Top 5 Places to Visit in Cape Disappointment

Picture of Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. Photo by Julie Manthey

Cape Disappointment is only a 2-hour drive from Portland, Oregon or 3-hours from Seattle. It’s an easy day trip from either, yet it feels worlds away! I highly recommend stopping at these ‘must see’ places for an excellent trip that won’t disapoint! Don’t forget to pack your copy of the novel, The Magic of Cape Disappointmentas well!

  1. Engage with History at the Cape Disappointment Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center

    • This updated, beautifully designed museum overlooks ocean waves on a dramatic cliff in Cape Disappointment State Park and marks – quite literally — the end of the Lewis and Clark Trail. Learn about Lewis and Clark and the local Native American tribes. There are several interactive exhibits and increadible views which make it an ideal location to watch the waves and the many birds, especially if the weather is a little rainy or foggy for a hike. History buffs should also add a visit to the nearby Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum as well!
  2. Hike near the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse

    • In addition to two lighthouses, Cape Disappointment State Park also has several miles of hiking trails! See the oldest lighthouse still in use on the West Coast. Completed in 1856, today the lighthouse is managed by the Coast Guard and its’ light still protects sailors. The Columbia bar is one of the most dangerous bar crossings in the world, known widely as the ‘Graveyard of the Pacific.’ The well-maintained trail from the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center takes you closer to the lighthouse, or simply view it from the center. Although the lighthouse has been closed to the public since July 2020, you can still hike around the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center for closer views and experience the lush landscape overlooking the ocean and river. Once you see the inspiring and breathtaking views around this lighthouse, you’ll understand why it plays a starring role in the novel, ‘The Magic of Cape Disappointment!’
  3. Tour the North Head Lighthouse (or spend the night!)

    • Only two miles away from the Cape Disappointment lighthouse, you’ll find the North Head lighthouse complete in 1898 for added safety around the treacherous Columbia bar. North Head is also one of only five lighthouses in Washington State where you can stay overnight in the Lighthouse Keepers house, to get a real sense of a keeper’s life! It was meticulously restored in 2016. It’s also a prime location for whale watching in winter and spring.
  4. Stroll Along the Charming Ilwaco Harbor Boardwalk

    • Ilwaco’s small town harbor has a delightful boardwalk with a alluring independent coffee shops, bookstore, art galleries, and pub restaurants. Eat outdoors and enjoy the quiet harbor view of the vast Columbia River. The boardwalk is a wonderful place to spend a relaxed afternoon along the water! Don’t miss the lively Saturday market with almost 70 different vendors or the weekly Friday Ilwaco Art Walks in the summer. From the harbor, you can also charter a fishing adventure or moor your own boat.
  5. Enjoy Art (and even catch a concert) at Cape Disappointment’s Waikiki Beach

    • While everyone knows about Maya Lin’s famous Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., she also completed several art installments in Cape Disappointment State Park’s Waikiki Beach. The art commemorates both Chinook stories and the Lewis & Clark journals. Also in the summer, bring a picnice basket to enjoy an outdoor weekend concert at the (slightly less tropical) Waikiki Beach ampitheater with stunning views of the ocean.

When to Go:

The best time to visit is probably June through August, when the weather is the nicest and the Saturday market, concerts, and art walks are keeping things lively. However, storm watchers and photographers might want to plan their visit for December and January to catch the dramatic King Tides. Both January and March are the peak time for whale watching. Birdwatchers can always find much to see any time of year, since the area is a prime spot.

Where to Stay:

While Cape Disappointment is a wonderful day trip from Seattle or Portland, there’s so much to do in the local area that you will probably want to extend your stay. There are several lodging options in the immediate Cape Disappointment area to choose from. This list represents a few highlights:

Getting There:

  • From Portland: Approximately 2-hour drive via US-26W to US-101N or take I-5N to US-30W.
  • From Seattle: Approximately 3-hour drive via I-5S to US-101S.

You won’t forget (or be disappointed by) The Magic of Cape Disappointment! Happy travels!

Finding your Favorite Places

cup of coffee on a table

One of the best things about traveling or moving to a new neighborhood is figuring out what your new favorite places are. Yet even if you’ve lived in the same place for a while or have taken a travel break, you can still find that joy of adventure and discovery closer to home.

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Enjoying the Magic

Recently I embarked on an Icelandic adventure to primarily see the northern lights. For the sake of transparency, the above gorgeous image from the free library is not the amazing photo that I took.

My photo turned out like this:

I took this photo using an app on my phone. For any borealis enthusiasts out there, when people tell you to bring a tripod for your camera and test out the photo application before you go out, the above is why. 🙂

I took two arguably sad, yet magical photos, and then put my camera away so that I could solely enjoy the moment and not worry about documenting it further. To paint the full picture, the lights appeared about two hours after my tour bus arrived at a remote location in the middle of Iceland and it was about eleven o’clock at night.

We’d been standing out in 15 degrees (fahrenheit) / -9 (celsius) for long enough that my “clever” idea of essentially wearing every item of clothing that I had packed in my carry-on for warmth seemed foolhardy. It was freezing cold and pretty boring just standing there in a field, looking up at the sky with a bunch of strangers. To add insult to injury, it was my second night of freezing in a field with strangers since the previous night I had gone out and not seen the lights at all.

As I started questioning my life choices and returned to the bus for some warmth, someone said that magical words: “The lights are here!” Everyone rushed toward the best spot to view them and we sort of mobbed into the same spot.

Looking up at the northern lights dancing in the night sky made me catch my breath with a child-like wonder and I no longer noticed the cold or the tourists crowding around me posing with their phones. Simply put, it was magical and epic – basically indescribable (even for a novelist like myself)!

