Scenic USA - Washington

Cape Disappointment Light

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Cape Disappointment Light - Ilwaco, Washington

Photo by Keith Arnold
Keith Arnold Photography
Inset photos by Jim Stiles and Merrill Gosho, NOAA

     Unable to take shelter from a stormy North Head Lighthouse Pacific Ocean and navigate into the mouth of the Columbia River in 1788, Captain John Meares dubbed this area of Washington State Cape Disappointment. Here on this treacherous sand bar at the cape, over 200 ships encountered more than huge disappointments. Many either ended up stranded on the bar, or capsized and even sunk. Successful navigation into the Columbia River was eventually aided by two lighthouses. When the North Head Lighthouse was later added in 1898, mariners were well warned of the dangers at Cape Disappointment.
     The Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, perched on top of a 180 foot bluff, was the first of a string of coastal lighthouses on the Washington coast. Completed in 1856, the lighthouse continues to overlook the Columbia River entrance and is noted as the oldest, fully functional lighthouse on the coast.
     Out on this small peninsula, formerly known as Fort Canby State Park, the 1800 acre Gray Whale - Merrill Gosho, NOAA Cape Disappointment State Park has become one of Washington’s most popular stops. Along with lighthouse tours, visitors may enjoy the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, the Colbert House Museum and 27 miles of ocean beach. Not only does this lofty headland create the perfect site for a lighthouse, during the winter and spring seasons visitors find the park a great area to spot passing gray whales. Located in the southwestern tip of the state, the park is within an hour and a half drive from the I-5 corridor.

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