PLAY: Parks & Ports

Cape Disappointment State Park

Ilwaco, WA 98624

Learn more about the places featured in the Cape Disappointment virtual tour here.

Cape Disappointment State Park features sandy beaches, two working lighthouses, an old military fort, trails through coastal forests, and spectacular vistas, including breathtaking ocean overlooks and quieter views of Baker Bay.  The park has old-growth forest, lakes, freshwater and saltwater marshes, streams, ocean tidelands, and a large variety of wildlife.

Have a picnic, go camping, or stay in a lighthouse keeper’s residence. Enjoy an active and engaging interpretive schedule during the summer months, visit the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Centerstorm watch, go beachcombing, 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. Children can try to pack a canoe without tipping it, follow a treasure hunt, and check out what the Corps ate on their journey.

During winter and spring, trained volunteers come to the center to help visitors spot migrating Gray Whales. You can also learn about the nearby North Head and Cape Disappointment Lighthouses. The 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. A Discover Pass is required. The day use pass is $10, and the annual pass is $30. The Discover Pass is valid at all Washington State Parks.

The Interpretive Center hours are:

  • April 1 – Oct. 31, open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Nov. 1 – March 31, open Wednesdays through Sundays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
  • Closed Veterans Day, Martin Luther King Holiday, Presidents’ Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas days. Open New Year’s Day.

Admission is $5 for adults 18 and over, $2.50 for children ages 7-17, and free for children 6 and under.

History of Cape Disappointment

In 1788, while in search of the Columbia River, English Captain John Meares missed the passage over the river bar. He named the nearby headland Cape Disappointment for his failure in finding the river. In 1792, American Captain Robert Gray successfully crossed the river bar. He 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.

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 defense 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.


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