n November 7, 1805, Lewis & Clark's Corps of Discovery reached the Pacific at Cape Disappointment. "We were camped under a high hill when the morning fog cleared off. Ocean in view!" They spent days exploring the area, describing the animals and local Chinook Indians, but decided not to spend the winter here. (The Corps set up Fort Clatsop on the other side of the Columbia River.) At Cape Disappointment, kids can follow in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, exploring the headlands and beach.
Cape Disappointment is so named, but not because Lewis and Clark reached the Pacific without finding a Northwest Passage. In 1788, Captain John Meares was unable to sail through the entrance to the Columbia River and named the headlands after his dashed hopes. For the Corps of Discovery, Cape Disappointment was the end of the their voyage.
Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center - The center has excellent exhibits and hands-on activities about the expedition from start to finish, each phase illustrated with first-hand accounts from each member of the Corps of Discovery. Kids can load a canoe so it doesn't tip over, choose provisions to eat along the way, sight a rifle to hunt animals for food, use language skills for words in the different Indian languages, plus check out replicas of the dugout canoes used on the trip west.
Outside the center are telescopes and views of the mouth of the Columbia River. It's always been a difficult passage for boats to get by the treacherous sand bars to navigate up the Columbia River. Keep your eyes peeled for container ships, fishing boats, dredgers, tugboats and rescue boats.
– From the Interpretive Center are stellar ocean views, this is a good location to spot gray whales
migrating north, from late March to May. Bring binoculars.
Walk .75 mile through lush forest to the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, the oldest working lighthouse on the West Coast. Half the trail is in dense forest, and kids will feel like the Corps of Discovery explorers.
Waikiki Beach - When we visited the beach, they had a living history day, "Clark's Campsite." Eight guys, dressed in period clothing, had set up a traditional campsite from 1805 - kids can ask questions to the members of the expedition. We inadvertently startled a live deer that one expedition member had in his rifle sights (fortunately he didn't shoot us for scaring away the deer, which would have been much needed food for the original expedition).
The beach itself is a flat sand beach, with room to run around, lots of driftwood to make forts, and picnic tables.
Hiking trails - There are miles of hiking trails in the state park, some which follow the routes of the Corps of Discovery. Take short hikes from the Interpretive Center down to Waikiki Beach (.6 mile) or the stroll up an old road to the top of McKenzie Head (from McKenzie Head, Clark and his men saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time). For longer hikes, walk from the McKenzie Head parking lot up the North Head Trail or from Beard's Hollow, take the Westwind Trail, both trails end at North Head Lighthouse.
North Head Lighthouse - The lighthouse, established in 1898, is still a working lighthouse - the beacon light is visible for 17 miles out to sea. This section of coastline is particularly treacherous for ships (the area is known as "Graveyard of the Pacific,") due to high waves and shifting sand bars.
Take a tour of the lighthouse, climb up the stairs for stunning views of the rocky coastline and check out the modern beacon light. Tours are daily in summer, weekends the rest of the year, for kids 7 and up. Tip: Wear closed shoes, no flip flops allowed for climbing up the stairs.
Tip: For a memorable experience at land's end, stay overnight in the lighthouse keeper's residence (all the comforts of home and ghost stories). Call 360.642.3078.