Seaside Stories

Keeping Watch on Our Waters

July 7, 2013 | by Jon Rahl

The question is actually quite common. “How can I get to the Tillamook Lighthouse?” We hear it on a fairly regular basis by folks popping into the Seaside Visitors Bureau seeking information on the nine lighthouses that populate the Oregon Coastline.

While we wish it were possible to take a tour of “Terrible Tilly,” the lighthouse nearest to Seaside, she’s located more than a mile offshore from the banks of Tillamook Head and over five miles from most locations along the expansive Seaside beach. Tilly’s lore simply lives on by spying her from the shores of Seaside and Cannon Beach and listening to or reading the tales of those that know her so well.

For those hoping to step foot in a lighthouse near Seaside though, there are actually other options beyond traveling south along the Oregon Coast. Just a little over an hour from downtown Seaside, and beyond the popular Astoria-Megler Bridge over the Columbia River, sit two historic lighthouses along the southern edge of the Long Beach Peninsula in the state of Washington.

North Head and Cape Disappointment Lighthouses keep a watchful eye on the Pacific Ocean and the Columbia River, respectively, and both are situated perfectly inside Cape Disappointment State Park. Cape Disappointment is the older of the two 50-foot-plus beacons, first lighting up the entrance to the Columbia River in October of 1856. Cape D’s neighbor to the Northwest, known simply as North Head, has stood guard since May of 1898 – built to protect the precious ships traveling towards the mouth of the Columbia from the north.

On a typical July day, with the North Oregon Coast a patchwork of sun and clouds, I headed north with my family to Astoria and over the bridge to Washington to check out these over 100-year-old structures. A Washington State Park Discover Pass is needed (they are $10 for a day or $30 for an annual pass), but purchasing one gets you access to both relics.

We arrived at North Head first where the lighthouse is a quarter of a mile from the parking lot and the former lighthouse keeper’s residences. It’s an easy walk with both a gravel and paved path available. We took one path out and the other back in. The structure is beautiful and offers tremendous views in all directions. It also offers visitors the opportunity to climb to the top. It’s free for ages seven to 17, and adults 18 and older cost just $2.50 each. You must be seven to climb the tower. Please note: The lighthouse is currently closed for renovations and will reopen again sometime in 2017.

Cape Disappointment is a bit more difficult to get to but worth the half-mile walk in both directions for those that can do it. Her 40 additional years of rain and wind have taken their toll but both lighthouses take your mind back to a simpler time. It’s easy to imagine the lighthouse keepers trudging up and down the steps to keep mariners safe. Fortunately for us, the two lighthouses legacies live on where, thanks to the Washington State Parks, we can enjoy their beauty and history – all within a day’s drive of Seaside!

Editor’s note: Additional information can be found on the Cape Disappointment State Park website. You can purchase a Washington State Discover Pass on site or via the Discover Pass website.

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