Cape Disappointment State Park – Ilwaco, Washington

August 2015

Cape Disappointment State Park is due north of Fort Stevens, on the Washington side of the mouth of the Columbia River. It was a Civil War era military installation called Fort Cape Disappointment, later renamed Fort Canby, and was eventually one of three coast artillery forts that protected the entrance to the Columbia River.

Now a Washington state park, Cape Disappointment is home to two lighthouses and a Coast Guard station, which is the home of the National Motor Lifeboat School. Oh, there is also a 215 site campground, numerous trails and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center (the expedition spent some time at Cape Disappointment). So lots going on at Cape Disappointment and I explored a bit of it, including a few stretches of the beach, the campground, and areas as noted below. But I didn’t pay to go into the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.


The Cape Disappointment Lighthouse is located on the southeast section of the park and was deactivated in 2008. There is an active Coast Guard observation room where river traffic and conditions are monitored. There were two Coast Guardsmen doing their thing while I was looking at the light.

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse is accessed from the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center parking lot via a trail that takes you past Dead Man’s cove (named for the reason you would think), past the Coast Guard Station, and up the service road the Coast Guard uses to access the observation room.

The North Head Lighthouse is an active navigation aid located on the west side of the park. The Washington State Parks have ownership of this light and as of this writing, there is a notice on the park’s website that the light will be closed for all of 2016 for renovation. I did pay a couple of bucks to be able to go up to the top of the light and get the dime tour from the park volunteers.

Fort Canby

Unless I missed it, there isn’t a lot to explore of the old Fort Canby, which served as one of three coast artillery forts protecting the entrance to the Columbia River. Battery Harvey Allen was front and center as the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center was built right in front (almost on top) of it. Which I thought was weird, but the center has one helluva view! I also hiked up McKenzie Head which is where Captain Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame) camped on the north side of back in November 1805. Battery 247 (from World War II) was on top of McKenzie Head, but I took no pics of it as there isn’t much left and I was getting tired of taking pics of concrete.

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