A lighthouse is a perfect place for a day trip with kids, because the visit will tire them out - guaranteed.
It isn't just climbing the stairs that will do it. Absecon Island Lighthouse's 240 steps to the top, for example, will use up plenty of energy. But most lighthouses in our region are situated in natural areas where kids can also take nature hikes, run on the beach and exhaust themselves in the fresh air.
Cape May Lighthouse is in the middle of a state park famous for its bird life, so if you have binoculars, make sure to bring them with you. Hike around the raised boardwalk trail, and see how many bird species you can spot. Then take a long walk on the beach, and let the kids run rings around you. In fact, most sites listed here are good for bird watching, too.
See how many of our region's lights you can visit in a single day or weekend. Bring a picnic lunch with you - most have facilities for eating outside, but not food service.
And while they are having fun, your kids will also be absorbing some of the history of their home state. They may learn why lighthouses are painted different colors (it makes them distinguishable for navigation in the daytime as well as night). Or they may find out that the lights were darkened during World War II for protection against German submarines off our shore. Or they may learn to explain to you just how those complex Fresnel lenses operate. (Let's just say it's something about using thick glass prisms to concentrate the light.) Commodore Matthew Perry brought the first one to the U.S. from France in 1841, and installed it in the Navesink Lighthouse in Highlands.
31 S. Rhode Island Ave.,
Built in 1857, it's the tallest in New Jersey, and third tallest in U.S.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday to Monday September to June; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily July and August
Cost: Adults $7; children $4; age 3 and younger free. Dogs welcome.
Broadway in Barnegat Light
The light was re-lit after 80 years of darkness on Jan. 1, 2009, 150 years to the day after opening in 1859. It includes nature trails, interpretive center, picnicing and fishing access.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. April 1 to Oct. 31
Cost: $1 per person; children younger than 12 free.
CAPE MAY LIGHTHOUSE
Cape May Point State Park, Lighthouse Road, Cape May Point
Built in 1859, it's the third lighthouse built on the southern tip of New Jersey. The first two were lost to erosion and the waves. Includes museum, nature trails, picnicing and beach access. Guided tours are available.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily June 18 to September (Hours vary until then.)
Cost: Adults $7; Children 12 and younger $3.
EAST POINT LIGHTHOUSE
Lighthouse Road, Maurice Township
Built in 1849 at the mouth of the Maurice River, it's the last standing lighthouse on the New Jersey side of the Delaware Bay, and the second oldest still standing in New Jersey. (Sandy Hook Lighthouse, finished in 1764, is the oldest still standing in the state and nation.)Not particularly tall, the light is on a raised pinnacle at the top of a two-story brick house. Nature trails surround the structure, with beautiful water views.
Hours: 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m the third Sunday of the month from April to October. Other times worth walking around outside.
Cost: $2 all ages
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HEREFORD INLET LIGHTHOUSE
Central and First avenues, North Wildwood,
Designed in 1874 by Paul J. Pelz, designer of U.S. Library of Congress. Surrounded by Victorian cottage gardens.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily May 16 to Oct. 18; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday (closed Monday and Tuesday) Oct. 19 to May 15.
Cost: Ages 12 to adults $4; 11 and younger $1.
TUCKER'S ISLAND REPLICA LIGHTHOUSE AT TUCKERTON SEAPORT
120 West Main St. (Route 9), Tuckerton.
The renovated lighthouse had to be rebuilt in Tuckerton because the original Tucker's Island was completely lost to the sea by 1952. It's another short lighthouse, at the top of a two-story building. The lighthouse features exhibits on the history of New Jersey lighthouses, navigation, the U.S. Life Saving Service, pirates, whaling, and life at the first seaside resort along our coast, Tucker's Island. Part of the Tuckerton Seaport Museum, a reconstructed, working maritime village on Tuckerton Creek, leading to Barnegat Bay.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily all year.
Cost: Adults $5; ages 6 to12 $3; ages 5 and younger free.
A little out of area, but worth a trip:
FINNS POINT LIGHTHOUSE
Fort Mott and Lighthouse roads, Supawna Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, Pennsville.
Lighthouse closed to public, except for Lighthouse Challenge in October, but can be viewed from outside. Refuge is open dawn to dusk, seven days a week. Free admission during Lighthouse Challenge.
SANDY HOOK LIGHTHOUSE
Gateway National Recreation Area, Fort Hancock.
Oldest continuously operating lighthouse in nation. Tours every half hour, weekends noon to 4:30 p.m.; weekdays 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Free admission, but must be at least 48-inches tall to climb it for safety issues.
SEA GIRT LIGHTHOUSE
Beacon Blvd. and Ocean Ave., Sea Girt.
Tours starting early May to late November, every Sunday, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., except holiday weekends. Group tours by appointment year round. Admission free, donations accepted.
TINICUM REAR RANGE LIGHTHOUSE
Second Street and Mantua Ave., Paulsboro.
Regular tours conducted the third Sunday of each month, noon to 4 p.m., April through October. Special tours with advance notice. Lighthouse available for weddings, special events. Admission free, donations accepted.
TWIN LIGHTS OF NAVESINK
Lighthouse Road, Highlands.
Open Wed. through Sun. 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Closed Mon. and Tues. Call the morning of visit to be sure no changes in schedule. Admission free; donations accepted.
For more information about lighthouses, visit the New Jersey Lighthouse Society at www.njlhs.org/
For a map of NJ Lighthouse locations, visit: www.lighthousefriends.com/nj.html