Where is Cape Disappointment State Park?
244 Robert Gray Drive
Ilwaco, WA 98624
Cape Disappointment State Park is located on the Long Beach Peninsula, a thin section of land that juts out of Washington State’s western coast. The park lies approximately two hours northwest of Portland, Oregon and encompasses the area where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. Cape Disappointment US State Park is in the southwest corner of Washington and lies on the Columbia River itself, making it one of the few state parks located on a border between states.
How Big is Cape Disappointment State Park?
Cape Disappointment State Park sprawls over 2,023 acres. Its highest point is 200 feet above sea level, although the park itself gains only 25 feet of elevation throughout its acreage. The closest city to Cape Disappointment is Ilwaco, a town two miles northwest. The town itself is less than six total square miles, with only 2.07 of those miles being land, and the remaining mass comprised of water. The park falls completely into Pacific County and lies in the county’s southwest corner facing the Columbia River.
Cape Disappointment State Park Weather
Cape Disappointment State Park’s weather does not differ greatly between the months. The warmest month tends to be September, with average highs of 66 degrees and average lows of 47. The coldest months are December and January, each with a mean high of 48 and low of 35. These nearly constant cooler temperatures mean that regardless of when you visit, you will want to ensure you bring plenty of layers and warm clothing.
Visitors looking to spend the night will typically want to avoid the park during the winter months, as many of the camping facilities close in late fall in preparation for the winter storm season. The closed sites generally open in April the following year, when the threat of winter weather has passed. For those camping sites which remain open, they operate on a first-come, first-serve basis.
When Did Cape Disappointment Become a State Park?
Prior to becoming a state park, the area has a long history of use by the United State military. In 1864, the area was designated Fort Cape Disappointment and later, in the decade following the war, was renamed Fort Canby. The fort was expanded during the second World War, and it wasn’t until the 1950s that the military turned it over to the state, and Cape Disappointment State Park officially came into existence.
Things to Do in Cape Disappointment State Park
Our State Parks Visitors Guide lists below many of the activities Cape Disappointment State Park has to offer.
Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center
The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center is an informational building which details the Lewis and Clark expedition of the early 1800s. Visitors to the center can watch a short film and take in views of the vast Columbia River from the glassed-in observation deck.
Twice each year, gray whales are visible during their migration between the warmer waters of Mexico and the colder waters of the Arctic. January is peak migration season, but it is common to spot gray whales anytime between the middle of December and the first weeks of February.
Despite the park’s name, it will not disappointment when it comes to camping. The park offers 137 campsites which include 50 full-hookup sites. Check-in time is 2:30 PM, and check-out is 1:00 PM. The park store offers necessities for camping like wood, ice, and fishing supplies.
Crabbing and Clamming
The largest crabs in the area tend to be the dungeness crab and red rock crab. Fishers shellfish/seaweed licenses must be displayed while crabbing. Licenses are good throughout the entire year. For clamming, the razor clam season opens from January 28 through February 3.
North Head Lighthouse
In 1989, the North Head Lighthouse became the primary tool for helping captains navigate the icy waters of the Pacific. The lighthouse is still in operation via an automatic beacon, and visitors can capture views 11:00 AM – 3:00 PM May through September.
Bald eagles, Winter Wrens, and Brandt’s Cormorants are just a few of the many species of birds observers can get a glimpse of from within the park. The park has been deemed an official Washington State Important Bird Area.
The park has one boat ramp and 135 feet of dock for visitors to use. Before launching their boat, visitors will want to ensure they have all the necessary documentation to do so. Acceptable documents include an annual launch permit, annual Discover Pass (with daily launch permit), and one-day pass (with daily launch permit as well).
Due to its history as a fort, Cape Disappointment State Park offers ample opportunities for exploring our nation’s history. The area originally belonged to the Chinook tribe and later became the famous destination of the explorers Lewis and Clark.
Cape Disappointment offers 14 yurts, all within walking distance to the beach. Each of the yurts contains bunk beds that sleep up to three visitors. While the yurts are heated, visitors will want to bring extra bedding in case the temperatures drop, as they typically do overnight.
