PLAY: Parks & Ports

Cape Disappointment State Park

Walk a flat sandy beach, climb to two lighthouses, explore bunkers of an old military fort, wander through coastal forests, and take in spectacular vistas, including breathtaking ocean views and two lighthouses.  The park has old-growth forest, lakes, freshwater and saltwater marshes, streams, ocean tidelands, and lots of watchable wildlife.

Have a picnic, go camping, and even stay in a lighthouse keeper’s residence. Enjoy an active and engaging interpretive schedule during the summer months, visit the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center,  storm watch, go beach combing or stroll the cove at Waikiki Beach.

You’ll soon see why Cape Disappointment State Park is the most visited park in the Washington State Parks system:

Part of the Lewis & Clark National Historical Park “Cape D” encompasses 1,882 acres and is fronted by both the Pacific Ocean and Baker Bay.

Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center
Perched on a cliff 200 feet above the mouth of the Columbia River, the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center tells the story of the Corps of Discovery’s journey, focusing particularly on their Pacific Coast stay. It’s a wonderful stop for families, with interactive exhibits that let children try to pack a canoe without tipping it, follow a treasure hunt and check out what the Corps had for its inaugural meal (hint: it was served on china) to what it ate during the rainy winter at Fort Clatsop (roots and sometimes dog figured into the menu.)

During winter and spring, trained volunteers come to the center to help visitors spot passing Gray whales on their migration. You can also learn about the nearby North Head and Cape Disappointment Lighthouses. Cape Disappointment Lighthouse is the oldest operating lighthouse on the West Coast. The lighthouses both function to protect mariners from the rough and ever-changing Columbia River Bar in the treacherous area known as the Graveyard of the Pacific.

Hours & Fees
The Park is open year round for camping and day use, 8 am to dusk. Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center is open year-round from 10 am to 5 pm daily. Admission into the center is $3 per adult and $1 per child ages 7 to 17. Children ages 6 and under enter for free.


In 1788, while in search of the Columbia River, English Captain John Meares missed the passage over the river bar and named the nearby headland Cape Disappointment for his failure in finding the river. In 1792, American Captain Robert Gray successfully crossed the river bar and named the river “Columbia” after his ship, the Columbia Rediviva. Only a few years later, in 1805, the Lewis and Clark Expedition arrived at Cape Disappointment

The Cape Disappointment Lighthouse was constructed in 1856 to warn seamen of the treacherous river bar known by then as “the graveyard of the Pacific.” This is the oldest functioning lighthouse on the West Coast.

In 1862, during the American Civil War, Cape Disappointment was armed with smoothbore cannons.  This was to protect the mouth of the Columbia River from possible attacks by Confederate raiders or foreign fleets. In 1864, the post was renamed Fort Cape Disappointment. Some Civil War-era fortifications still exist. They were called the Tower (or Right) Battery, Left Battery, and Center Battery.

The installation was expanded to become Fort Canby in 1875. The fort was named after General Edward Canby, who was killed in the Modoc Indian War.  Later Fort Canby became part of the three fort Columbia River harbor defenses as a sub post of Fort Stevens along with Fort Columbia The fort continued to be improved until the end of World War II. Gun batteries still sit at the top the park, which has returned to its name of Cape Disappointment.

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