Cape Disappointment State Park, despite its name, is a beautiful park with a gorgeous beach and over 200 sites for RV camping. It was originally named by English Captain John Meares who was disappointed that he could not find the head of the river first mapped by Spanish explorer Bruno de Hezeta in 1775. He spent days traveling through the heavy fog to no avail. In 1792, American Captain Robert Gray did what the English captain could not and located the head of the river, naming it Columbia, after his ship. 1805 was another historic year for the park due to the arrival of Lewis and Clark at the end of their 18-month expedition which began in Missouri.
Cape Disappointment has gone through several changes, starting in the mid-1800s. Two lighthouses were added to help maritime sailors navigate to the docks in the late-1800s. In the beginning of the 1900s, the military installed a jetty at the entrance of the Columbia River, and during the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps restored many of the trails and rebuilt part of Fort Canby. In 1938, the first piece of land called “Bell’s View” was purchased for one dollar by the government. The park has since expanded to a 2,023-acre year-round RV camping experience.
The park has two peak seasons, and they are summer and winter. Summer offers fishing, going to the beach, crabbing, boating, and other fun activities. The winter season offers skiing, snowmobiling, and the occasional snowball fight. You can enjoy a walk on the trails or a visit to the many museums in the area as well. The summers are cool with strong wind and plenty of bug, while the winter offers a much colder approach with temperatures down in the negatives and plenty of campfires to sit around and enjoy the cold fresh air. Whenever you decide to visit Cape Disappointment in your RV, you’ll be guaranteed a great time.
RV Rentals in Cape Disappointment State Park
Transportation in Cape Disappointment State Park
Cape Disappointment State Park is located in the southwestern area of the state on the Long Beach Peninsula. You can walk along the beach as you look straight into the Pacific ocean. Cape Disappointment State Park is a 30-minute drive to Astoria, Oregon, and almost a four-hour drive to Seattle, Washington. The park is located off I-100 and minutes away from I-101. You can stop by the towns of Long Beach, Oceanview, Seaview, and of course Ilwaco to pick up groceries or just to go shopping at the boutique and antique shops in the area.
The entrance to the park is paved and provides good signs with directions to the main office. Small trailers up to 30 feet can fit in any of the four campgrounds, but the larger ones are limited to campgrounds A, B, and C. The roads are well maintained, and depending on the site you reserve, the wind will be a huge factor. In summer, there are plenty of bugs so be sure to bring your bug repellant. The wind off the ocean actually helps with the management of the bugs in the area.
It’s recommended that you either walk or use your bike to get around the park. Be mindful of pedestrians and other drivers as you travel to find your site. If you arrive later than anticipated, remember to call the park office and let them know so that there will be a ranger to check you in. In summer, you should be careful of fog as Cape Disappointment has an average of 106 days of heavy fog each year. The park may close at any time due to inclement weather, or if there is a strong snowstorm scheduled to hit the area. If you travel in winter, make sure your vehicle has four-wheel drive and keep an eye on the lookout for avalanche warnings.
Campgrounds and parking in Cape Disappointment State Park
Campsites in Cape Disappointment State Park
This campground does not have any hookups, but it does provide a dumping station nearby and a water spigot in every circle of sites. There are 59 spots with shade and paved sites. The lots are quite large and allow a lot of room to maneuver your RV in. Since there are no hookups, you won’t have to worry about connecting your rig and then having to disconnect it from everything. The site is mostly sand and you are required to keep your lot clean, especially before you leave to go on your next adventure. Amenities included are restrooms, paid showers, a picnic table, and a fire ring. You are prohibited from collecting and burning unauthorized firewood. You are not allowed to bring your own firewood but you can ask the rangers and they would be happy to direct you to the place you can get approved firewood. You may stay a maximum of 14 nights and can make a reservation up to nine months in advance.
Campground B has a lot to offer in terms of where you can stay. This campground has yurts, standard camping with no hookups, and premium sites with electric and water hookups. As with campground A, the sites are in a circular pattern and the majority of them offers some type of back-in option. Campground B is also next to the beach, giving you access to swimming, fishing, and many more activities. This campground provides partial shade and average privacy from your neighbor. Sites are padded and covered with sand. You will need a Discover Pass if you plan on staying overnight, which is different from a day pass and a hunting/fishing permit. Amenities included in this campground are a fire ring, restrooms, paid showers, picnic table, and lantern post. You are forbidden from collecting firewood from the surrounding areas, neither are you allowed to bring your own firewood to the park. Ask one of the park’s rangers about where you can find firewood for your fire and they will direct you to the nearest place. You are allowed to stay a maximum of 14 days and may book reservations up to nine months in advance.
