7 Reasons to Go to Cape Disappointment State Park

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Cape Disappointment State Park
Photo by Dale Nibbe from Unsplash

Ironically with a name that has “disappointment” in it, Cape Disappointment State Park is nothing but enjoyable for tourists and visiting families! Located in southern Washington at the southernmost point of the Long Beach Peninsula, Cape Disappointment State Park lies beautifully in the region surrounding greenery.

It is often referred to as the “Graveyard of the Pacific” because of its dangerous waters, cliffs, and shifting sandbar created by the Columbia River. The second of two lighthouses constructed on the Cape, North Head Lighthouse, was lit for the first time in 1898.

At the confluence of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean, just outside the town of Ilwaco, Cape Disappointment State Park offers a wide range of outdoor pursuits, breathtaking scenery, and year-round camping options.

cape disappointment state park
photo by Stephanie Bergeron from Unsplash

Four beautiful hiking routes wind between headlands and coastal woodlands, and visitors can also ride on the park’s paved roads or promenade along two sand beaches.

On the Long Beach Peninsula, Cape Disappointment is a 2,023-acre campground with views of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. To accommodate the various lodging demands of visitors, the park offers yurts, cottages, and distinctive historic vacation homes.

One hundred thirty-seven regular campsites, 50 full-hookup sites, 18 partial-hookup sites, five primitive hiker/biker campsites, one dump station, 14 yurts, three cabins, eight restrooms (two ADA), and 14 showers are all present at Cape Disappointment (four ADA). The longest possible site is 45 feet (limited availability).

1. Revel in the Majestic History of Cape Disappointment State Park

Cape Disappointment state park- at the extremity of the Long Beach Peninsula, in the far southwest of Washington state, protrudes into the Pacific Ocean. Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Volunteers for Northwestern Discovery finished the long voyage to the sea.

They took a break to see the tremendous surf crashing on the cliffs below as they carved their names and the date — November 18, 1805 — into a tree.

Here, the first phase of the Confluence Project, created by renowned artist and architect Maya Lin (b. 1959) to honor the Lewis-Clark Expedition, was dedicated exactly 200 years after the Lewis-Clark Expedition place. Members of the Chinook Tribe, art patrons, officials, and local leaders were present. The 2,023 acres (819 ha) of the state park’s diversified topography include:

  • Old-growth forests.
  • Freshwater lakes.
  • Saltwater and freshwater marshes.
  • Tidelands along the ocean.

2. Walk across the amazing beaches near Cape Disappointment 

The beaches near Cape Disappointment are meant for exploring. These car-free beaches are ideal for exploring and having fun! Spend the day creating forts out of driftwood and sand. On a beautiful October evening, watch the sun kiss the Pacific. Benson Beach can be reached by hiking with a view of North Head Lighthouse. At Waikiki Beach, you may observe enormous waves crashing in the winter or attend a free concert in the summer.

Alternatively, there is plenty of room if you want to spread out and take in the lovely surroundings or perhaps play some beach games!

Numerous hiking options are available in the park, including 8 miles of paths that wind through old-growth forests, freshwater lakes, and saltwater marshes. Benson Beach offers fishing and boating as additional outdoor pursuits. Additionally, there is a day-use area with 20 open-air picnic tables. The open times at Cape Disappointment State Park change with the weather.

The interpretive center and the North Head Lighthouse Tour need separate admission, and parking passes are required to enter the park. Visit Cape Disappointment State Park | Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission for additional information.

3. Trek across the Hiking Trails

There are 8 miles of hiking paths at Cape Disappointment! The slow Bell’s Vista Trail offers a view over the peninsula’s seemingly unending beach as compensation. The slightly more difficult North Head Trail connects to McKenzie Head, where you can locate a historic artillery battery. Of course, you must hike to one of the lighthouses before leaving.

A quick 0.5-mile out and back trail will show you some of the nicest local beauty if two miles is too far for you. The parking area next to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center serves as the hike’s trailhead.

The Cape Disappointment Lighthouse can be seen beautifully from this trail, which is THE trail to take. Sadly, the path leading to the lighthouse and even to a fantastic vantage point of Dead Man’s Cove are temporarily closed. No information is available regarding when this area will reopen. It’s still worthwhile to hike this trek.

