Contrary to the name, Cape Disappointment does not disappoint. The name came from Lieutenant John Meares of the British Royal Navy. In 1788 he was searching for the mouth of the Columbia River and when he saw it, it appeared to only be an entrance to a bay. So he named the shallow water area where he landed, Cape Disappointment.
Fast forward to 1805 when Clark’s (of Lewis and Clark fame) ship became trapped by a fierce storm in the same location for six days. Clark called this spot Dismal Nitch. These days, the nearby Nitch offers one of the best panoramic views of the Columbia River.
Outside the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, located at Cape Disappointment, the Pacific Ocean stretches out of sight. A very sensual adventure is created by the fresh smell of the sea permeating the air, cormorants gathering on a rock and a ship’s horn blasting in the distance.
Below the surface of the sea lies a graveyard of as many as 2,000 sunken ships. Before the two lighthouses were built – Cape Disappointment and North Head – more than 700 lives were claimed by these treacherous waters. Sailors often experienced trouble crossing the Columbia River bar, the area where the tumultuous flow of the river rushes into the ocean waves.
You can tour the North Head Lighthouse, take a hike guided by a park ranger or picnic and swim on Washington’s own Waikiki Beach. Exhibits in the Interpretive Center highlight Lewis and Clark’s time exploring the Lower Columbia River and their arrival at the Pacific Ocean. Cape Disappointment State Park anchors the area with miles of trails, another interpretive display and camping sites.
The largest nearby town, Long Beach, also has a bounty of activities to pursue and some of the best restaurants in the country. Long Beach is probably best known for its annual Kite Festival.