Play and stay at Fort Columbia Historical State Park

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Visitors explore Battery Crenshaw and the gun at Battery 246 at Fort Columbia State Park.

                                                                                                                                                                                  March 7, 2018

Have you ever gone through your father’s or grandfather’s Army photos?

Can you picture the life of a soldier at an isolated military fort 100 years ago?

Now picture yourself in that life – training for battle, playing sports or music in your free time, daydreaming about the next weekend’s dance and the girls you might meet.

If your nostalgia has been piqued, Fort Columbia Historical State Park, atop a grassy knoll near the mouth of the Columbia River, could be your next destination.

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                                          The fort’s remains provide unique photo opportunities like this picture of Battery 246.

Military and maritime heritage

Let your inner explorer run wild through artillery batteries and around rapid-fire 6-inch guns from World War II.

Interpretive panels tell stories of the Chinook Nation, whose people conducted a rich fur trade with European mariners. You’ll learn of Robert Gray, the first explorer to enter the Columbia in 1792 and land at Chinook Point, which is now part of the park. The river is named for his ship, the Columbia Redviva, and Chinook Point is a National Historic Landmark.

Built between 1896 and 1903, the fort stayed active during World War I and II. But outside of training, guns were never fired from Fort Columbia. The soldiers almost saw action during World War II, when a Japanese submarine fired nine shots at nearby Fort Stevens.

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The trail up to Scarborough Hill begins on a wide, grassy path.

Hiking and birding

Whether or not you emerge from your visit a military and maritime history buff, you’ll be refreshed by Fort Columbia’s walking and wildlife.

Hikers – bust out your trekking poles: The park has 5 miles of trails through a forest of hemlock and alder. The trail to Scarborough Hill starts on a wide, grassy road and forms a lollipop loop with a steep ascent and kinder descent (or vice-versa).  

If birding’s your thing, bring a field guide and binoculars! Fort Columbia lies along the southwest loop of the Great Washington State Birding Trail. The Audubon Society says you may see various warblers, flycatchers, chickadees, pileated woodpeckers, bald eagles and red-tailed hawks in spring.

Head down to Chinook Point; at low tide, birders have spotted plovers and sandpipers, and purple martins often nest on the old river pilings. 

As the fall colors turn, Fort Columbia welcomes a different set of migratory birds — brown pelicans, scoters, wigeons, northern pintails and green-winged teal. 

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Panoramic view of the Non-Commissioned Officers’ quarters in the foreground and the Commissioned Officers’ quarters in the background.

Stay the night (and have the place to yourselves)

Ever dreamed of having a military fort to yourself overnight? Or did you even know that was possible?

Fort Columbia offers two lovely homes for rent.

The Steward’s House sleeps four. It sits on the fort’s highest point and offers river views from its porch. Inside, hardwood floors, potbellied stove and tin pressed ceilings meet modern appliances and a TV/DVD player.

The larger 1902 Scarborough House sleeps 12 people. Couch up and chill in the comfortable living room, or catch a few rays on the generous porch; then have a group cook-a-thon in the large modern kitchen. The houses can be rented together.

The best part: Fort Columbia is a day-use park, so vacation home guests will have the park to themselves after dusk.

A tourism-rich destination

Fort Columbia may feel secluded, but the tourism-rich destinations of Cape Disappointment and Astoria, Oregon are 20 minutes away. Check out Cape Disappointment State Park, at the mouth of the Columbia. The park offers days of discovery—from scenic beaches and iconic viewpoints to wooded hikes, lighthouse tours and an interpretive center detailing the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Hungry? Serious Pizza, a seasonal restaurant in downtown Ilwaco, also has a summer stand at Cape D. This local company is said to make some of the best pizza in southwestern Washington. Watching your carbs? Astoria in neighboring Oregon is known for its scrumptious seafood, along with shopping opportunities and historic attractions.

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Fort Columbia State Park

Park information: Call (360) 777-8221 or visit Fort Columbia State Park

Location: Chinook (Driving directions)

Summer hours: 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Winter hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Discover Pass: The Discover Pass must be displayed on your vehicle when visiting the park for day use.  Complimentary passes are issued to registered guests staying in the vacation homes.

Stay the night: You can reserve the homes online or by calling 888-226-7688.  

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