Editor’s note: Longtime Courier-Herald writer Kevin Hanson is the month of August to look back some popular campgrounds (and, of course, all are popular these days). Camping has boomed in recent years, particularly since COVID-19 eliminated many vacation options. This brief series will, hopefully, provide encouragement to get on the road and enjoy life outdoors – whether you’re pitching a tent or “glamping” in a luxurious motor home.
This series begins with a look at Cape Disappointment State Park, just a few minutes from Ilwaco on the Washington coast. The next few weeks will feature Maryhill State Park, on the Columbia River near Goldendale; Alder Lake Campground, operated by Tacoma Power near Eatonville; and Grayland State Park, just a bit south of Westport.
These four sites were visited in recent months by the author, his wife and two dogs. They aren’t exactly “roughing it” in their travel trailer.
Despite many, many visits to the Long Beach Peninsula during the past two decades, we had never camped at Cape Disappointment. That error was remedied earlier this year during a four-night stay at the state-run park sitting next to the Pacific Ocean.
The site truly offers something for everyone, boasting an expanse of sandy beach, miles of walking/hiking/biking trails and campsites geared toward any type of adventurer. The area is steeped in Northwest history, which is a bonus, and nearby communities allow for perfect getaway jaunts.
THE PARK, BY THE NUMBERS
Cape Disappointment covers 2,023 acres of land, taking in old-growth forest, freshwater lakes, saltwater marshes and ocean tidelands. For those staying on-site, there are 137 standard campsites, 50 full-hookup sites and 18 partial-hookup sites (water and electricity, no sewer). Additionally, there are five primitive hiker/biker campsites available on a first come, first served basis. There’s a dump station, eight restrooms (two ADA) and 14 showers (four ADA).
And here’s a feature not found at every park: Cape Disappointment has three cabins, 14 yurts and two vacation houses available for rent.
Camping is available all year, providing opportunities to witness the Washington coast’s awesome winter storms.
All information about the park can be found at parks.wa.gov. Just follow the link for Cape Disappointment.
SOME PARK HIGHLIGHTS
The mighty Pacific is what draws campers to the corner of the state where the Columbia River empties into the ocean. Whether looking for sand dollars, reading on the beach, splashing in the surf or simply sitting back and counting waves, this park satisfies.
But there’s so much more to enjoy.
The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center is perched on a 200-foot-high cliff and relays the story of the Corps of Discovery’s journey from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean. The $5 admission price is a bargain and a portion of the center is free. The grounds also are home to historic Fort Canby; guests can stroll through the site where cannons once guarded the Columbia from potential enemies.
The North Head lighthouse, available by vehicle or on foot (no RV parking), allows for up-close viewing. Completed in 1898, the lighthouse stands on a rocky promontory about two miles from the mouth of the Columbia. It followed construction of the Cape Disappointment lighthouse on the south side of the Columbia and provides a crucial reference point for ships attempting the treacherous maneuver of entering the river. The area was not dubbed the “graveyard of the Pacific” for nothing.
Not too far away, at Chinook Point, is another educational opportunity, the Fort Columbia Interpretive Center. The park has wooded hiking trails, historical buildings, bunkers, and a museum. Fort Columbia was built between 1896 and 1904 as part of a national defense strategy involving protection of the Columbia River. The fort was part of a “triangle of fire” that included Oregon’s Fort Stevens and Fort Canby. Fort Columbia was declared surplus at the end of World War II and was turned over to the state of Washington in 1950.
WHILE IN THE AREA
While Cape Disappointment offers plenty of opportunities, the region provides opportunities for quick getaway adventures. The park road leads out of Ilwaco (honestly, not much to do unless you’re heading out for salmon fishing) but the Long Beach Peninsula is dotted with small communities worth exploring.
A short drive north leads visitors through Seaview and into the town of Long Beach and its many miles of uninterrupted sand. You’ll find museums, an arcade, a boardwalk, bars and restaurants and plenty of shopping opportunities – and most are within walking distance.
It’s a skinny peninsula, so it’s easy to check out Ocean Park, Nahcotta and historic Oysterville. At the north end you’ll experience Leadbetter Point State Park, a beach-to-bay site aimed at protecting birds and other wildlife. The area is criss-crossed with trails that can get dicey during the rainy season.
From Iwaco, head the opposite direction, travel through the small community of Chinook and turn right. That gets you onto the Astoria-Megler bridge, a four-mile span that ends in historic Astoria, Oregon.
The city was named for John Jacob Astor, whose American Fur Company established a fort on the river in the early 1800s. It lays claim to being the oldest American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains.
Astoria is a tourist destination with museums, a historic district and much more (seals with their distinctive bark!). Include a visit to the Astoria Column, dedicated in 1926, climb the 126 steps to an observation platform and marvel at the mural gracing the concrete tower’s exterior.