C-20130529 Cape Dissapointment AM (9) (JPG)

Oh, it’s a foul place indeed!

A moody, but fabulous day

A moody, but fabulous day

Some call it a foul place, one of the foulest in fact, at least when it comes to the weather. If you’re a lover of all things wet, all things foggy, all things windy and just general soak-drenched damp craziness this may just be the spot for you. It rains here, and not just in small amounts but with timed regularity. A complicated mix of pressure systems (the Aleutian Low and the Pacific High) battle just off the coast creating over 7 feet of rain in winter and over 100 days the fog in summer. The systems combine with the ocean to produce one of the highest levels of wave energy in the world, sometimes reaching over 30 feet (10 m). The sun is but a brief visitor and the cliff-backed waters are the most dangerous on the western coast, so much so that the entire area has earned the name of “Graveyard of the Pacific”. Oh this is something else, my friends, something else entirely.

Warm light in the afternoon

Warm light in the afternoon

When we arrived at this god-forsaken spot we drove miles through dense, dark pine and emerged into a swirling steam of thick grey fog, twisting and churning on the road like ghosts of a classic nightmare. The sky was dark and heavy, the ground black and slick and the thunder of crashing waves hinted at the devastating power of nature just beyond our doorstep. We backed into our RV spot just in time to witness the first spewing of rain, an angry downpour of massive proportions and a mere taste of many to come. Why would anyone come here? Any why, oh why would anyone plan to stay a WEEK??!

When she's fine, she's reaaaaly fine

When she’s fine, she’s reaaaaly fine

The answer came just 30 minutes later. Like the end of a furious argument the veil of weather suddenly lifted. In the blink of an eye blue skies peeked through the clouds, the sun bathed the steaming ground and the beach opened in glorious invitation. We walked the 15 feet (yes, literally 15 feet) from our RV spot to the sand and were silenced in awe-struck beauty. This place is wild, crazy, and absolutely intolerable but when the sky clears there is a gorgeousness like no-where else. It speaks to the deeply primal in me, harmonizes with my soul and resonates a profound (and very odd) relaxation that I can’t quite describe. Standing there on this wild beach, backs by cliffs and a shining white lighthouse with an endless horizon of churning waves before me I’m in total bliss. I just don’t know what it is, folks, but I LOVE places like this!!

We’ve arrived at Cape Disappointment, WA and it is just my kinda place!

North Head Lighthouse on a fine day

North Head Lighthouse on a clear blue day

This ~1,700 acre dramatic cape, now mostly a State Park, was named by English explorer John Meares who was looking for the northwest passage over the Columbia River bar in 1788. He missed it, was rather bummed and so he got to name the headland just north of it (not a bad trade-off I guess). This bar, still one of the most dangerous in the world, was finally crossed in 1792 and developed into an important sea-way in the early 1800’s. This prompted the building of not just one, but two lighthouses on the cliffs to protect the mariners. Cape Disappointment Lighthouse began operation in 1856 and is still operated by the Coast Guard today making it the oldest lighthouse still in use on the West Coast. The second at North Head was lit in 1898 and also still beams today although stewardship was transferred to the State Park in 1995. Both gorgeous beacons can be seen from the beaches on clear days and both can be reached by short hikes, but only North Head offers tours ($2.50 a piece).

Besides the lighthouses this point is also the historic place where Lewis and Clark finally reached the Pacific Ocean on their 1803-1806 expedition to map the passage to the west. There is a huge (and rather lovely) Interpretive Center overlooking the cliffs which takes you through their entire journey in a time-line fashion right from the original departure of the custom-build keelboat at Pittsburg, to their winter camp at Fort Mandan, the hiring of interpreter Charbonneau and his wife Sacagawea (who became pivotal to the expedition), the harsh passage over the Bitterroot Mountains and the difficult canoe down the Columbia River to the ocean. It’s very nicely done and offers a movie too, well worth the $5 to see.

Beach sculptures

Beach sculptures

But perhaps the most alluring part of Cape Disappointment is its wild beauty. The deeply forested trails that penetrate the pines, the wildflowers that hide in its undergrowth and the stunning beaches that soften its coastline. For the latter we can thank the massive Jetty’s that were built to stabilize the Columbia River bar which, in turn, dramatically expanded the coastline both north and south of the river. Our fabulous RV spot (very deliberately chosen by the way) has a slot view of one of those beaches with the soothing background music of the waves as a steady companion. The view provides a constantly changing emotion from angry grey on rainy days to perfectly mirrored reflections on sunny low-tide days. We’ve been doing at least 6 walks a day on the sand and totally loving it. Polly is beside herself with bouncy joy, while I’m going shutter-crazy with the camera. We’ve got several more days in the area where we’ll dance around the downpours and explore some of the surrounding spots too, but for now we’re dead happy just hanging on this crazy coastline by the beach. It may well be one of the foulest places we’ve been, but in a very, very good way.

