Sunset at lighthouse
Featured Outdoor Activities Washington

Cape Disappointment lighthouses shine bright

Photo by Jace Walker Stenersen

History is on full display in Cape Disappointment State Park in Ilwaco, where two century-old working lighthouses continue to guide mariners toward shore.

The 161-year-old Cape Disappointment Lighthouse guides sailors into the mouth of the Columbia River from the south, while the 119-year-old North Head Lighthouse illuminates the way for ships approaching from the north. Short hikes lead to both lighthouses, which offer spectacular views of the state park and greater peninsula.

The name “Cape Disappointment” was bestowed upon the area by English explorer John Meares after he failed to find the Columbia River in 1788. Modern-day visitors, however, find the park’s old-growth forests, ocean beaches and recreational opportunities quite delightful. Hike along Benson Beach with the North Head Lighthouse in view. Watch giant waves crash in the winter at Waikiki Beach.

Cape Disappointment has 8 miles of hiking trails. Bell’s View Trail is leisurely and rewards you with a view of the peninsula’s expansive stretch of beach. North Head Trail is a bit more challenging and connects to McKenzie Head where you’ll find an old gun battery.

Hike to two working lighthouses at Cape Disappointment. The North Head Lighthouse is the easiest to hike to and is usually open for tours in the summer. The short trail is flat and wide enough that it’s possible to get a wheelchair down it.

The Cape Disappointment Lighthouse can be viewed from the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center. You can also take the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse Trail for a view of the surf below.