Newport, Rhode Island is full of posh hotels and inns. But one overnight destination is different than any other: the Rose Island Lighthouse. Perched close to the sprawling Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge that connects the City by the Sea on Aquidneck Island to Jamestown and the mainland, it has six rooms available for overnight stays. The well-kept, charming lighthouse, one-mile offshore in Narragansett Bay, provides a truly magical setting for families to unplug and bond in unique fashion.
My husband desperately wanted to get away for a night to celebrate his birthday. But, naturally, we were Last Minute Planners. Where could we go? It struck me. The Rose Island Lighthouse. Friends of ours had given it rave reviews. And, here’s the bonus: even in the heart of the summer, families can book a simple one-night stay.
We made a call and, miraculously, two rooms were available! Our boys – 13 and 11 – were just the right age to enjoy this adventure. An 18-acre island is home to the lighthouse, military barracks and a wildlife refuge. Our friends advised us to expect a rustic experience – somewhat like camping. We started to prepare!
A Fascinating History
First operational in 1870, the lighthouse is now on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Designed by a Vermont architect, it has several “sister” structures throughout New England. Rose Island was used by the military to defend Newport during the Revolutionary War. It was then used by the Navy through the 1950s to build and store torpedoes and mines.
Over the years, the charming lighthouse faced challenges such as a nearby collision of two tankers and the Hurricane of 1938. It survived and thrived, however, until the Newport Bridge was finished in 1969. The looming behemoth – brightly lit at night – diminished the lighthouse’s significance. Shut down in 1979, it suffered from neglect and became rundown.
That changed in 1984 when the Rose Island Lighthouse Foundation was formed to restore and maintain this beautiful relic. Funds from overnight visits now help keep the Rose Island Lighthouse in good shape.
What To Pack
Once on the island, visitors can’t leave and don’t have access to a refrigerator. So, it’s customary to bring dinner and breakfast in a big cooler. The property sports several grills, ready for use.
I packed fruit, crackers, cheese and wine for my husband and I to enjoy as we lounged in Adirondack chairs, overlooking the water. For dinner, we brought burgers, cheese, buns, a pre-made salad and ears of corn, along with paper plates and plastic cutlery. A fire pit comes in handy during dessert – as it’s the perfect to spot to make s’mores.
In the morning, we had cereal, milk, fruit and coffee, made in a percolator on the grill. Visitors have access to spring water but be sure to bring coffee grounds! No need to pack bedding or pillows but I would recommend bringing a few flashlights. We packed bathing suits, pajamas, sweatshirts and tooth brushes. Don’t forget the bug spray!
The Trip to the Island
A small ferry to the island left Fort Adams State Park at 3pm and was back the next morning at 10am for pickup. The 15 minute trip was lovely – providing beautiful views of downtown Newport. We were a little overwhelmed when we arrived. But, the lighthouse keeper was extremely accommodating, helping with our bags and describing the experience we had in store. When we docked on island, we were greeted by the gorgeous lighthouse, surrounded by several small beaches and wild flowers.
The Simple and Stunning Living Situation at the Rose Island Lighthouse
We had one very small – very lovely and clean – room in the lighthouse. The Wantan Chase room contains a double bed, a dresser and little else. The window was wide open with linen curtains billowing in the breeze, inviting visitors to gaze out on the water and breathe in the salty air. This room has electricity and a nearby bathroom.
We also had a room in The Barracks, across the lawn from the lighthouse. It was charming and unique. I called it our Cotswolds Cottage – I felt as if we were in England! Located in a grassy knoll, the one-story, white-washed building is surrounded by lounging seagulls. The room was large but sparse – consisting of a double bed, and a table and chairs. The barracks have no electricity but the keeper left a few luci lights for us.
Two outdoor bathrooms – which were really rather nice – were nearby. Rooms cost between $200 and $450 per night.
A Slow Afternoon and a Magical Night
Truthfully, it took us a little time to settle in. Our swimming experience wasn’t great. The beach is rocky and the current is strong. Kayaks and life vests are available for visitors to use. So, we took a really nice paddle in the evening and saw some amazing birds.
But, our trip really felt special as the sun started to set. The sky was incredibly beautiful – constantly changing – as my husband grilled our feast and we played board games on a picnic table. Dinner was delicious and making s’mores by the fire was so much fun.
Very carefully, we climbed the stairs and the ladder to the lantern room – containing a reproduction of a Fresnel lens. It was spectacular at night. The light blinked as we looked at the sparkling water and talked. Also, my son brought his portable telescope. We set it up on the lawn and gazed at the moon before falling into bed at 10pm.
I slept like a log in our little lighthouse room. It was the best sleep I’d had in a long time.
Lessons Learned During a Family Adventure in Newport, Rhode Island
These fascinating structures – where brave people lived in isolation to keep countless sailors safe – contain compelling history which must be preserved. We also learned about the beauty of simplicity – what it means to unplug, talk and enjoy an incredible sunset.
Another lesson: to embrace adventure and new experiences! We even made some friends but don’t worry – they were actual people not apparitions! We saw absolutely no evidence that this New England beacon is haunted!
Would you spend the night in a lighthouse? Check out this TravelingMom post about a Maine beacon that doubles as a B & B. There’s also a romantic option (leave the kids at home, perhaps?) in Florida! Enjoy!