Who needs to hop on a flight and wing their way across the Pacific for some primo beach adventures when you can do the same thing closer to home? Like walking on Waikiki Beach and hiking a coastal forest loop in January. On the Washington coast.
Nestled in a cove fronting the Columbia River on Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula, the “other” Waikiki Beach is part of Cape Disappointment State Park. It’s located just below the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. From the beach you can grab commanding views of the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse and excellent storm-watching during winter.
Ringed by craggy cliffs and giant boulders, this tiny slice of beach is also rich in local history. Waikiki Beach received its name when a Hawaiian sailor’s body washed ashore here after his ship was wrecked in a failed attempt to cross the Columbia River bar in 1811.
From the beach you can also see the historic Cape Disappointment Lighthouse perched atop shaggy cliffs overlooking the Pacific. (Tip: Parking at the center and for the lighthouse is extremely limited. Arrive early or plan to walk a ways.)
Before scrambling around the boulders or driftwood hugging Waikiki Beach, our recent visit included a hike along the Coastal Forest Loop Trail. The trailhead is just across the road from the Cape Disappointment State Park campground. We were the only ones in the lot on a Saturday morning. We were also the only ones on the trail.
Dress For The Weather
Dark storm clouds purpled the sky as we started out. We laced into our waterproof hiking boots and donned rain gear, just in case.
We ran into a light rain as we traversed the first half mile of this gentle loop trail. It’s uphill, but the grade is mild. We zipped up our hooded jackets and continued. The rain stopped a few minutes later.
Coastal Forest Loop
This easy, 1.5-mile loop trail includes soaring Sitka spruce trees as well as the occasional western hemlock and alder. You’ll also encounter dense thickets of salal, ferns, moss and a forest dripping with every imaginable shade of green. It’s quiet, peaceful and uncrowded.
You can take a spur trail out to impressive views of Pacific County’s Sand Island, Baker Bay, and the harbor of Ilwaco. The spur trail is soggy and crisscrossed with heavy tanglefoot and tree roots, so watch your step.
The Coastal Forest Loop is a nice leg-stretcher of a trail. We had plenty of daylight to burn after completing the loop, so we crossed the street and drove over to the park. An anemic sun danced off breakers at the beach. Cantering off the water, the winter has a bite in winter, but the rain stopped. The sun played hide and seek through jet-puffed clouds, so we ambled over to Waikiki Beach.
The beach itself is Lilliputian. But there’s plenty of driftwood, tidal pools and craggy cliffs to explore as you watch the cross-currents collide. Late in the afternoon, the view out to sea is mesmerizing, with froth-flecked waves crashing onto the beach and fleecy thunderheads scudding across the horizon.
North Head Lighthouse
The lighthouse is a short distance away. Perched above the ocean on a steep bluff, the North Head Lighthouse offers dramatic ocean views on a clear day. A wide 0.3-mile trail takes you to the lighthouse from the parking area. It’s a great way to close out a winter walk at Waikiki, Washington-style.
- Winter park hours: 6:30 a.m. to dusk.
- Dogs on leash.
- $10 day use or Discover Pass
- Cape Disappointment State Park is located at 244 Robert Gray Dr SW, Ilwaco, WA
Please be sure to check availability and accessibility of sites prior to your visit.