Written by | Derek Carlson

4 Stunning Lighthouses to Visit Near Astoria

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The north coast of Oregon is one of our favorite parts of the state with long sandy beaches, stunning sea stacks, and, of course, the mouth of the Columbia River which has been drawing ships to the region for centuries.

This ship traffic means there was historically a need for low-tech navigational aids to help them find their way up the coast and into the mouth of the river. Enter the lighthouses!

Lighthouses were built up and down the coast to warn ships of rocks, and impending coastlines, and as a guide to finding the entrances to protected waters.

If you find yourself in Astoria, Oregon then you’re within a 90-minute drive of up to 4 different lighthouses! And all of them have their own unique stories and histories.

Lighthouses Near Astoria

North Head Lighthouse

North Head Lighthouse near Astoria in Cape Disappointment State Park

The North Head Lighthouse is located across the Columbia River in Washington’s Cape Disappointment State Park and is actually the younger of the two lighthouses within the park. This lighthouse, which has been in service since 1898, is still in operation although there are no longer lighthouse keepers who light the beacon each night.

One of the really unique features of this lighthouse is the keeper’s residence houses. Back when this location was still extremely remote there were multiple families who lived here full-time to rotate lighthouse maintenance and watch duties.

Their residences still stand and can be rented out through the Washington State Park system! While you’re not quite staying in a lighthouse this is still a pretty cool option!

The combination of the residences and lighthouse makes for a beautiful set of grounds to wander around and enjoy the sights. The views from the lighthouse up and down the coast are stunning. Although the lighthouse itself is the star of the show, as usual.

North Head Lighthouse in Washington's Cape Disappointment State Park

North Head Lighthouse Facts

  • Year Built: 1898
  • Height: 65 Feet
  • In Service: Yes
  • Tours Available: Yes – 11 am to 3 pm daily during the summer
  • Pass Required: Yes – Discover Pass for parking

Getting to the North Head Lighthouse

The North Head Lighthouse is located in Cape Disappointment State Park which is approximately 25 minutes from Astoria. One bonus of visiting this side of the river is it gives you an excuse to drive over the Astoria Bridge!

There is a decent-sized parking lot (NO RVs!) and from there, it is a short walk past the keeper’s residences and down to the lighthouse. The trail actually makes a loop from the lighthouse so if you keep to the left when leaving the parking lot you can continue around the loop coming back which takes you through the residence grounds and by the gift shop.

Other Things to Do Near North Head Lighthouse

With the lighthouse being located in the middle of Cape Disappointment State Park there is no shortage of things to do along with your visit.

The park itself contains 8 miles of trails that take you through the forested bluffs and down along the beach. There are also some incredible camping options, beachcombing, WWII installations to explore, and even another lighthouse (keep scrolling for the details on that one!)

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse near Astoria

Next up on the list of lighthouses to visit near Astoria is the older sibling of the North Head Lighthouse, the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. Lit in 1856 (it was built a few years earlier but there were some delays with the lens), this is the oldest lighthouse in the Pacific Northwest!

The lighthouse was built to serve as a beacon for ships entering the Columbia River but they quickly realized that the light could not be seen by ships coming from the north. Hence why the North Head Lighthouse was built nearby as well.

This lighthouse is, unfortunately, no longer open to the public although the grounds around the lighthouse are still open for exploration.

There is a coast guard watch station directly next to the lighthouse which is used to watch conditions on the Columbia River bar and aid ships entering and exiting the river.

This was probably our favorite of the 4 lighthouses to visit as the approach trail was fun walking through the forest and passing a hidden beach (more on that below) and the grounds around the lighthouse were less crowded due to the longer hike in.

This allowed the kids to run around while we took in the views up across the Columbia River bar to the south and the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center to the north.

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse Facts

  • Year Built: 1856
  • Height: 53 Feet
  • In Service: Yes
  • Tours Available: No
  • Pass Required: Yes – Discover Pass for parking

Getting to the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse

Also located in Cape Disappointment State Park, the Cape Disappointment is just a few minutes down the road from the North Head Lighthouse. Although this lighthouse requires a hike in of approximately .5 miles with some uphill to boot.

We really enjoyed hiking through the forest and munching on salmonberries and blackberries along the trail. Along the way, you’ll also pass the spur trail that takes you down to Dead Man’s Cove which is an incredible spot to check out.

Keep in mind that you’ll pass by an active Coast Guard station along the trail so obey any and all keep-out signs as they don’t take too kindly to folks wandering around their grounds.

Other Things to Do Near Cape Disappointment Lighthouse

As mentioned earlier the lighthouse is located within Cape Disappointment State Park so there are tons of activities to fill up the day. At this lighthouse though we’d recommend two specific stops.

The first is Dead Man’s Cove which is along the trail to the lighthouse. This narrow cove features a soft sand beach LOADED with driftwood for sitting, fort building, etc. There is also a small island in the middle of the cove that is accessible during low tide (or even high tide if you’re willing to get a little wet.)

Dead Man's Cove in Cape Disappointment State Park

We loved sitting on the driftwood logs while the kids made friends with another family who was spending the afternoon here. As the afternoon sun passes by the waters turn an incredible turquoise color that reminded me of a tropical beach and not the cold waters of the PNW!

