Charming Coastal Landscapes at Cape Disappointment

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June 1, 2009

Cape Disappointment State Park (formerly known as Fort Canby State Park) offers spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, Columbia River and two historic lighthouses. It also includes old-growth forest, lakes, marshes, and ocean-side streams and tidelands. The park sits at the end of Long Beach Peninsula between the Columbia River and Pacific Ocean, and hosts a plethora of outdoor activities.

park-region-mapGeneral Info: Cape Disappointment got its name from English Captain John Meares in 1788, after his unsuccessful search for the Columbia River just on the other side of the cape. Four years later the American Captain Robert Gray succeeded and named the river after his ship, the Columbia Rediviva. In 1862 smooth-bore cannon were added to the cape and by 1875 the defense installation was expanded and named Fort Canby.

Hours and Fees: The park is open year-round for camping and day use, from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. in summer and from 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in winter. There is no entrance fee for day use, but camping fees apply and some attractions charge nominal admission fees.

Activities: Freshwater boating on the Columbia River is a nice way to see the sights. Baker Bay on the Columbia River has a boat ramp with 135 ft. of dock. Daily launching permits ($7) and trailer dump permits ($5) are required. Read the Washington State boating guidelines before your visit. You can cast a line for saltwater or freshwater fish such as salmon, sturgeon, trout or tuna, to name a few. Or try your hand at crabbing and clam digging along the shore! Ocean swimming at the Long Beach Peninsula isn’t recommended because of swift currents, riptides and unexpected high waves. The nearby Coast Guard Station responds to 300-400 calls for assistance in these waters every year.

cape-disappointment-lighthouse-on-pacific-oceanTake a break for lunch at one of the 20 picnic areas (first-come first-serve) in the day use area. Then wander along the 7 miles of hiking trails to get a closer look at the lush green forests. Chances are good you’ll see chipmunks, deer, rabbits, ducks, eagles, snipes and other assorted wildlife that make the park their home. Don’t forget your camera! The park also features 3 baseball fields, 2 volleyball courts and a horseshoe pit for your recreational pleasure.

Don’t miss the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, which features exhibits and programs about the famous expedition and its arrival at Cape Disappointment in 1805 (thereby completing their journey to the Pacific Ocean). It’s open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. all year. Admission is $5 for adults, $2.50 for children ages 7-17 and free for children 6 and under.

Guided tours of the North Head Lighthouse (built 1898) offer glimpses of mariner life in days gone by. Call the park office at (360) 642-3078 for hours and tour information. There is a $2.50 charge for adults 18+, children 17 and under get in free. The Cape Disappointment lighthouse is the oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast (built 1856), protecting ships from the treacherous shoreline during intense fog (about 106 such days per year).

fortcolumbiaguardhouseLocal Attractions: Stop by the Fort Columbia Interpretive Center while you’re in the area for a glimpse of life at a frontier defense outpost in the 1800s. The Colbert House Museum in the town of Ilwaco is a stunning presentation of life in a fishing village in the late 19th century. The house is open for tours May 26 through Sept. 30 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Friday through Sunday.

Camping Info: The park campground is open year-round and has 152 standard sites and 83 sites with hookups. Maximum campsite length is 45 ft. but may have limited availability. The campground has eight restrooms (two ADA), 14 hot showers (four ADA) and one dump station. Nightly fees are $19 for standard sites, $26 for full hookups and $25 for partial hookups.

Maximum of 8 people and one vehicle per site. Additional vehicles are $10 per night unless towed by an RV, and all extra vehicles must be parked in designated campsite or overflow spaces. The dump station is free for campers or $5 for day-use visitors. Firewood, ice, gifts, fishing gear, camping supplies and a pay phone are available at the park store. Call (888) 226-7688 for campsite reservations.

If you’re from the Evergreen State or have visited Cape Disappointment in the past, please chime in with your stories and travel tips! Your insights could be the key to someone’s great trip to Cape Disappointment State Park and the Long Beach Peninsula.

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  2. Anna

    The Lewis and Clark interpretive center is a beautifully designed facility, recently improved for the Bicentennial of their expedition.
    Last time we were there we found the remains of a baby harbor seal on the beach. Sad, but fascinating for my children to see perfectly preserved bones, flippers and spotted fur. The beach is covered with mountains of elegantly curved driftwood. Kids spent hours climbing around on these piles like a natural jungle jim.
    There are lots of wild huckleberries and blackberries in the woods too.

  3. Cristen Bullock dont miss out on the large oyster’s on the Oregon Coast 5′-6′ BIG Make a Louisans oyster look like a Baby! They are delicious Raw with a dab of tabasco sause & cracker’s or Deep-Fried! Clam’s are good two but get out of the surf when Tide roll’s in your Gumb boot’s will be full of Water & Cold even in Summer!

  4. Thank you all for the great advice! I love hearing these gems about things to do and see–it’s interesting to see what other people have experienced in their travels.

    I hope everyone’s summer is off to a great start!

  5. If you follow the arrow in the diagram, you will get to the north end of the Long Beach peninsula – however the state park and all of the interpretive centers are on the south end of the peninsula – where the land meets the Columbia River. It is just a few miles from the port of Ilwaco which is also a very interesting side trip. Many fishing charters originate in this port and can be seen coming and going on a regular basis.

  6. Don Crisp

    You may have forgotten one very small bit of information about Cape Disappointment. Since its inception, the U.S. Coast Guards Heavy Weather Training facility has trained thousands. Practicing in 10 to 15 foot (or larger) waves, the Coast Guard crews train for the worst, but hope for the best. You can watch some of the surf training from the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center viewing window. While it may be a fair distance away, I think that you’ll get an small idea of what the men and women who protect your coasts go through to be prepared. Semper Paratus!
    Don Crisp, BMC, USCG Ret.

  7. Pent many a summer there & it can’t be Beat! Windy but usually Great Weather after June! Rick Vogel U.S.Army Retired

  8. Doug: I know i spend every summer there there I am U.S.Army Retired & have a Gold card for National Forest Campground’s! I stay for 5 day’s Free Then move down the road a piece for another 5 day’s Then Come Back! Rick Vogel U.S.Army Retired!

  9. This park offers an excellent opportunity to combine a great vacation spot with a true sense of history, although it must be added that many of the best historical sites to visit are on the Oregon side of the Columbia.