds, the lighthouse, and its history. This also provides a great close-up view of the lighthouse tower.

However, you can’t go inside. The house was a private residence for a local Coast Guard member and their family until 2012 and is still off limits.  

Buildings in the complex include the actual light station, the keep’s home, the bell house, an oil house and a barn.   

There are vault/ composting toilets in the parking lot. 

rocks and at top Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse in Acadia National Park

Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse Trail 

Another clear and easy trail at the other end of the parking lot on the left side of the buildings is a little longer and goes through woods to get to the shoreline.  It ends at a stairway that takes you to a viewing platform and down the front face of the cliff, and ending at the place where you can take the classic photos of the rocky coastline in the foreground with the lighthouse perched at the top.  

To get this view, you need to scramble out onto the rocks.  Do not attempt this if you have any mobility issues and take a great deal of care, especially of the rocks are wet.  Watch out for the dark rocks – they are covered in especially slippery slime.  

rocks and bushes and Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse in Acadia National Park

There is an additional trail that is less easy to see and much less travelled. Look for a faint trail near the top of the wooden staircase heading east. This goes along the coastline for half a mile.  There are wonderful views along the way and you can also scramble down to the coastline at points along the way.  

Tips for Visiting the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse 

lots of people on rocks with cameras on tripods all waiting for sunset to photograph Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse in Acadia National Park
Credit: NPS-Kent Miller
  1. To avoid waiting for a parking spot, get there before 9:00AM, especially in summer. 
  1. If you get there after that, be prepared to wait until someone leaves.  Wait times in summer are typically around 30 minutes until mid-afternoon (and impossible after that). Take the Island Explorer shuttle if you can. 
  1. If you want to be there for sunset, get there at least three hours early!
  1. Take the path to the right to get to the actual lighthouse and the path to the left to get to the viewing platform/ access to the rocks. 
  1. Be very, very careful when walking out on the rocks.  This is not suitable for young children.  There are no guardrails or boardwalks for safety once you get to the bottom. There are potentially loose stones and slippery spots. Wear grippy shoes and avoid wet and slimy rocks.   
  1. If you prefer not to climb the stairs or clamber on the rocks or have small children you want to keep safer, there is a short path between the trees to the left of the main trail where there are still OK views.  

Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse Sunset  

pink rocks at sunset with Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse in Acadia National Park
Sunset at Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse

You have probably seen iconic photos of the Bass Harbor Lighthouse sunset.  The sunset at Bass Harbor Lighthouse is definitely beautiful, but bear in mind that seeing it will not be a solitary experience! 

Because it is such a popular spot for taking photos at sunset, you will need to get there several hours before sunset in order to secure a spot.   

The best place to get the classic photo is out on rocks, so you will need to find a spot, then set up a tripod and wait there for at least three hours.   

Many people complain that it’s hard to get good pictures of the lighthouse without people in front of it, or at least beside it.  This is true; however, you will certainly see a spectacular sunset over the ocean, slightly to the left of the lighthouse, and are sure to get some shots of the lighthouse with the golden glow beside it.   

Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse Sunrise

glowing rocks at sunrise and Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse in Acadia National Park
Sunrise at Bass Harbor Lighthouse

Can you see sunrise at Bass Harbor lighthouse? 

Yes. The lighthouse is a great spot to see the sunrise over the ocean.  The light is then behind you as you face the lighthouse, bathing it in a lovely golden glow.  Plus, there are a lot fewer people here and there is a good chance you will get a parking spot without needing to wait.  This is my favorite time to see the lighthouse. 

How to Get to Bass Harbor Lighthouse, Acadia National Park 

Driving Directions to Bass Head Light House from Bar Harbor 

Head west on Mount Desert Street. This changes name to Eagle Lake Road after 0.4 miles. After 5.8 miles, turn right onto ME-198 N/ME-3 E.  After 1.4 miles, turn left onto ME-102 S.  After 8.6 miles, take a slight left onto ME-102Alt N/ Harbor Drive.  Drive straight for 1.6 miles, then take a slight right onto Lighthouse Road.  The lighthouse is at the end of this road, 0.5 further along. 

Buses, trailers, or RVs are not permitted due to the narrow road and small parking lot. If you have an RV or trailer, you could park at the Ship Harbor Trailhead and walk from there (1.2 miles | 25 minutes each way). 

Without traffic, it takes about 35 minutes from Hulls Cove Visitor Center to the lighthouse.  It’s about ten minutes from the Seawall Campground. 

map of Mount desert Island in Acadia National park

Taking the Shuttle to Bass Harbor, Maine Lighthouse 

Mount Desert Island and some of the surrounding area is serviced in summer by the free Island Explorer shuttle.  There are 11 routes. 

You can get from Bar Harbor to Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse on the shuttle bus, which saves the headache of parking.  You do need to take two connecting buses, however. 