Also near the lighthouse is the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center. We didn’t make it there on this trip as we spent WAY too much time at Deadman’s Cove and the kids were getting hungry but we had heard great things about it and hope to visit on the next trip through this amazing area.

Tillamook Lighthouse

Located off the coast of Tillamook Head near Cannon Beach, the Tillamook Lighthouse is the least accessible (and by least accessible we mean completely inaccessible) of the 4 lighthouses near Astoria.

This is because: 1) it is located on a rock in the middle of the ocean over a mile from the coastline with no safe landing spot for a boat and 2) the lighthouse is private property and accessing it is considered a federal crime.

Fun facts!

The Tillamook Lighthouse (also known as Terrible Tilly due to its awful conditions for the people who built it and lived at it) was an ill-fated endeavor that was quickly scuttled. The logistics of getting lighthouse keepers to and from the lighthouse in treacherous waters and the reality of living on a small rock that is constantly pounded by the weather and waves of the Pacific Ocean made keeping this lighthouse operation a no-go.

Over the years numerous owners have bought and sold the lighthouse. All have had some grand plans of how to turn it into a one-of-a-kind vacation home but the realities of dealing with the ocean all won out in the end.

In fact, the lighthouse is available for sale now for the low low price of $6.5 million!

Tillamook Lighthouse Facts

  • Year Built: 1881
  • Height: 133 Feet
  • In Service: No
  • Tours Available: No – Unless you’re a sea lion
  • Pass Required: N/A

Getting to the Tillamook Lighthouse

Even if you had permission to visit the lighthouse, the only way on and off the rock is by helicopter as there is nowhere to safely land a boat. That is, so long as there are no sea lions resting on the helicopter pad!

The best way for everyone else to see the lighthouse is to hike up to the viewpoints from the Indian Beach day-use area in Ecola State Park. Note that this park gets very busy during summer weekends so parking can be a challenge at times.

The trail is a short .6-mile loop from the parking lot that will give you a decent view of the lighthouse.

Tip: The lighthouse is over a mile away from the viewpoint so bring a long telephoto lens or maybe just remember the scene rather than try to capture a fuzzy image on your phone.

The day we went there was a low-lying fog out over the water so the lighthouse was completely obscured. (sad trombone noise)

Other Things to Do Near the Tillamook Lighthouse

You can easily make a full day around visiting (or at least looking from a distance at) the Tillamook Lighthouse.

The beaches at Ecola State Park are incredible and you’re just up the road from Cannon Beach and the iconic haystack rock. Our time in the area corresponded with the visit to haystack by a cougar so that was fun!

You could also head down the coast a few more miles and visit the ever-so-popular Hug Point where you can explore the beaches, caves, and even a waterfall!

Cape Meares Lighthouse

The Cape Meares Lighthouse is the southernmost lighthouse on our list. It is also the shortest although its placement on the high bluff still gives it plenty of prominence as mariners could see the flashes from up to 21 miles away.

Cape Meares Lighthouse through the trees

Despite this lighthouse being the furthest away from Astoria we loved visiting as there is so much to do in the area. The lighthouse also has a gift shop at the base so you can walk inside and take a look around even if you can’t grab a tour spot to go up to the top of the tower.

We arrived a little after lunchtime on a Tuesday in July and the tours were booked up for the next 2 hours so you will need to plan a little in advance if you want to grab a tour spot.

We honestly felt they weren’t worth the wait as it is such a short walk to the top of the lighthouse we didn’t think we’d be seeing much more than we could already see from downstairs.

Cape Meares Lighthouse Facts

  • Year Built: 1890
  • Height: 38 Feet (shortest in Oregon!)
  • In Service: No
  • Tours Available: Yes
  • Pass Required: No

Getting to the Cape Meares Lighthouse

Driving to the Cape Meares Lighthouse involves getting off Highway 101 for a bit to make your way around Netarts and Oceanside and onto the park. Once you’re there it is a short walk from the parking lot to the lighthouse.

Like North Head Lighthouse the trail makes a loop so make sure to take the full loop to get the best views of the coast.

Other Things to Do Near the Cape Meares Lighthouse

Cape Meares state park has a number of attractions that are all very close to the Lighthouse. These include the Octopus tree (pictured below), the largest Sitka Spruce in Oregon, and the aptly named Tunnel Beach when you walk through a tunnel under the bluff to access a private beach that has some great rock hounding.

You can also stop in the picturesque Oceanside to enjoy their very nice beaches. There are some great pools on this beach that fill up with calm, warm water for the kids to play in.

The Octopus Tree near Cape Meares, Oregon
My attempt at photographing the octopus tree using the pano mode on my phone…not great!

Bonus: Lightship Columbia

Our last bonus option is located in downtown Astoria at the Columbia River Maritime Museum and that is the Lightship Columbia.

For almost three decades, from 1951 – 1979, the Columbia served as a floating lighthouse at the mouth of the Columbia River. During these years the ship would stay stationary out at sea for 2 to 4 weeks at a time and serve as a navigational aid for ships entering and exiting the river bar.

Now you can tour the ship and see how the sailors lived and worked as part of your admission to the Columbia River Maritime Museum. It’s well worth it if you ask me! Mainly because it gave us an opportunity to show our kids what a TV from the 70s/80s looked like!

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