Top 5 Places to Visit in Cape Disappointment

Picture of Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. Photo by Julie Manthey

Cape Disappointment is only a 2-hour drive from Portland, Oregon or 3-hours from Seattle. It’s an easy day trip from either, yet it feels worlds away! I highly recommend stopping at these ‘must see’ places for an excellent trip that won’t disapoint! Don’t forget to pack your copy of the novel, The Magic of Cape Disappointmentas well!

  1. Engage with History at the Cape Disappointment Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center

    • This updated, beautifully designed museum overlooks ocean waves on a dramatic cliff in Cape Disappointment State Park and marks – quite literally — the end of the Lewis and Clark Trail. Learn about Lewis and Clark and the local Native American tribes. There are several interactive exhibits and increadible views which make it an ideal location to watch the waves and the many birds, especially if the weather is a little rainy or foggy for a hike. History buffs should also add a visit to the nearby Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum as well!
  2. Hike near the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse

    • In addition to two lighthouses, Cape Disappointment State Park also has several miles of hiking trails! See the oldest lighthouse still in use on the West Coast. Completed in 1856, today the lighthouse is managed by the Coast Guard and its’ light still protects sailors. The Columbia bar is one of the most dangerous bar crossings in the world, known widely as the ‘Graveyard of the Pacific.’ The well-maintained trail from the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center takes you closer to the lighthouse, or simply view it from the center. Although the lighthouse has been closed to the public since July 2020, you can still hike around the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center for closer views and experience the lush landscape overlooking the ocean and river. Once you see the inspiring and breathtaking views around this lighthouse, you’ll understand why it plays a starring role in the novel, ‘The Magic of Cape Disappointment!’
  3. Tour the North Head Lighthouse (or spend the night!)

    • Only two miles away from the Cape Disappointment lighthouse, you’ll find the North Head lighthouse complete in 1898 for added safety around the treacherous Columbia bar. North Head is also one of only five lighthouses in Washington State where you can stay overnight in the Lighthouse Keepers house, to get a real sense of a keeper’s life! It was meticulously restored in 2016. It’s also a prime location for whale watching in winter and spring.
  4. Stroll Along the Charming Ilwaco Harbor Boardwalk

    • Ilwaco’s small town harbor has a delightful boardwalk with a alluring independent coffee shops, bookstore, art galleries, and pub restaurants. Eat outdoors and enjoy the quiet harbor view of the vast Columbia River. The boardwalk is a wonderful place to spend a relaxed afternoon along the water! Don’t miss the lively Saturday market with almost 70 different vendors or the weekly Friday Ilwaco Art Walks in the summer. From the harbor, you can also charter a fishing adventure or moor your own boat.
  5. Enjoy Art (and even catch a concert) at Cape Disappointment’s Waikiki Beach

    • While everyone knows about Maya Lin’s famous Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., she also completed several art installments in Cape Disappointment State Park’s Waikiki Beach. The art commemorates both Chinook stories and the Lewis & Clark journals. Also in the summer, bring a picnice basket to enjoy an outdoor weekend concert at the (slightly less tropical) Waikiki Beach ampitheater with stunning views of the ocean.

When to Go:

The best time to visit is probably June through August, when the weather is the nicest and the Saturday market, concerts, and art walks are keeping things lively. However, storm watchers and photographers might want to plan their visit for December and January to catch the dramatic King Tides. Both January and March are the peak time for whale watching. Birdwatchers can always find much to see any time of year, since the area is a prime spot.

Where to Stay:

While Cape Disappointment is a wonderful day trip from Seattle or Portland, there’s so much to do in the local area that you will probably want to extend your stay. There are several lodging options in the immediate Cape Disappointment area to choose from. This list represents a few highlights:

Getting There:

  • From Portland: Approximately 2-hour drive via US-26W to US-101N or take I-5N to US-30W.
  • From Seattle: Approximately 3-hour drive via I-5S to US-101S.

You won’t forget (or be disappointed by) The Magic of Cape Disappointment! Happy travels!

The Road Less Traveled

Some of my most favorite vacation spots that I choose to return to, are places that very few have heard of. Stumbling upon a hidden gem known only to locals is a triumph for most travelers, including myself. I took this photo in Scotland on the Isle of Skye where there is a beach frequented by cows. Yes, you read that correctly, cows on the beach.

In the photo you can see a few cows up on the right of the road just in the distance. While many might not travel all the way to Scotland to visit a remote beach known mostly only to the cows, it was a real thrill to me. The peaceful quiet of the water lapping against the rocky beach, along with the occasional ‘moos,’ and no crowds of tourists felt like entering a magical realm.

I often seek out the roads less traveled wherever I go, and they each provide their own rewards. One time such a road brought me to the middle of Kansas, where I went out of my way to stop at the geographic center of the United States and found a stone marker in the middle of the prairie and stopped for a minute to listen to the wind blow across the fields.

Another trip brought me to Cape Disappointment, where the first flicker of the idea for my novel started falling into place. There’s a reason that in the novel, The Magic of Cape Disappointment, the protagonist stands at the edge of the cliff near the lighthouse which lies at the end of a trail – a location which is central to the story for several reasons. The character is there because I ended up there myself on one of my journeys along roads less traveled.

In the novel, I had very much hoped to take readers with me to that remote destination, where they could stand next to the protagonist and look out across the vast Pacific ocean while sea birds swooped and squawked around them. Cape Disappointment is a special place indeed and I do return there as often as I can.

Perhaps my next novel will include cows on the beach or feature the quiet prairies in the middle of America. Either way, my travels will continue to include places less often visited by others, and I’m sure new favorite destinations will emerge. Inspiration is a quirky and often flighty thing. In my case, inspiration doesn’t lurk in my laptop. Instead, she waits for me on the roads less traveled.

