North Head is one of two lighthouses found in Cape Disappointment State Park. Both were built to guide mariners safely away from the rocky cliffs of the headlands and into the mouth of the Columbia River.
The 65-foot lighthouse, built in 1898, sits on a solid basalt cliff more than 190 feet above sea level. Located on a small peninsula just north of the Columbia, it’s one of the windiest spots in North America. How windy? How about sustained gusts of up to 120 mph?
According to legend, one poor lighthouse keeper’s wife was driven insane by the unrelenting howling of the wind and flung herself off a cliff into nearby Beard’s Hollow.
Fortunately, the winds were calm when we visited. The ocean views, even on a cloudy day, were spectacular! And the short trail running from the parking lot to the lighthouse (just 3/10 of a mile) led us through a lush rainforest of sword ferns and Sitka spruce.
The lighhouse grounds are open to the public year-round, free of charge, from dawn to dusk. Tours of the lighthouse are available for a modest fee. Just 69 steps up a winding staircase to the top! But tour hours change seasonally, so you might want to call 360-642-3078 for an updated schedule.
Special Note: For those of you who would like to spend a night or two in a real lighthouse keeper’s house, there are actually two on site. For more details, check out the accommodations at either Residence 1 or Residence 2.
Directions from Astoria: Take Highway 101 north from Astoria, OR, across the Columbia River and on to Ilwaco, WA. Continue north through Ilwaco and then just follow the signs to the North Head Lighthouse turnoff.