Dead Man’s Cove and Cape Disappointment

Since one needs to pass Dead Man’s Cove on foot (unless you are with the Coast Guard) to get to Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, I thought it made sense to put these two together. This is a family friendly hike, great for all ages. The trail starts at Cape Disappointment State Park  2 miles south of Ilwaco WA.  Dead Man’s Cove,  as is the entire surrounding area, is part of the Long Beach peninsula in WA.

You will need to get a WA state Discover park pass which you can obtain in one of several town stores (Ilwaco or Long Beach) or at the ranger station in the park. Note: they do drive around and check to ensure you have a pass. I accidentally was given a one day fishing pass on a trip up here instead of the day park pass at the hardware store. And I got a ticket.  I did go to the ranger station and they fixed the situation quickly. I do not buy WA state park passes often in WA, so I didn’t recognize the mistake at the time of purchase.  Anyways…

The entire trail is about 3.4 miles round-trip and is a combination of compact direct and pavement. The dirt portions are not wheelchair or regular stroller friendly and have the occasional tree root growing across it. The elevation gain is about 160 feet.

The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center is about 300 yards from the parking lot on your way between the trail-head and the Cape Disappointment lighthouse.  The visitors center highlights the Lewis and Clark journey from Missouri to the mouth of the Columbia River when they arrived in 1805. During the winter and spring, visitors can look for migrating Grey whales from the center which sets about 200 feet above the water.  There are many family friendly activities, with interactive exhibits for children.

The entire trail is beautiful, hiking through old growth woods of ferns and tall spruce trees. There are many unique hollowed out trees and root systems to admire!

After the visitor’s center, the trail winds past Dead Man’s Cove and by the Coast Guard base. Dead Man’s Cove is the picture perfect cove but not accessible, as it was closed by the Coast Guard. Even though there are signs saying stay out,  I have never hiked passed this area without seeing rule breakers down on the beach.  Even in one of the pictures posted here, you can spot a kayak in the water. The trail eventually turns into a paved road going on to Cape Disappointment Lighthouse where it dead ends. This lighthouse is maintained by the Coast Guard and is active as they monitor the horizon. Please make sure that you leave them alone as they are working!


Cape Disappointment Lighthouse is the oldest working lighthouse on the west coast and was built in 1856. From the lighthouse, one can see the mouth of the Columbia River emptying into the Pacific Ocean, Astoria, Oregon, and the jetties.

A jetty is a breakwater constructed to protect the coastline and harbors. Here, there are 3 rubble mound jetties that span over 9.7 miles to mainly provide a safe transition between the Pacific Ocean and the Columbia River.  These jetties were built between 1885 and 1939 and most recently have been repaired in 2015.


We have always made this trip in July, and its been sunny and dry. However, during September to May, the trail can become slick and muddy. I would also caution against this hike during windy weather for potential threats of falling tree limbs and branches. There are several other trails along this area, including Westwind Trail, Coastal Forest Loop, and Discovery Trail. Once you are done exploring the area from the lighthouse you will follow the trail back the same way you came. This is definitely worth the visit!



Categories: Day Hikes, Family Friendly, State Parks, Washington

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