I hope this year finds you discovering some new places as well, and if you make it out to Cape D, please be sure to take the time to walk over to the lighthouse and enjoy the view.

Safe Harbor

Ilwaco, Washington harbor photo by Julie Manthey

Character development is a key factor of any writing project, and that includes challenging the characters with struggle.

John Shedd is known to have said, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” Character development in a novel relates to that sentiment because a character can be safe in their world, but that’s not what the novel is built for.

Novels are built for longer stories that immerse a writer into a new world where the protagonists must endure some sort of struggle.

In my most recent novel, ‘The Magic of Cape Disappointment,‘ the protagonist’s return to the safe harbor of her childhood is when her real adventure begins. This photo is a picture of the Ilwaco, Washington harbor where the protagonist grew up and returns after completing medical school in order to take care of her grandmother.

One of the concepts I thought was interesting to explore in the character development within the novel was the idea of the safe harbor both literally, in the case of Ilwaco, and figuratively with the protagonist’s soul mate. When the protagonist first returns to Ilwaco after many years in New York City, she first views this safe harbor as anything but, and her goal is focused on returning to New York as quickly as possible.

As the novel progresses and her safe harbor hometown is threatened by an unexpected force, she starts to realize the value of home and belonging. Of course, those lessons are learned not from quiet observation of her daily life, but by enduring several tests of strength.

I hope that wherever you are, that you’ve found a safe harbor, but that you also don’t let it stifle your development.

As for my character, by the end of the novel (and a theme in the following) she echoes the famous Louisa May Alcott quote, “I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.”

Novels are built to challenge the characters and character development includes their journey. As readers, we want to succeed vicariously with the characters as they move through their challenges to live happily ever after in their own safe harbors.

Into the Sunset

My preference as a reader is to have all the loose ends nicely tied up by the end of a book, like a lovely sunset rounding out a lovely day. I appreciate the sense of completion and being able to walk away from the book and know that the story has concluded.

While it’s definitely a style thing, wrapping up the details of a book by the end of it isn’t the only option of course. Many writers and readers prefer cliff hanger endings or fuzzy endings where the complete fates of the characters remains unknown, allowing the reader to build their own ending.

In my books, I’ve thought about alternative endings and ended up on the side of the tied up sunset where we know all about the characters fates.

There are, of course, challenges to tying up all of the loose ends of a novel before the reader closes the book. It means that all the characters introduced have a purpose and a role to contribute to the ending. The tone of the ending is also important because it factors in to how a reader feels at the end of the novel – is it a happy ending?

Endings are so important, no just for the final chapter but also the final sentence. Hemingway is known to have changed the last sentence of Farewell to Arms almost 50 times.

For my most recent book, The Magic of Cape Disappointment, I also spent a lot of time on the last chapter and the last sentence. I wanted to leave the reader with a happy ending and a sense of hope, so that by the end of the novel they generally felt better about the world. As a writer, one never knows how a reader will feel reading the last chapter and the last sentence. That said, I hope that my readers appreciated the ending.


Happy Endings

Travel is a favorite hobby of mine, along with photography. The places I’ve traveled to influence my writing, like my camping trip to Cape Disappointment that resulted in a novel.

This picture is one that I took in the English Lake District on Derwentwater lake near Keswick in England. Lucky for me, the light was perfect and it wasn’t raining. What a special place to visit!

Setting is a key factor of any writing piece, influenced heavily by the characters point of view. How one character looks at the same setting compared to another helps us understand their interests and goals.

For example, in ‘The Magic of Cape Disappointment,’ the protagonist, Kay, looks at her return to small town life as temporary and a sign that her life is suddenly going in the completely wrong direction. Her love interest, Sam, however, sees his move to the same location as a great adventure and a step closer toward his destiny. Eventually, Kay starts to see Cape Disappointment more like Sam does and that’s just one part of her happy ending.

I think that applies to regular life as well, in terms of how we think about where we are. In our own stories, the setting is where we live and the places we travel. We are the heroes of our own stories, and I very much hope that you find your happy endings exactly within your own setting.

Happy endings may not be in vogue, but I fall into Jane Austen’s camp about them. Jane Austen said, “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore everybody not greatly in fault themselves to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest.”

I hope that you look around your own setting with new eyes to find your own happy endings.


Sense of Place

Picture of Astoria-Megler Bridge. Photo by Julie Manthey

I love to travel. Some places are destination locations to check off the list, others are places one must drive through to get somewhere else, and then there are the places that pull you back for return trips. For me, Cape Disappointment became the latter. This picture is from Astoria, Oregon, looking across the Columbia River toward Cape Disappointment. My first trip to the cape was a weekend camping trip that turned out to be more adventurous than I had expected due to our camp neighbors deciding, rather irresponsibly, to feed marshmallows to a family of raccoons.

Of course, those raccoons then decided that our camp likely would be another stop on their buffet and they paced around the tent while I sat, rather freaked out, inside hoping they would move along soon. I’m happy to report that they eventually moved along without much other fuss. Since that first visit I’ve been back to Cape Disappointment many times and published my novel (The Magic of Cape Disappointment) that takes place there.

Recently I had returned to Cape Disappointment and the surrounding towns on a terrific vacation. Spending time checking out the coffee shops, watching the ships in the river, sitting on the beach by the ocean, and hiking to the lighthouse were simple pleasures that make me smile to remember them.

I hope that this summer you find places that speak to you and they become destinations you also quickly plan to return. If your travels send you anywhere near Seattle or Portland, I recommend a trip to Cape Disappointment. Who knows? You might just stumble upon some magic there yourself. Or at least maybe that same raccoon (remember, please don’t feed the wildlife).