Cape Disappointment. Not exactly a promising name for a place you’re planning to vacation. However, my wife, two-year-old son and I just returned from a long weekend at Cape Disappointment State Park where we vacationed with friends and had a wonderful time.
Located in Washington State’s southwestern most corner, Cape Disappointment is bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the mighty Columbia River to the South. The park offers 27 miles of ocean beach, two lighthouses, an interpretive center and hiking trails.
Cape Disappointment, discovered and named by English fur trader John Meares on July 6th, 1788 was so named because at the time Meares was disappointed that he had not discovered the mouth of the Columbia River. A storm forced him to give up his search just north of the river’s mouth. I’m sure he was truly disappointed when he later realized precisely how close he was. Sometimes the breaks just don’t fall your way.
It’s one of the foggiest places in the country with the equivalent of 106 days of the misty white stuff hanging around to greet you – not unusual in Washington State. Fog notwithstanding, this park is a beautiful place. Majestic vistas abound with views of the vast Pacific Ocean to the west, the mighty Columbia River to the south, and acres of lush green forest to the east and north. As mentioned the park has multiple hiking trails of varying difficulty. One such hike led our families to the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. The trail began at the Lewis and Clark interpretive Center, down a ravine past a beautiful hidden cove appropriately named Dead Man’s Cove, and back up the other side to the lighthouse.
The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center ($5.00 adults) was a fabulous facility with a breathtaking view of the Pacific. The center chronicles in tremendous detail Lewis, Clark, and the Corp of Discovery as they journeyed Westward from St. Louis from 1805-6 at the bequest of President Thomas Jefferson looking for a waterway to the Pacific Ocean. Highly recommended if you visit. Other Lewis and Clark sites of note at Cape Disappointment, the place where the Corp finally realized their goal of arriving at the Pacific Ocean, Clark’s November 18, 1805 campsite and McKenzie Head, a high point where Clark led a group to take sights and survey across the mouth of the Columbia. Conveniently, both the campsite and McKenzie Head are two markers along one of the park’s scenic hiking trails.
Our own corp of discovery stayed near the park’s second lighthouse, the North Head Lighthouse. We overnighted at one of three rentals which were the original Lighthouse Keeper’s residences. Our rental was nice, but honestly for the nearly $300 a night price tag, we would have been better off renting separate hotel rooms in nearby Longview, Washington. However, if we had done that we probably would not have been close by when the Coast Guard helicopters were doing their rescue training maneuvers a few hundred yards from the lighthouse cliffs. This was a huge hit with the little ones. Plus, the houses are contained in a large fenced yard with a series of sidewalks which were great for toddler bikes.
As I mentioned, the park has 27 miles of beaches, but the smallest beach was the biggest hit with our party. Waikiki Beach (no, not that one) was only a few hundred yards across but the piles of driftwood gave way to soft, dig-able sand, plenty of sea life, crashing waves, and views of the large ships entering the mouth of the Columbia. It was an idyllic spot we shared with few other visitors as the fog finally lifted on our second day and we all became Pacific sand creatures.
If you are looking for vacation that combines a sense of history with plenty of outdoor activities and scenic topography, then consider a trip to Cape Disappointment Sate Park, Washington. You won’t be disappointed.