For years, WTA has been coming to Cape Disappointment to work on trails in this area, including this trail, which leads hikers from the iconic North Head lighthouse down to the road that accesses the camping area and beaches at the south end of the park.
Depart from the large North Head Lighthouse parking area, where bathrooms with flush toilets are available. The trail is wide and graveled, taking off downhill and marked by a trail sign. Pass first through a small meadow before turning west and entering trees on a bluff overlooking the Pacific.
Though the sound of the ocean is ever present, big views of the water are difficult to get through the close-growing trees. Focus instead on the trees. These mighty giants wear moss like clothes, while younger trees – mostly shade-loving hemlocks, are growing healthily, keeping the forest cycle going.
The trail changes character within a third of a mile of the trailhead. Becoming more rooty and rugged, it dives into the coastal forest. Head-high salal provides a hedge that lines the trail, while Sitka spruces and hemlocks soar overhead. Cross a creek via a sturdily-built set of stairs and bridge, courtesy of WTA trail crews, then say goodbye to the good infrastructure.
The trail becomes muddier and narrower, all the while traversing in small descents and climbs along the bluff. Tempting as it may be to skirt the puddles and muddy spots, please stay on the trail. Walking on the side of the trail only damages the flora, and it’s still muddy, so you won’t save your shoes.
Finally, the trail turns inland and quite suddenly begins a steep descent, even muddier, if possible, than earlier sections. At the base of a set of stairs, you’ve reached the bottom of the hill, but there’s a short section through a coastal meadow before arriving at the road.
Your feet will stay dry from now on. From here, you can turn right and follow the paved road to the campsites and beach access, or make a left and head back out along the road to the ranger station and Waikiki Beach area. It’s an additional three-quarters of a mile to the campsite, and about half a mile to the ranger station.
WTA Pro Tip: If you want to continue hiking, head for McKenzie Head across the road. This easily-attained high point offers a nice view of the ocean, a little history lesson (hint: the landscape here has changed a lot since Lewis and Clark visited) and even an historic gun battery – all within a quarter mile.