Campground A has 50 sites with full hookups and is located right next to the beach. Each site is angled to help you back into the spot. These sites can fit up to a 45-foot RV. This campground is mostly back-in only and built in a circle to make driving around the camp easier for campers. The sites are padded with partial shade. You have plenty of privacy from your neighbor and will often forget that you are a few feet away from another camper. Amenities included are a fire ring, picnic table, paid showers, restrooms, and a water spigot. You are prohibited from bringing your own firewood or collecting firewood from the surrounding areas. If you are in need of firewood then you may ask the Camp’s staff about where you can pick some up. Be mindful of any burning bans that may take place each year and stay away from zones deemed as recovering. You may stay a maximum of 14 nights at a time can book a site up to nine months in advance.
Campground D is all the way on the other side of the park near the Columbia River. It is a great spot for those who want to go freshwater fishing near their site. You will also have access to Lake O’Neil for more fishing and boating options. This campground has no hookups, but there is a dumping station and a water spigot. These are some of the cheaper sites and provides a grassy pad rather than gravel. You have plenty of shade here and good privacy as well. The majority of campers allowed here are usually RVs and trailers less than 30 feet. Some of the cabins are also located in this area. Amenities included are fire ring, picnic table, restrooms, and paid showers. There is firewood provided at the camp store or main office. You may not collect firewood from the surrounding areas and are forbidden from bringing your own firewood. You can stay a limit of 14 nights at a time and may reserve a spot up to nine months in advance. However, first-come, first-served is available if any spots are open.
Seasonal activities in Cape Disappointment State Park
Enjoying Sno-Park Activities
Each year the park opens its trails and backcountry in early-November and closes in late-April for winter recreation activities. You are required to buy a Sno-Park permit to use the designated area, which is different from the normal park pass. Sno-Park offers cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, dog sledding, tubing, and playing in the snow. Sno-Park is perfect for all ages to enjoy the winter weather. It is recommended that you bundle up and take necessary precautions when traversing the snowy backcountry. Keep an eye on the weather and be sure to watch out for the occasional avalanche.
Visiting Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center
The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center celebrates the great milestone of the Lewis and Clark Expedition that ended in 1805 at the mouth of the Columbia River. The center offers tours, souvenirs, and a detailed history of their journey. There is a small fee associated with viewing the center, but those under seven are allowed to enter at no cost to you. So park your rig at the center, which sits atop a 200-foot cliff facing the Pacific Ocean with a beautiful view of the sea.
Cape Disappointment State Park offers both sea and freshwater fishing. You may fish from the shoreline or take a boat out on the water. If you plan to go on the water, then you must have the proper boating license and permit. As long as you have a Washington state valid fishing license, you can take home salmon, steelhead, halibut, or Dungeness crab. Be sure to check the weather before you go on the water, as you might encounter fog or the seasonal rain that Washington state is known for. You can find bait and rods in the stores near the park.
Cape Disappointment is one of the few parks that offer metal detection as a recreational activity. Around 236.5 acres of the beach is reserved for metal detection. While you are not guaranteed to find anything, it’s a wonderful way to spend the day looking for treasure. You will have to bring your own device and are required to have the staff investigate your find to see if it has any historical value. As long as the park’s staff gives you the go-ahead, then you can keep any treasure that you find.
There are eight miles of hiking trails waiting to be discovered. Each trail has a clear sign and mileage so you can know how much you want to challenge yourself on any given day. The trails are paved and well maintained. You can take your pet on the trail as long as they remain on their leash. Keep in mind that some trails will be more challenging than others and bring a bottle of water to stay hydrated. Remember to pack a pair of sturdy hiking boots and some warm clothes in the RV as it can get a bit chilly on the trails.
Cape Disappointment State Park is a great place to observe the different types of birds that call the park home. You will see a large variety of sea and land birds. Some of the local spottings are the Winter Wren, Red crossbills, Fox swallow, and many more. The park provides a good habitat and resources to aid migratory and seasonal birds. You will definitely want to bring your binoculars in your camper to catch some of the Yellowthroats and Song swallows. You can walk along a few of the trails with a snack and your bird checklist to enjoy a day in the great outdoors.