Sample -- Cape Disappointment

Far from being disappointed, Lewis and Clark celebrated when they first sighted the Pacific Ocean from Cape Disappointment, a dramatic headland on the Washington side of the Columbia River. Those stalwart explorers had trekked nearly 4000 miles across the continent. Today the trail up Cape Disappointment is still inspiring, but the hike is much shorter. It also features a number of additional historic attractions, including a lighthouse, an artillery bunker, and a museum.

Considering that the Columbia River is seven miles wide at its mouth, explorers to the Oregon Coast had failed to discover this "Great River of the West" for a surprisingly long time. Neither Drake nor Juan de Fuca noticed it on their voyages in the late 1500s. The second flurry of sea explorations in the late 1700s also had bad luck. Juan Perez piloted Spanish ships along the coast here in both 1774 and 1775. The second time, steering Bruno de Heceta's vessel, he reported a bay here that he thought might be a river. But the crew was sick with scurvy and there was no time to investigate. Three years later Cook sailed by without even reporting a bay. By 1788, freelance fur trading ships were routinely plying the coast. British captain John Meares, sailing under a Portuguese flag of convenience, stumbled into a storm here and desperately sought a harbor. He fled toward the Columbia River opening "with every encouraging expectation" that it would be the great river of legend. But breakers on the river's shallow bar convinced him he must be mistaken. Angrily, he named the river mouth Deception Bay, and the nearby headland Cape Disappointment....

This sample taken from Hiking Oregon's History by William L. Sullivan.

10. Cape Disappointment

  • Easy
  • 1.2 miles round trip
  • 200 feet elevation gain

Getting There: From Astoria, take Highway 101 across the Columbia river bridge and continue north 11 miles to Ilwaco. In the center of town go straight on Loop 100, following signs for Fort Canby State Park for 3.3 miles. At the crossroads for the park's boat launch go straight another half mile to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center's parking turnaround.

Hiking Tips: At the far right end of the parking lot, climb the broad trail 300 yards to the free interpretive Center, open daily 10am-5pm. When you leave the museum, turn right and keep to the right to find the trail to the Cape Dead Man's Cove. Keep right and go down the stairs to visit the cove's hidden beach. Then reclimb the stairs and turn right on a concrete pathway that skirts the cove's clifftops for 0.3 mile to the lighthouse.

Season: Open all year.

While You're in the Area: Fort Canby State Park, half a mile before the trailhead, has 250 campsites, a picnic area at a cove called Waikiki Beach, a North Jetty viewing platform, and a boat launch. Also stop by the Heritage Museum in the town of Ilwaco, 3 miles away. A block off Highway 101 at 115 SE Lake Street, the museum has Native American artifacts, a pioneer village, and a restored railway depot. In winter the museum's open weekdays 10am-4pm, in summer Monday-Saturday 9am-5pm and Sunday noon-4pm.