Cape Disappointment State Park,Washington

Days 24-27 (August 23-26)
Cape Disappointment State Park (WA).

Don’t come here, you’ll be disappointed. SAID NO ONE EVER. Well, except for that one guy maybe.

North Light lighthouse in Cape Disappointment State Park Washington Coast
North Light lighthouse in Cape Disappointment State Park

Cape Disappointment is the ill-fitting name assigned by English fur trader John Mears to the northern bluff at the entrance of the Columbia River. Mears asserted that the river shown on earlier Spanish maps did not exist – believing the body of water he sailed to be a bay because of its size – when in actuality he had found the mouth of the giant river.

Confluence of Columbia River and Pacific Ocean Cape Disappointment State Park Washington
Confluence of Columbia River and Pacific Ocean (panorama)

The rich history of the Cape, the grand Columbia River, and the city of Astoria (explored in our next post) are fascinating.

View of North Head Lighthouse from Benson Beach Cape Disappointment State Park Washington
View of North Head Lighthouse from Benson Beach

Within a few hours of arriving at Cape Disappointment State Park, we are so taken with the park that we decide to stay three nights to soak up the history, trails, and beaches.  

Giant driftwood stump on Benson Beach Cape Disappointment State Park
Giant driftwood stump on Benson Beach

We walk, nap, and read at Benson beach in sight of the North Light lighthouse.  Benson Beach is perfect for kite flying (or in our case, watching kite-flying). In fact, the international kite festival is going on concurrently just up the road in Long Beach, although we don’t make it to any of the Long Beach festivities. 

driftwood and boulders on Waikiki Beach Cape Disappointment State Park
Waikiki Beach, Cape Disappointment State Park

The state park also has a small but stunning sheltered beach called Waikiki, from which one views a second lighthouse. Two lighthouses within two miles!

Waikiki Beach Cape Disappointment State Park
Waikiki Beach Cape Disappointment State Park

The beaches are home to ever-changing driftwood forts and sculptures and giant stumps from long-ago forests.

Waikiki Beach in Cape Disappointment State Park Washington
Waikiki Beach

Both beaches are quite dog-friendly, making for many happy pups and their humans.

Driftwood in Waikiki Beach in Cape Disappointment State Park
Waikiki Beach

We hike trails to the North Light and it’s nearby keeper houses, which remind me of an Edward Hopper scene…

Lightkeeper's house at Cape Disappointment State Park Washington
Lightkeeper’s house at Cape Disappointment State Park

And to the spot where Lewis and Clark first see the Pacific Ocean, at the confluence of the ocean and the Columbia River.

View from McKenzie Head / Lewis and Clark Camp Cape Disappointment State Park Washington
View from McKenzie Head / Lewis and Clark Camp

We walk through and climb atop a still-standing battery (although the fort and cannons are now gone), and read of how the creation of the jetties has changed beach to rainforest and wonder at the stunning growth that could happen in just 100 years. We are surrounded by tree giants and 6 foot tall ferns and feel as though we’ve entered a Jurassic world. 

McKenzie Head Trail at Cape Disappointment State Park Washington Lewis and Clark Camp
McKenzie Head Trail at Cape Disappointment State Park

The north jetty is closed undergoing repairs during our visit, although that gives us something new to look forward to seeing on a future visit.

Wildflowers at Cape Disappointment State Park
Cape Disappointment State Park, a Biodiverse Region

Although the tent campsites and overflow Rv parking are a bit underwhelming (no privacy), the lovely Long Lake is at the back of our site, and on our last morning here I crawl out of the tent to see two black-tailed does grazing at the back of our site.

Long Lake Cape Disappointment State Park Washington
Deer trail to Long Lake, just behind our campsite.

We drive into the working fishing village of Ilwaco to check out an antique mall, resupply, and have lunch at Salt Hotel & Pub overlooking the bustling harbor. Salt Pub’s food, service, and atmosphere are quite good. One day I hope to come back and stay in the hotel too.

Ilwaco Washington harbor fishing village
Ilwaco, Washington harbor

Cape Disappointment will offer quite different experiences to the visitor depending on the season and the weather, but isn’t that part of the fun of visiting Pacific Northwest beaches?

Sunset at Benson Beach Cape Disappointment State Park Washington
Benson Beach

To catch up on our Washington travels so far, click here to see our series of Washington posts

Curious where else we’ve been? Click here to check out our list of parks visited.

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