Cape Disappointment: North Head Lighthouse


You’ll find two lighthouses in Cape Disappointment State Park, just a few miles apart.  While the North Head Lighthouse may the less famous of the two, it’s still quite impressive.  It’s also easier to reach (parking is close by) and you’re allowed inside.

The picture below looks northward from the base of the lighthouse.  Long Beach is just on the other side of the rock.  You can see the lighthouse from the beach, as well (especially at night, watch for its beacon to flash at :10 and :20 intervals)

Cape Disappointment State Park was recently renamed.  Many maps still label it as “Fort Canby State Park”.

The view from the beacon’s base.

A tour inside the lighthouse costs $1 per person.  Once you climb to the top, there will be a volunteer park worker waiting to answer your questions.  You can’t step outside, though, so if you want to take pictures, you’ll have to take them through the glass.

There are two paths which will take you between the light and the parking lot.  The less traveled and more interesting one is the Light Keeper’s Path, which climbs up from the light to the buildings which housed the light keepers (a single family home, and a duplex — the senior light keeper earned the better quarters).

The light keepers’ houses are available for rent, but they book up far in advance.  Call (888) CAMP-OUT to check availability.

One last look at the light, and the wind-swept coast.

Here’s a funny story about Cape Disappointment.  During my visit, I was huffing and puffing my way up the incredibly steep 3/4 mile (one way!) trail that leads to the lighthouse.  Just before reaching the crest, I passed a few folks who were coming down the trail.  After exchanging a polite smile and nod, one of them said to me, “You’re about to find out why it’s called ‘Cape Disappointment’.  About 200 feet later, I knew what he meant.

Yes, the lighthouse is impressive, but that’s all there is to see.  The views to the north and south aren’t as spectacular as one would hope.  And the lighthouse itself?  Sealed shut.  A fence kept visitors from walking all the way around it at the base.

I’m sure it wouldn’t have been nearly as big a letdown, if the path had been shorter, or less steep.

For a better view of the lighthouse, visit the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, which is only a short walk from the parking area.  There, you can view the lighthouse from a distance.  Admission to the museum is $3.  (Since I was tired from my hike, and had already paid $5 for parking, I chose to skip it.)

The view from Cape Disappointment, looking north.  The North Head Lighthouse is just around the bend, but you can’t see one from the other (which is exactly why they needed to build a second lighthouse!)

The view south, looking toward the mouth of the Columbia River.

After hiking back to my car, I left the park.  From here, US 101 leads south into Oregon.

Note: This trip was first published in 2004.

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