P.S. We have zero internet connection at our campsite, so I’ve managed this feat of technological blogging magic by eating at Serious Pizza (on-site in Cape Disappointment State Park) that provide a free WiFi service…oh, and delicious gluten-free pizzas too! Food and a solid data signal. What more could a foodie geek want?

What can you say?

What can you say, but love?

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse

Polly plays on the beach

Polly plays on the beach

There's a wild beauty in this place

There’s a wild beauty in this place

68 Responses to The Foulest Place In The West? Cape Disappointment, WA

  1. Finally get to color in the top left corner of your travel map!
    Highly recommend the multi-use Discovery Trail into Long Beach for bicycling.

    • libertatemamo says:

      YUP! Just updated the map. It’s now got that top corner all covered. Of course this was but a “taste”. Gotta get back to WA and explore some more.
      Nina

  2. Ray Burr says:

    Nice write up. Stayed at this park a few times and really liked it. Such a unique spot at the mouth of the big river. Life on the edge.

    • libertatemamo says:

      I don’t think I’ve ever stayed at a park where the beach was so very close…and so very stunning. A pretty unique spot.
      Nina

  3. Jil Mohr says:

    Looks gorgeous… Added it to my list…

  4. Armando T Novell says:

    I must go ,this place is looks unreal on my Bucket list

  5. Carol in OK says:

    Fabulous photos–especially the shot of Polly on water. Took my breath away.

    • libertatemamo says:

      That was certainly my favorite shot too. I was amazed at the way the clouds were reflecting on the sand. Just never seen anything quite like it.
      Nina

  6. Lee and Shelia says:

    Now you have done it. My bucket list just over flowed…. Ha ha ha… Enjoy your time.

    • libertatemamo says:

      It’s a pretty cool place. I’ve wanted to take Paul here ever since I came to visit a few years back (while he was home). Glad we got to stay and really soak in the experience.
      Nina

  7. Sherry says:

    These are just THE most gorgeous pictures. The place hardly lives up to its name in this post. Looks just like my kind of place too. Now I really am going to have to go back and read your photography section again. Right after I add this spot to my list of places Nina went that I want to go see too.

    • libertatemamo says:

      Oh, it’s pretty amazing around here. I was definitely inspired to photograph waaaay more than usual. Most of my shots were actually taken with my pocket camera (Canon S100), although the close-up flower shots were taken with my bigger camera and extension tubes.
      Nina

  8. Nicole Beck says:

    Great writing and pics! After living in Port Townsend, WA for 8 years I don’t miss that weather, but this sounds altogether different. WOW! And I see you get to color another state on your maps – congrats!

    • libertatemamo says:

      Well, I can’t say the weather isn’t crazy here. Not sure I could hack it all year around (especially the winter!), but for a week it sure is fun.
      Nina

  9. cozybegone says:

    Glad I didn’t let “disappointment” sway me… Rain and fog would never deter me but it’s the lack of light and long days; happy not having to endure this time of year! It’s sure dead on for beauty and I have my favorite rain jacket to gear up in. I can’t wait to venture to this end of the country….I’m in love just viewing your photos.

    • libertatemamo says:

      You know we were amazingly lucky with our weather this past week. The forecast called for solid rain everyday, but we only got 2 days of rain early on before it cleared up. Most of the mornings were foggy/grey, but all the afternoons were sunny & clear. A lovely mix!
      Nina

  10. Gunta says:

    OK… I’m convinced. This just zoomed to the top of my list for places to go. :D

    • libertatemamo says:

      With your love of all things coastal, you would definitely adore this place. It’s a spot to inspire photography, that’s for sure.
      Nina

  11. Rowanova says:

    Paul and Nina, Welcome to the neighborhood! Well, sort of. It’s actually a few hours drive from my home but has been a favorite place to go to get rejuvenated since the early to mid 1980′s. And it never fails to deliver! Your descriptions are spot on and the photos recognizable.

    While in the area it is a MUST to sample (gorge?) as much seafood as possible. And that also includes daily stops at the fresh seafood markets. Failure to do so means banishment! (Hahaha!)

    I’ll suggest stopping at the Visitor Center to get a map of the local area and follow the roads to the National Historic, and mostly restored, town of Nahcotta, Wa. There’s a restaurant there that sits out over Willapa Bay, looking east, opposite and away from the Pacific Ocean side of the Long Beach Peninsula, but still seaside water front. A great place for a bite to eat while taking in the history. Simply awesome.