Whatever you get up to during this holiday season, I hope you find a similarly well-earned moment of magic. Maybe it will be five minutes at the holiday dinner table when everyone is sharing a laugh, seeing twinkly lights draped across a downtown street, or venturing out to see the northern lights for yourself.

As Eden Philpotts said, “The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.”

In my latest novel, Christmas at Maplemont Manor, there are several lovely holiday scenes that have a sense of magic to them – but there is one scene with reindeer that to me is the most magical of the novel. I won’t spoil it for readers, but let’s just say if you were hoping to find a little child-like wonder this holiday season from the comfort of your sofa, then there is a charming and warm holiday novel waiting for you!

Whatever this December brings to you, I do hope you stop to enjoy and dwell in the moments – because magical things are waiting for you to notice them. 🙂 Happy holidays!

The Road Less Traveled

Some of my most favorite vacation spots that I choose to return to, are places that very few have heard of. Stumbling upon a hidden gem known only to locals is a triumph for most travelers, including myself. I took this photo in Scotland on the Isle of Skye where there is a beach frequented by cows. Yes, you read that correctly, cows on the beach.

In the photo you can see a few cows up on the right of the road just in the distance. While many might not travel all the way to Scotland to visit a remote beach known mostly only to the cows, it was a real thrill to me. The peaceful quiet of the water lapping against the rocky beach, along with the occasional ‘moos,’ and no crowds of tourists felt like entering a magical realm.

I often seek out the roads less traveled wherever I go, and they each provide their own rewards. One time such a road brought me to the middle of Kansas, where I went out of my way to stop at the geographic center of the United States and found a stone marker in the middle of the prairie and stopped for a minute to listen to the wind blow across the fields.

Another trip brought me to Cape Disappointment, where the first flicker of the idea for my novel started falling into place. There’s a reason that in the novel, The Magic of Cape Disappointment, the protagonist stands at the edge of the cliff near the lighthouse which lies at the end of a trail – a location which is central to the story for several reasons. The character is there because I ended up there myself on one of my journeys along roads less traveled.

In the novel, I had very much hoped to take readers with me to that remote destination, where they could stand next to the protagonist and look out across the vast Pacific ocean while sea birds swooped and squawked around them. Cape Disappointment is a special place indeed and I do return there as often as I can.

Perhaps my next novel will include cows on the beach or feature the quiet prairies in the middle of America. Either way, my travels will continue to include places less often visited by others, and I’m sure new favorite destinations will emerge. Inspiration is a quirky and often flighty thing. In my case, inspiration doesn’t lurk in my laptop. Instead, she waits for me on the roads less traveled.

I hope this year finds you discovering some new places as well, and if you make it out to Cape D, please be sure to take the time to walk over to the lighthouse and enjoy the view.

Travel as Inspiration

Cape Disappointment Coast photo by Julie Manthey

Several years ago, I stood at this very spot after a short hike up to the Cape Disappointment lighthouse. Standing here and looking out the beautiful view inspired me to write ‘The Magic of Cape Disappointment.‘ I’m sure many visitors to the area can share that sentiment.

Cape Disappointment

Cape Disappointment (yes, that is the real name) was named in the late 1700s by a British sea captain. When Lewis and Clark arrived there a few decades later, they looked out onto the Pacific Ocean from Cape Disappointment.

Although “Cape D” is only a few hours drive from either Seattle or Portland, it still feels a world away. Small fishing villages dot the map and the roads all follow or lead to the Pacific Ocean beaches. Lewis and Clark historic sites abound from the Dismal Nitch to Fort Clatsop and the Lewis and Clark interpretive center in Cape Disappointment State Park.

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse

The state park has not one, but two, lighthouses (Cape Disappointment Lighthouse and North Head Lighthouse). At the camping spots along the beach, you can fall asleep listening the ocean waves roll along. On my first camping trip to “Cape D,” the idea for my latest novel took hold. Since then, I’ve visited the area several times – each time returning to my favorite coffee shops, museums, and restaurants.

I hope that you get the chance to visit this lovely area and to imagine being able to see the setting for ‘The Magic of Cape Disappointment.’ In the novel, this location of the lookout by the Cape Disappointment lighthouse plays a key role in the novel’s events. Hopefully even from this picture alone you can get a little sense of the location’s magic. 🙂 Lighthouses also serve as excellent metaphors. They light the way through the darkness and give us hope. 

Sense of Place

Picture of Astoria-Megler Bridge. Photo by Julie Manthey

I love to travel. Some places are destination locations to check off the list, others are places one must drive through to get somewhere else, and then there are the places that pull you back for return trips. For me, Cape Disappointment became the latter. This picture is from Astoria, Oregon, looking across the Columbia River toward Cape Disappointment. My first trip to the cape was a weekend camping trip that turned out to be more adventurous than I had expected due to our camp neighbors deciding, rather irresponsibly, to feed marshmallows to a family of raccoons.

Of course, those raccoons then decided that our camp likely would be another stop on their buffet and they paced around the tent while I sat, rather freaked out, inside hoping they would move along soon. I’m happy to report that they eventually moved along without much other fuss. Since that first visit I’ve been back to Cape Disappointment many times and published my novel (The Magic of Cape Disappointment) that takes place there.

Recently I had returned to Cape Disappointment and the surrounding towns on a terrific vacation. Spending time checking out the coffee shops, watching the ships in the river, sitting on the beach by the ocean, and hiking to the lighthouse were simple pleasures that make me smile to remember them.

I hope that this summer you find places that speak to you and they become destinations you also quickly plan to return. If your travels send you anywhere near Seattle or Portland, I recommend a trip to Cape Disappointment. Who knows? You might just stumble upon some magic there yourself. Or at least maybe that same raccoon (remember, please don’t feed the wildlife).