Cap Déception: A Hiking and History Adventure | Outside

With 8 miles of trails that wind through forests and ocean views, as well as beautiful places to camp, Cape Disappointment State Park is anything but a disappointment. Immerse yourself in the park’s countless activities and centuries of history. This park has something for visitors of all ages.

The 2,023-acre state park, located on Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula, overlooks the mouth of the Columbia River. Here visitors will find lighthouses, freshwater lakes, saltwater marshes, and more than 8 miles of trails, nearly all of which are paved and bike-friendly.

Under the canopy of an old-growth forest, the swell of Pacific waves can be heard in the distance while exploring the 6.8-mile North Head Trail. Crispy, salty sea breezes complement the close sounds of the waves. With the dew still on the grass, the aroma of a morning forest floor lingers as the tide advances.

View of the headland from the North Head Lighthouse Loop Trail.

On the North Head Lighthouse Loop Trail, explore the stories of those who lived and explored this park through the centuries. Venture on the 3 km Cape Disappointment Trail to visit the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. The interpretive center, located atop a 200-foot cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, allows visitors to delve a little deeper into the area’s rich history. In the center, discover the stories of the native tribes of the coast and the chronicles of the intense journeys of the first European explorers.

Also discover the curious name of the park. English Captain John Meares, also the namesake of Oregon’s Cape Meares, named the location after his own disappointment in 1788. Meares unsuccessfully crossed the entrance to the Columbia River Bar, and as a result the promontory became known under the name Cape Disappointment.

The Columbia River soon received its name from Captain Robert Gray, who successfully sailed across the cape in 1792. Gray later named the Columbia River after his own ship, the Columbia Rediviva. In 1805, the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition arrived at Cape Disappointment, establishing a historic colonial expedition site.

The park’s promontory, perched along the maritime intersection of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean, has caused it to feature two lighthouses. Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, completed in 1856, is the oldest operating lighthouse in the Pacific Northwest. Built to warn ships of the dangerous Columbia River Bar that was the source of Meares’ disappointment, the lighthouse helped ships avoid the pitfalls of the so-called Graveyard of the Pacific, notorious for thousands of shipwrecks.

While the first light served its purpose, its visibility was limited. Ships approaching from the north often saw the light only on close approach. Rounding out this issue, the North Head Lighthouse was completed in 1898.

Other historical remains, such as wartime bunkers and military installations, can be seen and explored throughout the park, from shelters that once housed smoothbore cannons to protect the mouth of the Columbia to cannon batteries and more. structures used during World War II.

But above the park’s intriguing historic sites, Cape Disappointment’s coastal beauty is on full display. The blue hues of the ocean can be seen between tall blades of beach grass on the Beards Hollow trail, where the branches of small trees sway gently in the wind. Hiking boots plod through mud after a gust, as the Cape Disappointment Trail picks up light tracks from hikers and pets.

Cape Disappointment is the perfect North Shore park to explore by trail, tent or shore. From hiking along beautiful viewpoints to a relaxing stroll along the park’s sandy beach, bringing a picnic or setting up camp, this sprawling state park has something for everyone. It’s the perfect local getaway for those looking to relax between the tall trees and the ocean.