A prominent cape on the north side of the river’s mouth helps mark the entrance to the river. Named “Kah’eese” by the local Indians, and then Cape San Rogue by Bruno de Heceta in 1775, the cape received its current name from Captain John Meares. After vainly trying to seek shelter from a turbulent sea on July 6, 1788, Meares wrote, “Disappointment continued to accompany us…we can safely exert that no river San Rogue exists.” Out of frustration, Meares christened the cape, “Cape Disappointment.” Robert Gray applied the name Cape Hancock to the cape in 1792, but later changed the name to Disappointment, when he learned Meares had so named it earlier.
North Head Lighthouse was built to provide an aide to navigation for ships approaching from the north. Those ships could not see Cape Disappointment lighthouse, two miles to the south, in time to safely enter the Columbia River channel.