camping: Washington Coast – Cape Disappointment

Cape Disappointment is located at the southern end of the Washington Coast – where the Columbia River meets the ocean. I spent three days exploring the area, practicing landscape photography skills, and camping in my new SUV camper.

SUV Camper

my Honda CR-V camper setup

This year, I decided to branch out and try another form of camping: in my vehicle! It’s not a new camper, but the same vehicle we’ve had since 2007 converted into a mini-camper. A good friend of mine did the same with her SUV so we can go on adventures together over the winter months. Learn more about my full setup in this blog post.

Cape Disappointment Campground

Cape Disappointment camping trip

On this trip, we booked a campsite with easy access to the beach at Cape Disappointment State Park. This campground is open year round and has bathrooms (with flushing toilets!) with fire pits and picnic tables at most sites. While it also has showers, they are closed this year due to COVID. Campfire wood is available from the camp hosts.

Among the features at this state park are two lighthouses: the North Head lighthouse (visible from the beach next to our campsite), and the Cape Disappointment (a short drive from the campground). Some of the trails were closed while we were there, so instead of hiking, we drove to trailheads for short walks to viewpoints.

Cape Disappointment camping trip

view of the campground beach from the North Head lighthouse

Cape Disappointment camping trip

driftwood piles along the shoreline at the campground

Cape Disappointment camping trip

trail to the beach from our campsite

Landscape Photography

This trip was focused on landscape photography instead of hiking… my friend and I are both interested in working on our camera skills, and this trip gave us a chance to shoot photos of the coast at sunrise, sunset – and a surprise for us since we didn’t know it was going to be clear overnight – the stars and Milky Way over the ocean!

Since our campsite was located right next to the beach, it was easy to head out for quick photo shoots when the light changed throughout the day. And with sunrise and sunset only about 8 hours apart in December, we didn’t have to get up super early or in the middle of the night like we do on backpacking trips.

After we setup camp, the light started to change and we could see that it was going to be a colorful sunset so we rushed out to take photos before cooking dinner.

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After dinner, the sky cleared and the stars came out so we spent a couple of hours on the beach shooting photos of the lighthouse and of Milky Way over the ocean. Although there was a bit of light pollution to the north, overall the conditions were perfect!

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The next morning, we were treated to a spectacular sunrise. I took so many photos, it was difficult to narrow them down to these few.

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We spent the rest of the day driving to trailheads in the state park and taking short walks to viewpoints.

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse: the trail to the lighthouse is closed, as well as the Lewis and Clark Interpretative Center, so we didn’t spend a lot of time there. Old buildings at Fort Canby from World War II remain in the area.

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North Head Lighthouse: A short trail leads through coastal forest to the lighthouse, with a few small bunker buildings from World War II and an old water tower beside the trail on the way there.

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As we were finishing our hikes, we could see a large storm front moving in, bringing quite a bit of rain that night. I was glad to have my car to escape to, watching a movie before I headed to bed for the night.

The next morning, we checked out a few more areas we had missed the day before.

Beard’s Hollow Trail to the beach: this longer trail heads down through a boggy forest with pools of water and eventually led to the beach at the sound end of Long Beach peninsula. Unfortunately, cars are allowed to drive on this beach so I probably wouldn’t return here. Several whizzed by us as we walked towards the rocky end of the cove to watch seabirds on the rocks. However, the Beard’s Hollow part of the trail was quite scenic and unlike other sections of forest in this area so it was worth visiting.

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December turned out to be a great time to visit Cape Disappointment… it’s far less crowded, and if you are lucky, the sky is full of color as the day begins and ends.

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