    I’ve always considered it a delight to rent the mopeds in downtown Long Beach and ride them on the 28 miles of open, uninterrupted beach. This is one of the longest stretches of such beach front in North America. An opportunity to be appreciated for certain!

    I could go on with recommendations but I’ll leave the rest of the discoveries and adventures to the two of you to enjoy and choose to your liking. And when you decide it’s time for you to leave, this place will not leave you.

    Maybe we’ll meet on your future return visit…

    • libertatemamo says:

      CHEERS for all the tips. We did manage a drive around, and also saw a bit of Nahcotta, but still have a lot more we want to do. And the seafood…YES!!! I’m allergic to shellfish (terrible, I know especially w/ all the oysters around here), but I’ve been LOVING the fresh and smoked fish. Delicious!
      Nina

      • Rowanova says:

        Sorry to hear of the shellfish allergy, but we all have something we adapt to. When I wrote of Nahcotta, I think I was actually thinking of Oysterville, which I noticed you discovered and photoed. (Beautifully I might add) happy to hear your visit here has been so special for you. I may be headed to the Cape in a couple weeks with some local friends. Yep, even us “locals” gotta do it once in a while. ;-)

  12. Donna K says:

    I loved reading your thoughts about Cape Disappointment. We have some RV friends who live in Washington State and spend many days at that park. We have never been but it certainly is a place we need to visit. Great picture of the fern frond.

    • libertatemamo says:

      It is an outstanding park!! I scoped it our a few years back when I stopped by for a visit, but this is our first time in the RV. SUCH a great place to stay. If there was any internet signal we would max out the 2 weeks here.
      Nina

  13. Pam Wright says:

    Wow! You find the most amazing locations. Absolutely gorgeous photos and brilliant writing. Can’t wait to see what else your days bring. Enjoy!

    • libertatemamo says:

      Thanks Pam! Looks like you guys are finally getting some green and cool of your own too in CO :)
      Nina

  14. Anne H says:

    Loved your description! I was there late last year and the weather certainly showed up (briefly good and then howling so bad that RV traffic was forbidden on the bridge).

    You must have been in one of the loops that they close in the winter – something about storms pushing the surf ashore and flooding the campground!

    It is beautiful in an otherworldly way – I’m glad you liked it. I’ve been enjoying your posts about traveling in my camping backyard – I’ll probably be at Memaloose for a night on my way home from my current trip (John day fossil beds and perhaps Malheur to see some birds).

    • libertatemamo says:

      Oh yeah, I heard about those winter closures from another RVer here. The loop we were in is definitely one of the ones they close up in winter because of the surf. Crazy to think it actually floods, but given how close we were to the beach I can totally believe it!!
      Sounds like you had some pretty nutty weather on your trip, but glad you enjoyed it too!!
      Nina

  15. Sheila says:

    Your description of how this area makes you feel is lovely! May we all get to visit places that make us feel this way. Polly (in blue) is heavenly.

    • libertatemamo says:

      I sure do love how the coast makes me feel. It is bliss indeed to experience such things :)
      Nina

  16. kentster says:

    was the pizza place open yet?

    • libertatemamo says:

      YUP…in fact that’s where I wrote the post. The ONLY place with internet around here.
      Nina

  17. It rained most of the time we were there also. But like you said, when the clouds lift it is so beautiful!

    • libertatemamo says:

      It can be pretty miserable when it rains all the time. The hookups (and our electric heater) sure came in handy our first few days. We were lucky we got some amazing afternoons and actually quite a bit of sun too.
      Nina

  18. Janna says:

    We agree–one of the most beautiful places on earth! Enjoy, enjoy!

  19. Lisa says:

    I too love wild and wooly weatherful places! We may be heading for the Olympic Peninsula next summer and will likely hit this area too. Thanks for the preview!

    Metamorphosis Lisa

    • libertatemamo says:

      You guys would LOVE it here…and lots of space for kitty to walk around too. The Olympic Peninsula is one of the spots we may visit next year too, so we may well end up in the same place. Enjoy your time in CO!
      Nina

  20. Your pictures of the coast make us want to pull up stakes and head west. Next year for sure

  21. Love those lighthouse pictures

  22. LuAnn says:

    We loved our visit to Cape Disappointment last summer. Thanks for the stunning photos and a revisit of a glorious summer spent on the coast.

  23. Amanda says:

    Amazing! We almost made it there last summer, but ended up a bit farther south at Fort Stevens S.P. in Oregon. Next time we hit up the northwest coast we’ll be sure to put Cape Disappointment at the top of the list. You’re photos are gorgeous as usual and Polly looks to be one happy pup!

    • libertatemamo says:

      Polly’s definitely one lucky, lucky doggie…and yes, you gotta come here. Phineas would love it!
      Nina

  24. We loved Cape Disappointment! You describe it perfectly. I remember our excitement when we walked down the path behind our campsite to discover not only a beautiful beach but a lighthouse, too.

