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Cape Disappointment Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

View to the lighthouse, Cape Disappointment (bobcat)
The Cedar Circle, Confluence Project, Cape Disappointment (bobcat)
Battery Harvey Allen, Cape Disappointment (bobcat)
Dead Man's Cove, Cape Disappointment (bobcat)
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse (bobcat)
Trails to Waikiki Beach and Cape Disappointment (not a GPS track) (bobcat)
  • Start point: Waikiki Beach TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Cape Disappointment Lighthouse
  • Trail log:
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 2.9 miles
  • Elevation gain: 385 feet
  • High Point: 170 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Seasons: All year
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: Yes


Hike Description

Cape Disappointment is the southernmost point on Washington’s Pacific coastline and is near the place where Captain William Clark first sighted the ocean in November, 1805. The Cape Disappointment Lighthouse was constructed in 1856 to warn ships of the dangerous bar at the mouth of the Columbia River. This hike will take you over a headland which once hosted the gun batteries of Fort Canby (This was originally Fort Canby State Park), built during the Civil War, and now the site of the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center (separate entry fee). The trail then dips to skirt an active Coast Guard station and the overlook above picturesque Dead Man’s Cove before rising to the lighthouse with its views over the mouth of the Columbia and south to Tillamook Head and Saddle Mountain. This is a good whale-watching spot in season. In addition to being a Washington state park, the area is part of the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park.

From the Waikiki Beach Trailhead, first take two short trails that were designed by artist Maya Lin as part of her Confluence Project for the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial. Both lead from near the information kiosk near the restroom. The first is a “boardwalk” that basically forms a to-scale record of the explorers’ journey. Quotes from their journals decorate the slabs, which lead to little Waikiki Beach, a favorite spot for novice surfers. The second trail leads along the base of a grassy bluff past an amphitheater to a circle of cedar snags and a stump. Homage is paid along the way to Mother Nature’s mentoring of the local Chinook Indians.

To begin the Cape Disappointment Trail, walk back next to the road almost as far as the fee booth. See the trailhead on your right and head up a grassy knoll. See an alder-ringed pond down to your left. Hike along a narrow ridge under red alder and Sitka spruce in an elderberry/sword fern understory. Pass between two large spruce trees, drop slightly, and then rise up a graveled trail to a junction. Head right here up a concrete staircase to a viewpoint that was part of the Fort Canby complex. Get a sweeping overview of Peacock Spit, Benson Beach, and the North Jetty. Return to the main trail, and pass through a salal thicket to reach another viewpoint. Head into the woods and hike around a concrete water tank before dropping to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. The Center is a museum of the expedition, but also details the story of Fort Canby and the maritime history of the area. Various ruins and interpretive signs, as well as the solidly built Battery Harvey Allen, exhibit Fort Canby’s purpose. Walk around the front of the Interpretive Center to get a clifftop view and enjoy the reek of cormorant guano - the birds nest and rest on the rocks below.

Continue from here past a bunker and descend to a junction with the trail from the Center disabled parking area. Go right under large spruce trees and traverse down above the Coast Guard station. A spur leads right to a view of the narrow chasm of Dead Man’s Cove. A Coast Guard signs warn you not to descend to the beach, but you may see scofflaws doing it anyway. Continue on the trail to the station fence and take a concrete roadway that heads up the slope. Get some good views of the cove and finally reach the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. There is no public entry, but views extend south to the Coast Range of Oregon, with Saddle Mountain most prominent, Clatsop Spit, ocean freighters at the Columbia Bar, and Peacock Spit and the North Jetty below.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • Park hours 5 a.m. - 12 a.m.
  • Dogs on leash.
  • $10 day use or Discover Pass

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • PDX Hiking 365 by Matt Reeder
  • Best Hikes With Kids: Western Washington by Susan Elderkin
  • Hiking Washington’s History by Judy Bentley
  • Hiking Oregon’s History by William L. Sullivan
  • 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Oregon Coast & Coast Range by William L. Sullivan
  • Best Easy Day Hikes: Oregon’s North Coast by Lizann Dunegan
  • Hiking the Oregon Coast by Lizann Dunegan
  • Washington Hiking by Scott Leonard
  • Pacific Northwest Hiking by Scott Leonard & Megan McMorris
  • Washington State Parks: A Complete Recreation Guide by Marge & Ted Mueller

More Links


Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.