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North Head lighthouse at Cape Disappointment. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
North Head lighthouse at Cape Disappointment. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Cape Disappointment: Where the Columbia meets the Pacific

Cape Disappointment lighthouse and viewing area overlooks the confluence of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean.  In the past, this intersection has been one of the most dangerous of all river mouths in the world.  Hundreds of ships and lives have been lost because of the shifting sand bars, vicious currents, high winds and dangerous surfs.

A monument to a few of those ships and lives lost is an exhibit in the Cape Disappointment Interpretive Center.

The cape was named by a British captain who was unable to maneuver his ship past the sandbars and into the Columbia River estuary. Later an American captain was the first to accomplish that feat.

The river mouth is now well maintained by dredging and access is relatively easy.  However, as I watched from the Cape Disappointment lighthouse, the greatest obstacles to entry by a ocean freighter were the hundred or more salmon fishing boats occupying the shipping lane.  The salmon are running upstream and must have a difficult time getting past those eager fishermen.

Cape Disappointment light house (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
Cape Disappointment light house (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

A U.S. Coast Guard station is located at the base of the cape, and officers and crew are on duty to rescue capsized sailors. Two guardsmen were carefully watching the salmon fishing boats from the Cape Disappointment lighthouse.

There are two lighthouses protecting ships entering the Columbia River.  The Cape Disappointment site provides a panoramic view of the ocean, river mouth, estuary and ships passing into the channel.

The North Head lighthouse was erected to guide ships arriving from the north around the cape and sand bars jutting into the ocean.  Both lighthouses are now automated and the former  keepers’ houses at North Head are available for overnight rentals.  www.parks.wa.gov/486/Cape-Disappointment

Nearby is Fort Columbia State Park, once a U.S. Army Fort that protected the cape from potential threats for more than 50 years, although no weapons were ever fired at an enemy.

The buildings are now open for tours or various uses.  Note, there are small fees to enter the state parks, tour the North Head lighthouse and a senior pass enables entry to the Fort Clatsop National Park.  www.parks.wa.gov/506/Fort-Columbia

A large state park RV campground is located at the entry to the Cape Disappointment State Park.  No camping is allowed in the Fort Columbia Park, but there are several RV parks in the nice, small towns located north on Highways 101 and 103 in the peninsula.


About Dr. Bob Gorden

Dr. Bob Gorden is an RVer, hiker and writer. He has a PhD in microbial ecology from the University of Georgia in Athens. He is a retired research scientist from the University of Illinois Natural History Survey. He has owned and operated more than 55 RVs of various types, and has visited every state, except Hawaii, in his RV. He also traveled by RV in New Zealand, Canada and Mexico. He currently owns and travels in a 1978 GMC 26-foot Class A and 2013 Thor ACE 30.1 Class A motorhome. He has a compelling desire to be “On the Road Again!”

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