North Head Lighthouse–Hike to a headland at the mouth of the Columbia River

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North Head Lighthouse sits on a high headland at the mouth of the Columbia River.

 

 Location: Cape Disappointment State Park, Long Beach Peninsula

Land Agency: Washington State Parks

Roundtrip: 4.2 miles

Elevation gain: 300 feet

Contact: Cape Disappointment State Park

Notes: Discover Pass required; Dogs must be leashed

Good to Know: kid-friendly, snow free winter hike, historic

Access: From Kelso follow SR 4 west to Naselle. Turn left onto SR 401 and proceed 23 miles to to Ilwaco and the junction of SR 100. Follow SR 100 (it’s a loop, bear left) to Cape Disappointment State Park. In 2 miles turn left into state park and proceed .5 miles to a four-way stop. Turn right, pass entrance station and in .25 mile, turn right again coming to the McKenzie Head Trailhead in 0.4 mile.

 

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Stunning views from North Head Lighthouse.

Take the long and scenic way to Cape Disappointment’s North Head Lighthouse by hiking to it.. Through a salt sprayed maritime forest, trace part of Captain Clark’s hike on the Long Beach Peninsula. From the high headland that houses the 1898 lighthouse, take in breathtaking views that include thundering waves, windswept dunes, and score of shorebirds skimming the sweltering surf. Of the handful of hiking trails in 1,884-acre Cape Disappointment State Park; the 1.8 mile North Head Trail is the longest, traversing a moisture-dripping old-growth Sitka spruce forest and offering spectacular ocean views along the way. It ties into several other trails allowing for extended explorations.

The trail to North Head starts across the road from the short trail to McKenzie Head (a worthy side trip) Start hiking through a flat marshy area before heading up onto a small rugged ridge. When Lewis and Clark visited this area, the ridge was a headland protruding into the Pacific. After the nearby North Jetty was built in 1917, this marshy forested area formed through accretion (trapped sand and silt accumulation). The land mass and beaches of Cape Disappointment are growing. (And they say they don’t make any more land!)

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Big Sitka Spruce at North Head.

On what can be a muddy trail, climb above the old coastline on this former headland. Giant Sitka spruces keep you well-shaded, while gaps in the forest canopy offer splendid views down to the “new” beach. In 1.8 miles from the trailhead, come to a parking lot. (Yes, you could have driven to this point-but why? Exercise and nature are good for your body and soul!) Now hike the .3 mile trail down to the North Head Lighthouse for one of the finest maritime settings in all of Washington. Consider extending your hike by checking out other park trails. And the state park offers great car camping including yurts if you feel like spending a few days.

For more information (including maps) on this hike and other great Long Beach area hikes, consult my best-selling Day Hiking Olympic Peninsula book (Mountaineers Books).Day Hiking Oly Book

For information on family-friendly places to stay and things to do on the Long Beach Peninsula, Consult Northwest TripFinder

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