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More Training Info > Cape Disappointment State Park

Family-Friendly Outings - Cape Disappointment State Park
By Courtenay Schurman, MS, CSCS September 2007

Over Labor Day weekend, we wanted to experience a family car camping outing that would also allow for some child-friendly hiking and hopefully combine some natural history as well. Cape Disappointment State Park did not disappoint. Thursday, August 30 we headed for the state park located 2 miles southwest of Ilwaco off U.S. Highway 101, where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. It took us roughly 3.5-4 hours from Seattle. We had reserved a campsite as far north as we could near Benson Beach, the accreted land north of the North Jetty of the Columbia River. The campground boasts 180 camp sites including yurts and cabins, and our site was $22/night plus a $7 reservation fee.

That afternoon was spent enjoying the beach, setting up camp, and roasting marshmallows and chicken breasts, brats and burgers over a toasty fire. As the sun dropped low on the horizon, we went out exploring and spent some time scrambling up 30’ high 3rd- class boulders, Even B, who wanted to mimic everything mom and dad tried, managed to make her way 1/3 of the way up before her folks determined that downclimbing with a wiggling 3-year-old might be more of a challenge than we wanted to take on! By sunset, people were out on the beach flying kites, wading in the surf, playing volleyball, and enjoying low tide and the interesting driftwood features along the tide’s edge.

The Park has a number of hiking trails ranging from an 8 mile discovery trail along the western Coast to a .5 mile walk to the North Head Lighthouse. The walk along Waikiki Beach affords great views of Ilwaco Port and fishing boats headed in and out, and a 1.5 mile discovery loop along Baker Bay was the only one we didn’t get to enjoy, this trip.

Friday morning we embarked the short (.5 mi RT) walk to and from the 65’ high North Head Lighthouse which sits 190 feet above the pounding surf below. From there we could look back at Benson Beach where we had set up camp the night before. There is a decent-length hike (2.5 miles) between North Head and Disappointment Point light houses, but we opted to see as much as possible in the few hours we had allotted for exploration. The walk to North Head has minimal gain and loss from the nearest parking lot and served as a good warm-up for our target hike to Cape Disappointment Lighthouse (1.5 mi RT) The path to the second (CD) lighthouse is more varied and took us past nurse logs, the Coast Guard base, Dead Man’s Cove (a secluded driftwood-filled cove between the Interpretive Center and Lighthouse point) and countless slugs. It must have been mating season as we saw skinny inch-long slug babies as well as very fat, multi-colored mama slugs releasing their babies. All it took was spotting the first one to literally draw our attention to the hundreds hiding in the moist overgrowth.

The lighthouse itself was manned by a Coast Guard employee who was helping police day fishing landward of Buoy 10. He took a moment to tell us about the boats dredging the shifting sand bars and the nasty undercurrents which make the port at the Columbia River the most notorious along the western Coast for shipwrecks and the hardest to navigate to this day.

Once we made it back to the cars (singing “slippery slimy slugs” with as many additional “s” words as our pre-schooler could remember) we took a snack break before taking a 90-minute self-guided tour of the Interpretive Center, complete with maritime history on the top level and Lewis and Clark information (including a video) on the bottom level. B. did a fantastic job entertaining herself with her coloring book while we enjoyed learning more about the historic exploratory journey of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark from the early 1800’s. Perhaps in some small way our draw to hiking and exploring the natural world is a way to see this beautiful countryside as they must have seen it 200 years ago. I hope my daughter grows up with the same sort of awe and appreciation I have for the Pacific Northwest, It starts out when she’s 3…


Camp site #165 at Cape Disappointment State Park, the farthest north campsite near basalt boulders and Benson Beach


Mom and daughter enjoy the camp fire before setting out to explore


climbing practice on strange rock formations


C and B peek through roots of a beached, bleached tree stump


North Head Lighthouse early in the morning. While the sky looks threatening we actually had stellar weather the entire trip.


Dead Man’s Cove, on the trail out to Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. Cove, at low tide, is located between Interpretive Center and the lighthouse point.


Cape Disapointment Lighthouse


One of the Yurts that can be rented


B studies a rescue boat at the maritime portion of the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.


Picturesque Interpretive Center perched high above the water with a view of Waikiki Beach.



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