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

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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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.