youtubeState and National Parks are at the top of the list for places RVers want to visit and camp. In the Pacific Northwest there is a park that is a state park that also contains a unit of the National Park Service. It is Cape Disappointment State Park which also contains a portion of the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail .  It’s two parks in one and offers something for everyone within its 2,023-acre boundary.

Here is a sampling of what awaits you at the park.


Lewis and Clark were in the Cape Disappointment area in November 1805. There are several places in the park where you can walk where they did. One such place is McKenzie Head which is noted in their journals. Interpretive panels at the McKenize Head trailhead tell the story.

Fort Canby was established at Cape Disappointment in 1863 during the civil war to protect the mouth of the Columbia River as part of the Harbor Defense System.  The army completely renovated the fort between 1896 and 1908 adding two batteries in the process.  Battery Harvey Allen can be visited during your stay at the park. Interpretive panels tell the story of the fort and the workings of the battery. Additional batteries and reinforced observation posts were built in later years with the last, Battery 247, being added during WWII.  Battery 247 is open for visitors to explore atop McKenzie Head. The fort was deactivated in 1947. More in-depth history of Fort Canby can be found here.

Battery Harvey Allen

Battery 247

The Corps of Engineers arrived at Cape Disappointment in 1913 to begin construction of the North Jetty to improve navigation on the Columbia River. Due to changes in ocean currents from the jetty, the land where the campsites 1-178 are located today was created. Several interpretive panels throughout the park show the shoreline prior to construction of the jetty. If you find yourself camped there, be sure to thank the Corps of Engineers for a high and dry campsite!


There are two lighthouses you can visit during your stay at the park. The North Head Lighthouse is located within the park boundaries and is open for tours for a fee. A trail originating from the park will lead you to the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, located on adjacent Coast Guard property.

North Head Lighthouse

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse

Interpretive Center:

Literally located atop the Battery Harvey Allen you will find the Cape Disappointment – Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center hundreds of feet above the Pacific Ocean. The interpretive center contains two levels of exhibits. The main floor focuses on local maritime and military history with several exhibits detailing a few of the many shipwrecks that have occurred at the mouth of the Columbia River.

Interpretive Center Exhibit

The lower floor contains a very informative “tour” of Lewis and Clarks Corps of Discovery journey from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean. A timeline guides visitors through the westward journey of the Lewis and Clark Expedition using sketches, paintings, photographs, and the words of Corps members themselves. There is a nominal fee to visit the lower floor of the interpretive center. Note: The parking lot at the Interpretive Center will not accommodate RV parking.

Interpretive Center as Seen from Cape Disappointment Lighthouse


Hiking, biking, historic or nature, Cape Disappointment State Park has a trail for you! There are miles of trails in the park to both lighthouses, Battery 247, through a coastal forest and more. The Discovery Trail originating at the north side of the park gives bikers and hikers the choice of heading to Ilwaco or Long Beach. The route to Long Beach is paved with little elevation change making it perfect for a family bike ride.

Ocean and River Access:

Pacific Ocean waves crash onto Benson Beach on the west side of the park. The sandy beach is perfect for building sandcastles, beach combing or just going for a walk. On the east side of the park you will find the calm waters of Baker Bay on the Columbia River. There is a boat launch on Baker Bay for those that RV with their watercraft.


Deer, eagles, raccoons, seals, and cormorants along with other seabirds are just a sampling of animals you are likely to encounter while at the park.

Fishing / Shell fishing:

Salmon and crab can be caught off the North Jetty while razor clams can be dug on Benson Beach. Be sure and check the Washinton State Department of Fish and Wildlife website for open seasons and regulations.


There are two geocaches in the park. One is near the boat launch and is perfect for little children looking to find their first geocache. The other is on McKenzie Head and is easily found while exploring Battery 247 and taking in the view the Lewis and Clark party enjoyed over 200 years ago.

First Geocache


The park is located southwest of Ilwaco, Washington. As you exit the west side of Ilwaco to travel to the park, you will have a choice to go left on Robert Gray Drive or straight on North Head Road. Your onboard navigation will want you to take a left as it is the shortest route to the campground. This route is extremely twisty with many up and down sections and only suited for small RVs like class B vans. Longer RVs will want to go straight on North Head Road. This route, while still be somewhat curvy, but is better suited for longer RVs.


Cape Disappointment has 137 standard campsites, 50 full-hookup sites, 18 partial-hookup sites with water and electricity, five primitive hiker/biker campsites and one two lane dump station. Camping is available year-round.

Beach Front Campsites

The park also offers 3 cabins, 14 yurts and 2 vacation houses available for rent. RVs are allowed to park in the yurt sites for an additional fee with access to water and electric hookups. This is a great option if you want to camp with friends that do not have an RV. The vacation houses are the former lighthouse keeper’s residences for those that want to travel back in time and spend the night.

Note: Secure your food at your campsite as marauding raccoons at the park are always on the lookout for a treat. Bring bug spray in the spring as mosquitoes can be abundant at times.

There is a camp store offering ice, firewood, fishing gear and other camping essentials if needed.

Questions, Comments? Please add your thoughts below.

Dave Helgeson
Author: Dave HelgesonEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Dave Helgeson is the MHRV Show Director. He and his wife love to travel across the west in their RV. Dave writes about all things RVing but loves to share destinations and boondocking advice.

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