Fort Columbia State Park (tel. 360/642-3078; www.parks.wa.gov), a former military base that guarded the mouth of the Columbia River from 1896 until the end of World War II, is 9 miles east of Ilwaco on Wash. 103 near the Astoria-Megler Bridge, which is a 4 1/2-mile-long span that connects Washington with Oregon. The views from the park's wooded bluff are breathtaking, and there are picnic tables from which you can soak up the views. The park also has 5 miles of hiking trails. Its 1903-vintage buildings have been restored and house an interpretive center with displays on the history of the fort. There are also exhibits on the local Chinook Indian tribe. From Memorial Day through September, an interpretive center is open daily from 10am to 5pm, and the old commanding officer's home is open daily from 11am to 4pm. A couple of vacation rental homes are here. For reservations, contact Washington State Parks (tel. 888/226-7688; www.parks.wa.gov/reserve.asp).
The Ilwaco Heritage Museum, 115 SE Lake St., Ilwaco (tel. 360/642-3446), has displays on the history of southwest Washington and an excellent collection of Native American baskets and other artifacts. A railroad exhibit has a model railroad of Long Beach's Clamshell Railroad, with an actual passenger car. The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10am to 4pm and Sunday from noon to 4pm. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, $2.50 for youths 12 to 17, $1 for children 6 to 11, and free for children 5 and under.
Anchoring the south end of the peninsula is forested Cape Disappointment State Park (tel. 360/642-3078; www.parks.wa.gov), at the mouth of the Columbia River. The park is a former military installation that once guarded the river mouth, and many bunkers and batteries are still visible. Also within the boundaries of the park are the North Head and Cape Disappointment lighthouses. The North Head Lighthouse is open for tours ($2.50 per adult; call for hours). This lighthouse is subject to some of the highest winds on the West Coast -- as high as 160 mph. The Cape Disappointment Lighthouse was built in 1856 and is the oldest lighthouse on the West Coast. The park is also home to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center (tel. 360/642-3078), which chronicles the 1805-06 journey of the two explorers; it's open daily from 10am to 5pm, and admission is $5 for adults and $2.50 for children 7 to 17. Cape Disappointment, here in the park, was the end of the westward trail for Lewis and Clark. The park has several picnic areas, hiking trails, a campground, and Waikiki Beach, the prettiest little beach between here and Moclips. This tiny cove backed by steep cliffs is named for several Hawaiian sailors who lost their lives nearby.
At Waikiki Beach, you'll find one of the park's two Confluence Project installations by celebrated artist Maya Lin. The installations were envisioned as part of the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The Cedar Circle, in a grove of trees near the beach, is a circle of four large pieces of driftwood that were found nearby. On the Columbia River side of Cape Disappointment, adjacent to the park's boat ramp, stands Lin's basalt fish-cleaning station, which is engraved with a Chinook origin legend. These installations are part of a larger project that will include installations at six other locations along Lewis and Clark's route. For more information, visit www.confluenceproject.org.
In the past 300 years, more than 2,000 vessels and 700 lives have been lost in the treacherous waters at the mouth of the Columbia River. Consequently, the U.S. Coast Guard has its National Motor Life Boat School here. Lifeboat drills can sometimes be observed from observation platforms on the North Jetty. This jetty, completed in 1917, was built to improve the channel across the Columbia Bar. A side effect of the 2-mile-long jetty was the creation of a much wider beach to the north. This widening of the beach accounts for the town of Long Beach's current distance from the waves.
If you're a kite flyer, or even if you're not, the World Kite Museum, 303 Sid Snyder Dr., Long Beach (tel. 360/642-4020; www.worldkitemuseum.com), has displays on kites of the world. May through September, it's open daily from 11am to 5pm; October through April, it's open Friday through Monday from 11am to 5pm; admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, and $3 for children.
Toward the north end of the peninsula, Oysterville, an old oystering community that is a National Historic District, is the quaintest village on the peninsula. Old homes with spacious lawns cling to the edge of the marsh, creating a timeless scene. Oysterville's heyday came during the California gold rush, when the village shipped tons of oysters to San Francisco, where people paid as much as $50 a plate for fresh oysters. Today, Oysterville is a sleepy little community of restored homes. The town's white clapboard church hosts occasional music performances. Oysterville Sea Farms (tel. 800/272-6237 or 360/665-6585; www.oysterville.net) has a seafood and cranberry-products shop on the waterfront at the north end of the village.
The peninsula is also a major producer of cranberries, and if you take a drive down almost any side road north of Long Beach, you'll pass acres of cranberry bogs. If you're curious about how cranberries are grown, the Pacific Coast Cranberry Research Foundation Museum, 2907 Pioneer Rd., Long Beach (tel. 360/642-5553; www.cranberrymuseum.com), is located on a demonstration cranberry farm, and it has exhibits on all stages of cranberry growing, both past and present. It's open from April to December 15, daily from 10am to 5pm. Admission is free.
Believe It or Not!
Children and other fans of the bizarre won't want to miss Marsh's Free Museum, 409 S. Pacific Ave., Long Beach (tel. 360/642-2188; www.marshsfreemuseum.com), a beachy gift shop filled with all manner of antique arcade games, oddities a la Ripley's Believe It or Not!, and, best of all, Jake the alligator man, who has been made famous by tabloids that rank this half-man, half-alligator creature right up there with aliens, Bigfoot, and the latest Elvis sighting.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.