Protecting the Pacific Northwest
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse
Illuminated in October of 1856, Cape Disappointment Lighthouse is the oldest operational lighthouse in the Pacific Northwest. Originally illuminated by whale oil burning lamps, the lighthouse changed to electric beacon in 1919.
The original lighthouse lens, a First Order Fresnel Lens, was removed in 1898 and transferred to North Head Lighthouse. A small, Fourth Order Fresnel Lens was then installed. This lens, still in service, has light characteristics that provide an alternating white and red flash that cycles every 30 seconds. In a clear atmosphere, the white light may be seen up to 22 nautical miles out at sea and the red flash may be seen up to 18 nautical miles. The light overlooks the entrance of the Columbia River at a height of 220 feet above seas level. The lighthouse structure itself stands at 53 feet in height.
The black and white horizontal stripping on the lighthouse distinguishes the light from North Head Lighthouse, 1½ miles to the northwest. The Cape Disappointment and North Head Lighthouses are the two closest operational lighthouses on the Pacific Coast.
North Head Lighthouse
North Head Lighthouse, completed in 1898, was constructed to mark the northern approach for the Columbia River. For ships steaming from the north, since McKenzie Head prevents Cape Disappointment Light from casting its light to the north due to the height of this headland.
Initially, a First Order Fresnel Lens, and whale oil lamps were installed at the lighthouse. Later the light was replaced by a set of electric beacons. The modern aero-marine beacons, feature 1000-watt lamps that are focused to be seen as a white “group flash” every 30 seconds, up to 22 nautical miles out at sea in a clear atmosphere night. North Head Lighthouse towers over the base of the Long Beach Peninsula, at a height of 194 feet above sea level. The lighthouse structure by itself stands 65 feet high.
The former Lighthouse Keeper’s Quarters accommodated three caretakers and their families. When full automation of the lighthouse occurred in the early 1960’s, custody of the quarters was passed to the park rangers from Fort Canby State Park, nearby.