If you’re in a hurry or paying more attention to the tunnel coming up on the highway, it’s easy to breeze right by the fort. I’m a little embarrassed to admit we’ve done it many times. Until we had time to take it slow and easy one weekend and finally took the opportunity to stop.
I had heard very little about this fort, everything in the area seems to be focused on Fort Canby, so I guess I assumed there wasn’t much at Fort Columbia. I was dead wrong. Not only are there gun emplacement facilities, but there is also the beautifully renovated homes that were built to house the soldiers, their families and supporting businesses. It was truly a small community, just like any other town.
The 593-acre site is located on Chinook Point in southwest Washington, situated overlooking the mouth of the Columbia River. Building began in 1896 and was completed in 1898. Confusingly, various websites as well as signage at the park itself seem to contradict each other as some say it was active in 1896, some in 1989 and some in 1899. Whichever it was, it was an active military site until 1947. It was turned over to the State of Washington in the 1950’s and is now a day-use park but some of the facilities can be rented as vacation houses. There is also a museum and visitor’s center.
There are several informational signs around the property explaining the various buildings, ruins and gun sites. Some of the signs have tags, the little squares that you can access with your smartphone, and it brings up tons more information on your smartphone, including an audio tour.
Kids love spending the day running around the batteries, in and out of the tunnels, using flashlights, making echoes, and pretending to be soldiers from WWI and WWII. The colonial architecture of the housing draws the person with a love of both history and home design. And everyone is drawn to the sensational view from high up on the hill, stretching out over the entrance to the Columbia River, down to Astoria and beyond.
So if you’re on a day or weekend trip to the Long Beach peninsula, do something a little different from the usual shopping and go-karting in town and head down to Fort Columbia. You won’t be disappointed.
More great pictures of the buildings can be found here: http://www.cdsg.org/HDCRdata/columbgarr1.htm
If you’re into the details of the plans for the site here is a site with fascinating specs: http://www.cdsg.org/HDCRdata/FtColumbia/ColumbiaRCW.pdf
Getting there: From Long Beach, you can either head south on Hwy. 103 to Ilwaco. In town, turn left at the light and follow the signs for Hwy. 101 Alt. east (towards Astoria). Go about 8 miles until you see the sign for the park on the left. Or from Long Beach you can head back east on Hwy 101 then about 2.4 miles turn right onto Alt. Hwy 101 (towards Astoria).