During a week-long family vacation in Seaside, Oregon, we decided to venture north so our kids could mark Washington off on their “States Visited” map. We noted a couple of lighthouses across the Columbia River at Cape Disappointment State Park and made a fun day trip out of it.
Cape Disappointment offers hiking, camping, beach access, historical buildings and the oldest functioning lighthouse on the west coast.
Here’s a rundown of what you can explore, and hopefully you won’t be disappointed. Haha!
Getting to Cape Disappointment
Regardless of whether you’re heading north from Oregon or south through Washington, follow Highway 101 to Ilwaco. From there, you can head south along Highway 100, or take North Head Road toward the west coast.
There is no park entrance fee.
North Head Road will be the fastest route to North Head Lighthouse, so if you’re planning to start your visit there, take that road. Highway 100 will take you to the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and parking for Cape Disappointment Lighthouse.
If you like lighthouses, learn about Cape Cod’s lighthouse in Massachusetts.
Climb up North Head Lighthouse
North Head Lighthouse road ends at a spot with some parking stalls. Find one, and work your way west. You’ll find an open area with a few buildings. Those are where the lighthouse keeper’s lived. Now, however, with the automation of the North Head Lighthouse, there isn’t a need for lighthouse keepers.
The hike from the parking area to the lighthouse is about half a mile each way. Once you arrive at the lighthouse, step inside if you’re wanting to climb the stairs to the top.
NOTE: Children under the age of 7 are not allowed to climb the stairs to the top of the lighthouse. Ages 7-17 are free, but anyone 18 and older is charged $2.50. Cash is the best method of payment.
Anyone who climbs to the top must be wearing closed-toe shoes. No sandals or flip-flops allowed.
The grounds of the lighthouse are open year-round, from dawn until dusk. Currently, tours are not available while the lighthouse undergoes renovations.
Visit the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center
Test your skills at packing up a river boat with blocks, without letting it tip over. It’s more challenging than it sounds.
The Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center is full of historical artifacts and interactive exhibits to help visitors learn about the famous expedition. The group arrived in the area in Nov. 1805 and caught their first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean.
In the Interpretive Center, you can see the types of boats they used to float the Columbia River. You can also learn about the food they ate, how they camped and many other things about their journey from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean.
Be sure and ask for the Junior Ranger booklet at the front desk. Your kids can complete it during their visit and become Junior Rangers.
Parking is available roughly 500 feet from the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center. Along the path, keep your eyes peeled for banana slugs. It was wet and rainy when we were there, so we saw our share of slugs.
Hike to Cape Disappointment Lighthouse
From the parking lot of the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, you can take Cape Disappointment Trail, which winds through the green woods to the lighthouse. You can also access the trail from a parking area down Coast Guard Road.
While hiking, you’ll pass Deadman’s Cove. You can walk down to the water’s edge and beach if you want. There’s a lot of driftwood on the beach, but still room for some beach time. There are other nearby beaches further north (on Long Beach), so don’t be disappointed.
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse has a fantastic view of where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. It’s actually a pretty treacherous area for boats because of sandbars that build up. It’s been referred to as the Graveyard of the Pacific.
Cape Disappointment has numerous hiking trails winding through the woods and along amazing overlooks and sandy beaches. You won’t be disappointed – unless you don’t like rain. Another note: There’s an estimated 2,000+ hours of fog at the cape. That’s equivalent to 106 days.
Address: 244 Robert Gray Dr, Ilwaco, WA 98624
Hours: April 1 to October 31, the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Between November 1 and March 31, it’s closed on Monday and Tuesday, but is open the other days of the week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cost: The Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center is $5 for ages 18+, $2.50 for ages 7-17 and children 6 and under are free. Cost to climb to the top of North Head Lighthouse is $2.50 for anyone 18+. Children 7-17 are free. No one under the age of 7 is permitted to climb the stairs.
Phone: (360) 902-8844