The small town of Ilwaco, home to Cape Disappointment State Park, lies just south of Long Beach, WA. This area is also known as the Graveyard of the Pacific because about 2,000 ships sank in this area since 1792. The Coast Guard base trains mariners for dealing with rough seas. Other attractions around Ilwaco include the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, North Head Lighthouse, Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, Waikiki Beach, and Dead Man’s Cove.
Cape Disappointment is an extremely dangerous place for ships but exceedingly beautiful place for scenery. This high cliffs and turbulent waters make for fine viewing and photos. The two lighthouses sit atop cliffs that offer stellar views of the coastline. North Head Lighthouse is only a couple of minutes walk from the parking lot.
A broad, paved trail leads from the parking lot to the North Head Lighthouse. When we visited in 2020 I noticed some nice restoration work done on the lighthouse. The grand, old lady was looking in fine form. A new viewing area to the side of the lighthouse offered some very nice views of the lighthouse and the coastline (this photo was taken there). The lighthouse received a new stone skirt and some detail work was added below the top railing. A worker at the gift shop said that the stone came from a quarry in Ohio and was precisely cut using a CNC machine.
Look south from the viewing area to get a view of the WA coast, the jetty at Waikiki Beach, the mouth of the mighty (and dangerous) Columbia River, and the Oregon coast in the distance.
Rather than take the normal trail at the North Head Lighthouse parking lot I opt for the Lightkeeper’s Trail. From the parking lot walk to the left through the outbuildings. You will see a very small path that leads to the lighthouse. You can get some really nice photos from this path and most tourists are not aware of this trail. You get lots of different views on this trail but this is one of my favorites.
The Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center is just a short drive from North Head Lighthouse. The interpretive center is worth visiting but there are lots of things to see around the center. You can visit the remains of the Fort Canby, see some incredible views of the coastline, and take a trail to Cape Disappointment Lighthouse and Dead Man’s Cove. It is about a half mile walk to the lighthouse which includes a bit of an incline. Once you get to the lighthouse you are treated to some stunning views of coastline including the jetty, Columbia River, and Oregon coastline.
Cool Views from Below
You do not want to miss the views from the lighthouses. The coastline and jetties are pretty spectacular from a high vantage point. However, you can also get some impressive photos from below the lighthouses.
From hwy-101 south (also called 1st Ave N) drive to the stop sign in Ilwaco. The cross street is Spruce St on the left and North Head Rd on the right. Turn right onto Spruce / North Head. Drive about 3.5 – 4.5 miles and drive past the road for Beard’s Hollow and the North Head Lighthouse. Turn right at the campgrounds for Cape Disappointment State Park. You will see the Cape D market on the left.
Drive past the ranger station until you get to the stop sign. Turn right and drive for about 1 mile. Follow the signs to campground A (will require a left turn after about a mile). Past the stop sign look for a large building with restrooms and showers and park there. Take a short walk to the right of the showers to get to the Benson Beach where you can see the North Head Lighthouse on the cliffs above. This is also an excellent place to watch for pelicans.
The view of North Head Lighthouse is excellent, but you are only a very short drive away from the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. Drive back towards the main park entrance road (the one with the ranger shack). At the stop sign continue straight through. Go past the parking lot on the right and continue for about 0.1 miles and turn into the parking lot on the left. You will get a nice view of Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. If you continue down the road you can park and walk on the jetty for even more views of the lighthouse, Columbia River, and the coastline.
- Fort Columbia is only a few miles south and is quite interesting.
- Astoria is just south and you must cross the 4+ mile bridge connecting Washington and Oregon.
- Long Beach, Ilwaco, and Astoria areas offer a bit of everything: hiking, photos, bird watching, shopping, historic places, architecture, etc.
If you visit this area be prepared to take some time and enjoy what this area has to offer.