"You Should Not be Disappointed Here" Cape Disappointment State Park by glabah

End of the Columbia River

This is it: the end of the mighty Columbia River. Where it joins the Pacific Ocean, there is frequent turbulance and storms fairly often. Thus, it is not an easy place to get to by boat, and you can see ships waiting for safe weather and tides to enter and leave the mouth of the river.

This state park was formerly known as "Fort Canby State Park" but was renamed to "Cape Disappointment State Park" for a number of reasons.

One of the most important reasons, of course, is that Cape Disappointment is the name of the actual point of land on which this state park sits!!

NOTE: As of July 1, 2011, a day use fee has been implemented at many Washington State parks. This fee is $10 per day, or a $30 fee for a year pass. There is a $5 fee in addition to the annual pass fee if purchased at one of the many resellers. Please see my Discover Pass tip for a little more about this. For a bit more about Washington State parks in general, please see my Washington State Parks tip.

This area has a long history, and not all of it is documented. The area was most likely settled by First Nations people, who would have taken advantage of the tidal swings to harvest seafood, and certainly would have used their resources to fish in the river. It is easy to imagine the shelter provided by the hills located in the park as being a huge advantage as well. When the Corps of Discovery became stranded at a location they wrote of in their journals as "This Dismal Nitch" they were provided with food from locals, whose canoes and canoe skills matched the rough water of the area.

Unfortunately, whatever settlements they had in the area have no trace left behind.

Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery eventually reached the location now called Cape Disappointment, and to that end the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center built on a cliff high above the Pacific Ocean provides some of the best information in the area about this chapter of history. However, they also left no trace except the written record in their journals.

The later structures for use as a military outpost and navigation aid were far more permanent. The area earned a reputation as the "Graveyard of the Pacific" and lighthouses (two) were constructed at Cape Disappointment to help guide ships into the river mouth. To defend the mouth of the Columbia River against possible invading forces fortresses were built on each side of the river. While they were abandoned when the air force and radar rendered them obsolete, the concrete and steel remains of Fort Canby continues as a testament to those years.

Today, the park has beaches that are a reasonably popular place for people to visit, as well as the aforementioned Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. Camping very close to the beach is a popular way to spend the night, and you can also stay at the North Head Lighthouse Tender's House.

While the First Nations and Lewis & Clark left no trace, their legacy lives on with the Confluence Project, which was undertaken as part of the 200th Anniversary of the Corps of Discovery. Several artworks that are part of the Confluence Project are located in the park: The Baker Bay Viewpoint, and the Cedar Circle and a Fish Cleaning Table and a Boardwalk Documenting their Journal Entries.

Trails exist in a number of places in the park, and the Discovery Trail passes through the north edge of the park on its way from Ilwaco to Long Beach.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Its at the beach, farther and less visited than other beaches. Cool summers.
  • Cons:Busy and Crowded at Times, Sometimes Dark Weather
  • In a nutshell:Typical Pacific Northwest Beach: cloudy, windy, but still fun.
  • Last visit to Cape Disappointment State Park: Jul 2013
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (19)

Comments (2)

  • BruceDunning's Profile Photo
    Jan 29, 2012 at 10:51 AM

    What a remote and "disappointing" sounding area. I have read about the shipwrecks trying to come into the river and its mighty rath. You have a good presentation of the site.

  • Ewingjr98's Profile Photo
    Nov 2, 2008 at 3:47 PM

    I was disappointed with your Cape Disappointment page; but in a good way of course. What a name for a place!


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