First take Route 7 from Bar Harbor (Southwest Harbor route) and connect to Route 11 (Tremont route) at stops G, H, or I.  Stop J is Bass Harbor.  From there, it’s a short walk to the lighthouse. There are buses seven times/ day and the last pickup is 4:13PM, so this is not suitable for sunrise or sunset.  

The shuttle typically runs from late June to early October. Check the Island Explorer website for season dates and exact schedules.  

map of Mount Desert Island in Acadia National Park with shuttle routes marked

Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse Parking 

Let’s not beat around the bush.  Parking is the single worst thing about visiting the lighthouse.  

The lighthouse is at the end of a narrow 2-lane road and there are only about 20 parking spaces.  Parking is not permitted anywhere else, including along the entrance road and 102A – and this is strictly enforced.  

After about 9:00AM, the parking lot is full all day and you will need to join a line waiting to get in.  Throughout the day in the busy season (late June – early October), you will typically wait about half an hour to get a parking spot.   

For sunset, it’s even worse and if you’re not there at least three hours in advance, don’t even bother showing up. Rangers will turn you away if the lot is full and no one is leaving.   

My recommendation: Get there before 9:00AM.  The lighthouse is especially beautiful when the early morning light hits it directly.  

If you’re struggling to plan when to see all that Acadia National Park has to offer – how to beat the traffic and when the best time is for each hike and highlight – I strongly recommend getting one of my Acadia National Park itineraries.  They have detailed hour-by-hour breakdowns of exactly what to see and do and when (with alternatives for different activity levels).  There are 1-, 2-, 3- and 4-day options.   

Get a detailed Itinerary for Acadia National Park here now. 

Map of Bass Harbor Light House 

aerial photo of Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse in Acadia National Park and parking and trails

FAQS about Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, Maine 

Is Bass Harbor lighthouse worth visiting?

Yes.  Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse is the fifth most popular place in Acadia National Park and one of the most photographed lighthouses in Maine for a reason.  The main reason is its spectacular location perched on the top of rocky cliffs, making it a picture-perfect postcard photo.  

Can you go up Bass Harbor lighthouse?

You can walk around the outside of the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, but the building itself used to be a private residence and is still closed to visitors, so you can’t actually go up to the top of the lighthouse. 

Who lives in Bass Harbor lighthouse?

Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse was the private residence of the Commander of the Coast Guard Group Southwest Harbor and their family until 2012. It is currently vacant while the NPS consider how to turn it into a revenue-generating facility. 

What is the famous lighthouse in Acadia?

The famous lighthouse in Acadia National Park is the Bass Harbor Head Light Station, found at the Southwestern tip of Mount Desert Island. 

Who owns Bass Harbor Head lighthouse?

Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse is owned by the National Park Service.  It was gifted to them on July 8, 2020 by the US Coastal Guard (USCG), though the USCG retains the rights to operate the lighthouse. 

Travel Insurance for Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse – Acadia National Park 

You should definitely get travel insurance when you visit Bass Rock Lighthouse – especially if you climb out on to the rocks.  You might slip and if anything happens, this can protect you against medical and emergency repatriation, as well as cover things like trip cancellation, loss and/ or theft of property, etc.  

A great insurance option is Travelex.  It has coverage for all you’ll need. You can choose the best travel insurance plan for your trip here or get a quote right now: 

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Enjoy the Acadia lighthouse! 

What did you think of the Bass Head Lighthouse?  Are there any other tips for visiting or photographing it listed here?  I’d love to hear about them.  Join my private Facebook group National Parks Collectors and comment and let me know (you can also pick up extra planning tips, share your photos and stories with other national park lovers and more).

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Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse Guide

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Two photos: Lighthouse near the rock cliffs surrounded by trees and wooden stairs surrounded by trees and near the ocean, with the text that says THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO BASS HARBOR HEAD LIGHTHOUSE - ACADIA NATIONAL PARK
A photo of a white lighthouse near the cliff surrounded by trees, with the text that says EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE VISITING THE BASS HARBOR HEAD LIGHTHOUSE ACADIA NATIONAL PARK

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About the Author

James Ian Yosemite

James Ian is a national park, camping and hiking expert.

He has dedicated his life to travel, visiting more than 80 countries, all 7 continents and most of the national parks in the United States. With over 35 years experience in the travel industry, James has worked on cruise ships, at resorts and hotels, and as a travel planner who’s helped hundreds of people plan successful trips to US national parks. 

Based on his experience visiting our national parks multiple times, in-depth research and expertise as a travel planner, James has published detailed itineraries for most of the major national parks in the US. These itineraries, as well as in-depth park guides, comprehensive camping and hiking gear reviews and buying guides, and helpful packing lists and gift guides will help you have your own incredible trip to US national parks without stress and hassle.

As a national park expert, James has contributed to many publications, including USA Today, Time Business News, Savoteur, Best Trip, and Wired.

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