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Please don't let the name fool you – Cape Disappointment State Park will do anything but disappoint. This 2,000-acre park at the confluence of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean is one of the most popular state parks in Washington. The park is home to beaches, lakes, and marshes, and is known for its breathtaking scenery, fascinating history, and hiking opportunities. The Spanish explored this area in the mid-1750s, and they noted that the Columbia River probably led to another sea. Explorer John Meares went looking for this sea in 1788 and failed to find it. In fact, he thought that the river was actually just a bay, provoking his disappointment. The name has stuck.
Cape Disappointment State Park is perhaps most historically significant for being the western terminus of the infamous Lewis and Clark expedition. This is where the team first saw the Pacific Ocean. An engaging museum celebrates this feat. A fort was eventually constructed here during the Civil War, and cannons pointed at the river to deter any Confederate maritime forces. The fort continued to be improved on through World War II as the nation feared further invasions after Pearl Harbor. Cape Disappointment was already a state park at this time, the first parcel of land acquired for $1 in 1938. You can book an RV in Pacific County and explore this beautiful stretch of coastline in your rental RV throughout the year.
Cape Disappointment State Park has eight miles of hiking trails. The North Head Lighthouse trail is an easy hike to one of the park’s two operational lighthouses and is wheelchair-friendly. The other lighthouse hike, to the 1856 Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, is a little more difficult but well worth it. There's also a hike that leads to views of this lighthouse, as well as hikes to historic gun batteries and old-growth forests along Baker Bay. Keep an eye out for whales whenever you reach a viewpoint. Gray whales are often sighted not too far offshore during spring migrations. There are no bicycling trails at Cape Disappointment, but you can ride on any of the paved roads throughout the park.
There are also two beautiful beaches at Cape Disappointment. The first is Benson Beach, accessible from the state park RV campground. Strong Pacific winds often batter this beach, but it's an excellent spot for clam digging. Walk the stretch of beach looking for shells as the kids make their own forts out of driftwood. The other beach is Waikiki Beach near Fort Canby. This beach is much more protected than Benson Beach and offers views of Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. Strong currents can make swimming at any of these beaches dangerous.
Cape Disappointment offers both fresh and saltwater fishing opportunities too. The North Jetty is perfect for fishing for crab and surfperch, a popular location for doing so. But the big catches that most anglers are after are the king salmon, often caught on the Columbia River side of the park. All fishing within the park requires a recreational license.
The Cape Disappointment State Park Campground is open year-round. The campground offers nearly 200 RV sites with different types of hookups. There are 137 standard sites with no hookups, 18 sites with water and electric hookups, and 50 sites that also include sewer hookups. There's also a dump station within the campground if you can’t get a site with a sewer hookup. The maximum RV length for the Cape Disappointment campground is 45 feet. Pets are allowed in the campground and on the trails if kept on a leash and under control at all times.
Despite being right on Benson Beach, the RV campground at Cape Disappointment State Park sits under the protection of conifers, helping keep the winter winds and hot summer sun out of your campsite. Each site has a fire ring and picnic table, and there are hot showers and flush toilets throughout the campground. If you need some supplies while camping at Cape Disappointment State Park, you can also get firewood and ice at the park store. A small café within the store serves sandwiches and coffee.
In addition to the campground store, you’ll also have some basic supplies available in the town of Ilwaco, just outside the entrance of the park. If you need any larger gas stations or big-box stores, head south across the Columbia River into Warrenton. This part of the state is known for its fresh seafood, attracting national attention in newspapers and magazines. The Ilwaco harbor market is a must-visit event if you're there on the weekend. This is where you can get some of that fresh seafood, in addition to local art and live music.
Don’t leave Cape Disappointment without first spending some time in the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, full of exhibits, interactive displays, and educational videos. And if you end up in Warrenton, you’ll also probably want to set aside some time to explore Lewis and Clark National Historic Park and Fort Stevens State Park. The area surrounding the Columbia River is full of great museums and nature preserves like these, and also include Fort Columbia State Park and the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum. Even more motorhome camping awaits if you head further into Washington. Olympia and Seattle are just over 100 miles to the northwest and are the gateways to Olympic National Park.