Cape Disappointment and a visit to Cannon Beach

Long Beach, WA

Cape Disappointment is a narrow, rocky piece of land on the north side of the Columbia River at the point where it meets the Pacific.  Located in the extreme southwest corner of Washington, the cape was named in 1788 by British fur trader John Meares, who was sailing south from Vancouver Island in search of trade. After a storm, he turned his ship around just north of the Cape and therefore just missed the discovery of the Columbia River.  Today the Cape is home to Cape Disappointment State Park.  The park has a large campground, two lighthouses, and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.  The center was our first stop when we visited the park.

The interpretive center sits on a cliff right at the confluence of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean.  The first thing you notice when you walk up to the cliff is a very strong odor.  An information plaque there explains the source of the odor, but a look at the rocks below also identifies the cause.

Shorebirds have “painted” the rocks below!

View looking west

View looking south – Cape Disappointment Lighthouse in the foreground, the Oregon coast in the background

Lewis and Clark arrive in this area in November of 1805 and stayed about a month before crossing over to the south side of the river where they spent the winter.

The interpretive center features exhibits that tell the story of the Corps of Discovery Expedition from St. Louis to the Pacific coast from 1803 to 1806 .  There are also displays about the park’s later history, including the lighthouses, U.S. Coast Guard and military activities, and the area’s maritime and natural history.

Why are there two lighthouses here?

After touring the interpretive center, we hiked the .75 mile trail to the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse.

View of the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center from the lighthouse

The lighthouse was constructed in the early 1850s.  When the first order Fresnel lens for the lighthouse arrived during construction, it was found to be too large for the tower. Rebuilding the tower took an additional two years. The first lighthouse in the Pacific Northwest was finally lit in October of 1856.  In addition to the light, the station was equipped with a 1,600-pound fog bell powered by a striking mechanism.

The lighthouse had several shortcomings. The fog bell was sometimes inaudible due to the roar of ocean waves. It was discontinued in 1881 and moved to a lighthouse near Seattle. Also, the light was not visible to ships approaching from the north.  This problem was corrected by building the lighthouse at North Head, two miles from Cape Disappointment. The first-order lens was moved to North Head and a fourth-order lens installed at Cape Disappointment.

Looking south from the lighthouse at the mouth of the Columbia River

We returned to the Jeep and drove north through the state park to visit the North Head Lighthouse.  As we walked the path to the lighthouse we passed the information plaque shown in the photo below.  The plaque contains a photo take at that spot in 1917 before the jetties on both sides of the river were constructed.  Ocean currents were altered by the jetties, causing a buildup of sand along the shore and creating over 600 acres of new land.

The view in 1917

The same view today

The North Head Lighthouse is usually open to tour, but we knew that it is currently closed while renovations are completed.

North Head wrapped in a nice, warm blanket

The day after our visit to Cape Disappointment we decided to cross the Columbia River and drive down the Oregon coast for a visit to Cannon Beach, home of the famous Haystack Rock, a 235 foot tall sea stack.

We timed our visit to low tide, so rock formations under water at high tide exposed numerous tide pools filled with sea life.

Giant green anemone

Ochre sea star surrounded by anemone

A blanket of anemones

View to the south

Well, that concludes our six week visit to western Washington.  We have certainly enjoyed our visit, but it is time to head south.  Today we’ll cross the Columbia River and head to Coburg, OR, just north of Eugene, where we have an appointment to have the motorhome serviced.   We had planned to stay in the Eugene for a week until we checked out the weather report for the area.


After six weeks along the cool coast of Washington, we are just not able to comprehend temperatures of 109!  So once the service on the motorhome is completed, we will head back to the coast for a week in Florence, OR, where the highest temperature for the week is one day at 80 degrees and low 70’s and 60’s the rest of the time.

More on that later . . .

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Cape Disappointment and a visit to Cannon Beach

  1. You are wise for heading back to the coast given those temps!

  2. Ingrid says:

    Love that last photo!

  3. You are taking me back of our time there in 2012. And at that time I did not pay any attention to history and today I learned more of what I missed, thanks John. There is a good biking area …oh but you were camped in WA not Astoria.
    About that temps 🙂 what can I say that ‘s our summer for now.

  4. What is up with this hot weather this year?? It’s a good thing you guys are mobile and can just move.

  5. Gay says:

    WOW…what a difference in the early photo before the jetties and how it looks today. Sounds like a great day of exploring! I’m sure Joe and I would love the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.

  6. Jodee Gravel says:

    Great info on the lighthouses, thanks for sharing. You guys caught so many low tides. The tide pools are fascinating! Gorgeous sunset. Hope the time in the hot inland goes by fast :-)))

  7. Thanks for a great tour of Cape Disappointment. We loved it there. I really enjoyed your photos of the tide pools at Cannon Beach. Good luck with your repairs!

  8. Debbie L says:

    What an amazing time you’ve had and a great finish! Allegedly, I have relatives who were on the Lewis and Clark expedition. They were from Kentucky, so while in Frankfort, I tried to do some research but couldn’t go back farther than 1840. But you’ve reignited my interest! Love those tide pools. As usual, great photos. Safe travels as you head south! So funny to imagine fleeing hot weather-but we now understand it!

  9. pmbweaver says:

    Remember seeing those painted rocks along the Pacific coast.
    I love to read everything about Lewis and Clark. They were amazing men indeed.
    Cannon Beach is so amazing. When we were there, we were lucky enough to have ranger with a telescope. We could see the birds nesting on Haystack up close. WOW…so cool. I just love your photos. I remember how colorful the sea life is. A place you will never forget.
    Florence is such a cute little town. We have coffee and a pastry in Sweet Magnolia Bakery. Very good. Do not miss Umpqua Lighthouse at night. It is amazing. We stayed in Harbor Vista County Park. Really really nice!

  10. Jeff Pierce says:

    We saw mostly rain at Cape Disappointment, it looks better in your pictures with some sunshine.
    Great sunset pic to close your blog.

    PS – hope you found a spot to give the underside of the Jeep a good rinse after driving in the wet sand.

  11. Sherry says:

    I can just smell those rocks – the smell is all too familiar – Yuck! Interesting that the lighthouse had to be rebuilt to fit the lens. Hmmmm – a government job? LOL I can’t even imagine a 1600 lb bell and inaudible at that size. Poor Cape Disappointment – must have been disappointing to be upstaged and lose your lens. I wonder if that method of creating new acres of land will work as the glaciers melt? Your pictures at Cannon Beach are superb. Oh my goodness – 109. These temperatures this summer from coast to coast are outrageous. Stay cool! Washington for 6 weeks sounds grand.

  12. Laurel says:

    You saw some beautiful tide pool critters at Cannon Beach. I’m so glad you loved your six-week tour of the Washington coast. And even better is that we got to share some adventures with you! The temps look just awful in Eugene. You made a great decision to head to the coast — it will be nice and cool there.

  13. LuAnn says:

    We were never at Cannon Beach during low tide so it was nice to see the tide pools brimming with life. Those temps in Eugene look unbearable! I would head to the coast as soon as I possibly could.

  14. TravelBug-Susan says:

    Wow! 109 in Oregon? We lived there over 30 years and I think the highest temp we had in the Portland area was 105.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s