Last fall (2011) we took a trip to the Oregon Coast, and stayed in Astoria. It had been a long time since my husband and I had been there, and my son had never seen that part of coast. I figured we should get it in, since we did the rest of the coast earlier in the year, and it was still fresh in both our minds.
While we were staying in Astoria, we visited 3 sites that help up the Lewis & Clark National Historical Park. Fort Clatsop and Fort Stevens on the Oregon side, and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at Cape Disappointment in Washington.
We started with Cape Disappointment State Park, which is across the Astoria-Megler Bridge (the longest truss-bridge in America) in Washington. The area is rich with history and teaming with wildlife. There are 2 lighthouses at the park. The North Head Lighthouse, which is open to the public and Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, which is a nice walk from the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. We made the hike to the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, which gives amazing views of the mouth of the Columbia and the churning sea at the base of its cliff. Before we made the trek to the Lighthouse, we stopped had a wander at Battery Harvey Allen and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.
Battery Harvey Allen, along with the Batteries at Fort Stevens State Park and Fort Columbia, protected the mouth of the Columbia River from the start of the Civil War, all the way through WWII. Decommissioned in 1947, you can explore the battery and stand where the massive guns once were. It is interesting to note that Japanese subs launched a couple of attacks on the Oregon Coast, yet the guns at all of these batteries were never fired in anger, especially since the Japanese didn’t really do any damage in their attacks.
The Interpretive Center provides a great explanation of the Corps of Discovery’s journey across the US in search of the Pacific Ocean. They explain how they managed the trip successfully despite their many trials and who helped them on their way. They also show you where they set up camp along the way, and Cape Disappointment offers camping, but is a very popular location due the beauty of the area, so reservations on weekends and in the summer are recommended.
The Corp of Discovery spent some time in the area of Cape Disappointment, but eventually crossed the Columbia River and set up a winter camp at Fort Clatsop, on the Oregon side. Our son really enjoyed the hands-on activities that were sprinkled throughout the Interpretive Center, from loading a model dug-out canoe to “firing” a flintlock gun (it just clicks so no fear!). It gave him a taste of live back then, with a quick escape to modern day.
After visiting Cape Disappointment and several other attraction in Astoria that referred to the Columbia Bar as the “Graveyard of the Pacific”, we headed to Fort Stevens to see the remains of an actual shipwreck!
Fort Stevens State Park is home to one of the most photographed shipwrecks in the world, The Peter Iredale. After running aground in 1906, all efforts were exhausted to right the ship and get her back to sea. In the end, she was sold for scrap and what now remains is a portion of her iron hull and sections of her 4 masts. This shipwreck ultimately lead to the demise of the company who owned her.
The beach the shipwreck sits on is a really lovely stretch of sand, and has some smaller dunes Laddy enjoyed jumping off of and running up again. It was one of the wettest days we have spent on the beach in a long time, but other kids joined in the fun too, and that rain made sure the sand got really good and stuck! Other than shipwrecks and beach play, the park offers lots of hiking, camping, fishing and biking as well as The Fort Stevens Historic Area. Next time we go over with Dottie, we will camp here for sure. The park is beautiful, though I didn’t get a chance to look at the campground. It can be a very popular location, and weekends and summer time you will either need to be lucky or make reservations ahead of time. There are a few “first come” spots, but they go quick!
Very near Fort Stevens State Park is Fort Clatsop, which was the winter camp of Lewis and Clark a
nd the Corps of Discovery from December 1805 to March 1806. A replica of the original Fort has been built and gives you a glimpse at how they lived for that winter. Fort Clatsop was named for the Native Americans Lewis & Clark befriended in the area. There is an Interpretive Center that older kids were really enjoying, but it wasn’t holding our 5-year-old’s interest.
We picked up a Jr Ranger packet here and set to work on it, which was really fun. The packet focuses on one of Clark’s jobs—cataloging plants and wildlife. Once the child has completed the number of activities required (one activity per year of the child), they get to turn it in and be sworn in as a Junior Ranger! If you visit three locations in the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, your child will earn a second badge—the President’s Badge!
Fort Clatsop hosts different live Ranger programs in the peak seasons, where Rangers walk around in buckskins and show how flintlock guns were shot and candles were made, while answering visitors questions. Sadly, November was the off season, but we will be back to check it out again.
Fort Clatsop lies along the Fort to Sea Trail, which was originally blazed by the Corps of Discovery so they could hunt, gather, and trade with the neighboring Tillamook, Chinook, and Clatsop People. This trail is 6.5 miles, so for bigger kids it is manageable. The younger set will enjoy the half mile loop around the Fort. There is no camping in this park, but there are lots of options near by.
A few other things in the area that might be of interest to visit are: the Columbia River Maritime Museum, the Astoria Column, the Oregon Film Museum, the Goonies House, and something we want to try in the future – High Life Adventures Zipline tours!