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Cape Disappointment State Park - North Head Trail

Southwest Washington


Southwest Washington -- Long Beach Area
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1.8 miles, one-way


Gain: 420 ft.
Highest Point: 200 ft.


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WTA worked here: 2019

Parking Pass/Entry Fee

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For years, WTA has been coming to Cape Disappointment to work on trails in this area, including this trail, which leads hikers from the iconic North Head lighthouse down to the road that accesses the camping area and beaches at the south end of the park.

Depart from the large North Head Lighthouse parking area, where bathrooms with flush toilets are available. The trail is wide and graveled, taking off downhill and marked by a trail sign. Pass first through a small meadow before turning west and entering trees on a bluff overlooking the Pacific.

Though the sound of the ocean is ever present, big views of the water are difficult to get through the close-growing trees. Focus instead on the trees. These mighty giants wear moss like clothes, while younger trees – mostly shade-loving hemlocks, are growing healthily, keeping the forest cycle going.

The trail changes character within a third of a mile of the trailhead. Becoming more rooty and rugged, it dives into the coastal forest. Head-high salal provides a hedge that lines the trail, while Sitka spruces and hemlocks soar overhead. Cross a creek via a sturdily-built set of stairs and bridge, courtesy of WTA trail crews, then say goodbye to the good infrastructure.

The trail becomes muddier and narrower, all the while traversing in small descents and climbs along the bluff. Tempting as it may be to skirt the puddles and muddy spots, please stay on the trail. Walking on the side of the trail only damages the flora, and it’s still muddy, so you won’t save your shoes.

Finally, the trail turns inland and quite suddenly begins a steep descent, even muddier, if possible, than earlier sections. At the base of a set of stairs, you’ve reached the bottom of the hill, but there’s a short section through a coastal meadow before arriving at the road.

Your feet will stay dry from now on. From here, you can turn right and follow the paved road to the campsites and beach access, or make a left and head back out along the road to the ranger station and Waikiki Beach area. It’s an additional three-quarters of a mile to the campsite, and about half a mile to the ranger station.

WTA Pro Tip: If you want to continue hiking, head for McKenzie Head across the road. This easily-attained high point offers a nice view of the ocean, a little history lesson (hint: the landscape here has changed a lot since Lewis and Clark visited) and even an historic gun battery – all within a quarter mile.


Cape Disappointment State Park - North Head Trail

Map & Directions

Co-ordinates: 46.2981, -124.0728 Open map in new window


Southwest Washington -- Long Beach Area

Washington State Parks

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Guidebooks & Maps

Day Hiking: Olympic Peninsula (Romano - Mountaineers Books)

Cape Disappointment State Park PDF Map:

Getting There

Cape Disappointment is two miles south of Ilwaco. From Kelso, take Ocean Beach Highway to the tiny town of Naselle. Here, make a left onto SR 401, driving for 12 miles to a junction of Highway 101, where a left turn would take you over the Astoria Bridge. Drive straight through this intersection, continuing on Hwy 101 for 11 miles to the city of Ilwaco and the junction of SR 100.

From Portland/Vancouver: Take I-5 north to Longview, take exit 36 to Highway 432. Cross the Columbia River on 433 and follow Highway 30 to Astoria. Take Highway 101 north across the river and on to Ilwaco. Once you get to Ilwaco head west from the stoplight (only one in town) following the signs to Cape Disappointment State Park.

Follow 101 spur around the North Head Lighthouse parking area, where there are bathrooms available.

Parking Pass/Entry Fee

Discover Pass

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Cape Disappointment State Park - North Head Trail

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