If you are stopping by for the afternoon, plan on bringing a lunch and resting at one of the 20, first-come, first-serve picnic areas that are available for guests. Keep in mind that the picnic tables are unsheltered, so you will want to plan your trip accordingly.
When to Go to Cape Disappointment State Park
The best times to go to Cape Disappointment State Park depend on what you plan to do during your stay. For example, whale watchers will want to plan their trip around the migration season of the animals and would thus want to visit in the winter months when more opportunities for whale-watching occur. For guests more interested in hiking, the summer months may be a better time to visit as temperatures are slightly warmer and offer more chance of sunshine during the day.
Summer also offers opportunities for special events like beach concert series and art installments commemorating Chinook stories and songs (including work by renowned artist, Maya Lin, designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial).
Must-Have Things to Bring to Cape Disappointment State Park
List of Parks advises bringing the below items:
A nice pair of binoculars will help you get close-up views of some of the beautiful wildlife found in the park. Binoculars are a must if you plan to partake in whale-watching, as you won’t want to miss the opportunity to see the creatures in as much detail as possible.
The weather rarely gets above 66 degrees, even in the summer months. Layering is key as it allows you add and subtract warmth as you go about your stay. Don’t forget to add a base layer, as a warm base layer can help keep heat in.
If you are on any sort of boat tour or excursion, you will want to make sure that you take plenty of snacks. Light snacks (such as plain crackers) can help to calm a queasy stomach, while the isolated nature of boating means you are far from purchasing any food while out to sea.
Just as food can be hard to come by when out for a day trip on a boat, potable water falls into the same must-have category. Be sure to pack plenty of fresh water, as dehydration is possible even in cooler temperatures. Staying hydrated will help keep you energized for all of the sightseeing the park has to offer.
As previously mentioned, the area is designated an important bird area for the state of Washington. Keeping a lightweight bird guide handy will help you stay in the loop about the animals that frequent the area.
Be prepared for rain. The area gets an annual average of over five feet of precipitation. Rainfall can be as high as 19 inches per month, so plan accordingly by bringing a quality rain jacket and protecting electronics in dry bags.
High quality camera
While your cell phone may have a camera, you may want to bring a more professional camera during your trip to Cape Disappointment State Park. A high-quality camera can provide clear shots of bald eagles, gray whales, and the lighthouses that are scattered around the coast.
As with all adventures, you will want to make sure you bring a cell phone with you. Cell phones are a necessity in today’s world, where help and answers are always just a phone call or Google search away. Don’t risk being stranded on a boat or on a trail without a phone. Make sure your phone is fully charged and consider bringing a portable charger.
Spare funds for fees
Plan your budget accordingly to accommodate various fees for the park entrance, fishing licenses, and other random costs you may incur along the way. While none of the prices are exorbitant, small fees can quickly add up, and you won’t want to have to turn down a sightseeing opportunity because you don’t have any spare cash for parking fees.
What better way is there to record your trip to the mouth of the Columbia River than to journal about it, just as Lewis and Clark did centuries ago. Not a writer? Consider keeping a sketching travel journal and make time to sit and sketch out your impressions of the lighthouses and ocean views with pencil and eraser.
Where to Stay in Cape Disappointment State Park
Camping is the number one way to enjoy the state park. Even if spending the night in a cold tent and sleeping bag isn’t your idea of fun, you can feel relatively at home in a yurt that comes equipped with proper beds and heating. The nearby town of Ilwaco offers a couple of hotels but be aware that space can be limited so book early to prevent costs from skyrocketing.
Food Nearby Cape Disappointment State Park
In addition to hotels, Ilwaco also hosts restaurants that hungry travelers can visit for a few minutes of rest and nourishment. The Chowder Stop offers coastal favorites such as, of course, chowder, halibut, clams, and oysters. If seafood isn’t your favorite, there are plenty of other restaurants in the area such as 42nd Street Café and Bistro with more traditional American fare.
Airports Near Cape Disappointment State Park
The closest large airport to the park is in Portland and is Portland International Airport. Just over two hours from Cape Disappointment State Park, this airport will most likely be the best bet for out-of-state travelers seeking to fly into the state.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is also less than three hours away and offers competitive rates compared to smaller airports in the region. Book ahead to get the cheapest flights and plan around peak times, such as holiday season.