  25. Liz Johns says:

    THIS IS ONE OF MY FAVOURITE PLACES!! Love the pizza place also. Believe it or not, we found our glass floats here. Not just one….found a large one & a bunch of little ones. There is a great walk/bike/running path….goes parallel with Long Beach. Liz-Boise, ID

  26. Liz Johns says:

    If you want some awesome fish/chips, there is a boat across from the Meritime Museum in Astoria. It is in an old boat, about a block up. They get the fish fresh each morning. Get there earlier, as they get swamped. Liz-Boise, ID

  27. Desert Diva says:

    Absolutely beautiful – I may have to make this a destination on my “summer sojourn.” :-)

  28. kerry says:

    Nina, the two pics. titled “Oh, it’s a foul place indeed”, and “When she is fine…” are two of the best shots I have ever seen in ANY travel blog, article, or book. Outstanding work. Quick story about weather and perceptions. We were on a long term summer jaunt (DW is STILL a school teacher, and trapped for nine months a year) and spending a bit of time in the area where you currently are. We stopped at an insurance agency in Warrington to get a faxed update of our coverage from our agent in PA. We had been there for three days of cloudy, overcast, but dry weather. As I waited for the fax to come, a secretary asked how I like their area? I said it was really pretty, but the weather could be better. The place got quiet as a library, and everybody stopped to stare at me like I was an idiot. I then asked if I had just said something dumb? Yep, she replied, “this is about as good as it gets, during our much anticipated summer season”. LOL. one person’s pain is another’s pleasure. I love to visit the rocky coast of the northwest, and a slow ramble up the coast suits me well, but I do not have what it takes to live there. I doubt that I would be all that mentally stable after a few years of mold, wet and clouds.

    • libertatemamo says:

      GREAT story!! I have to admit it probably takes someone tougher than me to get through a whole year here. Our little week had ALL the weather, but it was only a week and easily done plus we did end up with a fair bit of sun. A whole year? Probably too much for me LOL
      Nina

  29. Thanks for taking us back. We hiked to the lighthouse at the Cape and lucky enough there were no rains during our visit. If you like fish and chips, (it may not be gluten free) the Bowpicker located downtown has the best ever.

  30. Great posts and pix! Hope to head for Oregon coast soon as we get a truck. Hope you’re coming down to Mt. Shasta sometime–we’ll be glad to host you and roast you some salmon on the BBQ! Cheers, ~Kathi & Michael

    • libertatemamo says:

      Oh YUM!! Salmon on the BBQ…that is pretty darn tempting. We probably won’t end up going thro’ Shasta this time around, but we’ve put you on the “list” :)
      Nina

  31. Jodee says:

    My favorite kind of place – with real natural beauty! I’m living vicariously through you and Paul, waiting to take off on our own full time adventure in 2015. Thanks for keeping us motivated and inspired!

    • libertatemamo says:

      Oh it’ll be here before you know it!! Only a few short years and you’ll be on the road. We’ll be crossing paws for ya!
      Nina

  32. […] (and a lighthouse). The park itself has tons of hiking/biking trails, several additional beaches, a lovely Lewis&Clark Interpretive Museum and two lighthouses. You could easily spend days just exploring the park. In addition you are only a few miles away […]

  33. You wrote a great article and this is the place i think everyone should visit. I enjoyed very much when i went with my friends in 2012 and I must say your photographic skills are just amazing.
    loved it :D

  34. […] and the beginning of our coastal Odyssey. By June 1st we were on the beach in Washington in the Foulest Place In The West, after which we meandered veeery slowly and deliberately down the OR coast starting at Astoria, […]

  35. […] was a bit of a tricky clue which was based on my blog post from this area from last year “The Foulest Place In The West?“. Yup, we’re going back to Cape Disappointment to be lighthouse hosts for the month of […]

  36. Been there twice before it was renamed Cape Disapointment. At that time it was known as Fort Camby. Cape Disapointment Lighthouse is also known as the windiest place on the coast. We are going back a third time this summer but this time as camp ground host. Get to stay 30 days for free and only work 24 hours a week. The first time we were there, my wife was so excited about going to the beach she insisted we go straight from our campsite west to the beach. Problem was straight to the beach was over a lot of very large driftwood (I mean tree trunks). Needless to say it took us a lot longer to get there then if we took the proper trail. All in all it was a very nice trip. Looking forward to going back.

    • libertatemamo says:

      What month are you hosting? We’ll be lighthouse hosts there all of this June (starting in a week).

      Nina

  37. […] is not my first time so enamored. We visited this very spot last year capturing some of my best beach shots of the summer. That week was enough to cement the Cape in my […]

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