4. Camping at Cape Disappointment State Park

Cape Disappointment State Park offers great sites for camping while also having facilities you can access in case of emergencies. Unlike state Parks of Maine, Cape Disappointment State Park has in-house facilities and structures to aid visitors in their journey through their adventure! Camping is the perfect recreational activity you might look to bond over with your family.

camp disappointment state park
Photo by Ethan Grey from Unsplash

Find out more about the voyage of the Corps of Discovery and some maritime history by visiting the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center. A panoramic picture of the Columbia Pacific Confluence and a superb photo opportunity of the Cape Disappointment State Park Lighthouse are included as a bonus.

Visit Fort Columbia Historical State Park if you like military history! The ruins of Fort Canby can be seen all across the park. The interpretative center is only a short distance from Gun Battery Harvey Allen. At the summit of McKenzie Head, there is a second gun battery.

6. Embracing the beauty of the legendary Lighthouse

The Cape Disappointment State Park in Ilwaco, Washington, bears the name of Captain John Meares’ first unsuccessful attempt to locate the Columbia River in 1788. During their stay at Station Camp from November 15 to November 24, 1805, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark would later perform a survey of this region.

The Cape Disappointment Lighthouse is next to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, which is set on windswept rocks. Visitors will appreciate exploring the abandoned bunkers and coastal defense batteries from World War II.

Various interactive displays about the region’s maritime and military history, including the Lewis and Clark Expedition, are available at the museum.

Visitors examine the view from Cape Disappointment State Park’s North Head Lighthouse. In 1898, the 65-foot-tall lighthouse was initially made operational.

The first lens could be seen 20 miles out to sea and used five gallons of kerosene each night. A rotating marine beacon was put in place in 1998. The second of two lighthouses constructed on Cape Disappointment was North Head.

This was one of the first two lighthouses built at Cape Disappointment. Ironically, in 1853, the cargo ship delivering the building supplies for the lighthouse capsized just below the headland. In 1856, the 53-foot-tall lighthouse was initially made operational. Later, a black horizontal stripe was added to separate it from North Head Lighthouse, which started operating in 1898.

7. Engaging with the History and Significance of the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse offers a view of the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. The westward trek of Lewis and Clark to the Pacific Ocean is depicted in a moralized timeline. Drawings, paintings, and written accounts capture the struggles and victories of their three-year adventure.

The Louisiana Purchase was made in 1803; President Thomas Jefferson ordered the formation of the Louisiana Purchase Corps, whose goals were scientific and commercial.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition took place between May 1804 and September 1806, and its core was made up of the Corps of Discovery, a specifically organized regiment of the American Army. 

When Thomas Jefferson and John Ledyard got together in the 1780s to discuss a potential voyage to the Pacific Northwest, the seeds for the Corps of Discovery were planted.

Jefferson decided to establish an American corps capable of reaching the Pacific in 1802 after reading Alexander Mackenzie’s 1801 book about his 1792–1793 overland voyage across Canada to the Pacific Ocean. Jefferson requested Congress to use the Louisiana Purchase to fund an expedition two years after he was elected president.

The Corps of Discovery was established in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson appointed his secretary, and U.S. Meriwether Lewis, an army captain, chose William Clark as his partner. The Corps of Discovery’s objectives included:

  • Exploring the Louisiana Purchase.
  • Establishing trade.
  • Asserting American control over the local populations along the Missouri River.

Its members would be recruited mostly from the U.S. military. Jefferson also sought to prove American presence in the Pacific Northwest and Oregon region before other European countries could claim the land and make a claim for the United States.

Lewis sought out the best individuals he could find to join his trip to form the Corps of Discovery and increase his chances of success. In addition to being skilled hunters, men were required to have survival-related knowledge.

The first of two lighthouses built at Cape Disappointment, this one was. Ironically, in 1853, the cargo ship delivering the building supplies for the lighthouse capsized just below the headland. In 1856, the 53-foot-tall lighthouse was initially made operational. Later, a black horizontal stripe was added to separate it from North Head Lighthouse, which started operating in 1898.

So, What are you waiting For?

Cape Disappointment State Park is waiting for you to join in and contribute to its majestic environment with your loved ones. This State Park is more than just a park- it’s an experience. From camping to hiking the plethora of trails, one does not have a limit on what they can do there. Cape Disappointment State Park is a wonderous adventure waiting to be unlocked by those ready to embrace its majesty.

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