Don't be fooled by the name; there's absolutely nothing disappointing about Cape Disappointment State Park, named by Captain John Meares after a failed attempt to find passage past the dangerous Columbia River sand bar in 1788. Because of the treacherous conditions claiming the vessels of many a mariner, the river mouth of the Columbia River at the Pacific Ocean was known as “the graveyard of the Pacific.” This was also where the Lewis and Clark Expedition finished their 18-month, 3,700-mile trek from St. Louis and finally laid eyes on the Pacific Ocean.
Now, Cape Disappointment encompasses a gorgeous swathe along the Long Beach Peninsula, overlooking that same river-mouth so steeped in Pacific Northwest lore. With historic lighthouses and vacation homes, trails through quintessential Pacific Northwest coastal forest, pristine beaches and places to camp, it's no wonder this park is so popular with history buffs and nature-lovers alike.
Cape Disappointment is located on the southwest tip of Washington state, approximately 4 hours from Seattle and 2.5 from Portland, Oregon. If you're visiting in the summer or over holidays, make sure to reserve your campsite in advance, or you may have to find lodging outside the park in one of the various seaside towns.
From late December to early January, and March through May, head to the park's higher grounds and keep a lookout for Pacific gray whales heading to and from their breeding grounds off Mexico. On the return journey north to their Arctic feeding grounds, this part of the Pacific coastline becomes a veritable marine highway for the large mammals with calves in tow, wowing visitors who dare to venture out into the wet coastal winter weather.