Fort Columbia is probably the closest thing to a modern American castle ruin as it gets.

In 1896 — just seven years after Washington became a state — the US government began constructing a fort on a rain-battered cliff overlooking the spot where the Columbia River drains into the Pacific Ocean. The construction lasted several years (accounts vary on when it finished, but the state website lists 1903), and the final product was Fort Columbia.


The Fort was designed to protect the mouth of the river, and was begun at a time when the West had only recently been “tamed.” To put this into context, Seattle was home to only about 80,000 people in 1900 (though it was growing very quickly), and Portland was home to 90,000.


The Fort remained in operation until 1947 and was handed over to Washington state in 1950. Today, it’s part of a state park and the fort itself is still largely intact. It includes a series of bunker-like rooms and trenches dug into the side of the cliff, as well as living quarters for a small village worth of soldiers and supporter personnel.

There are also several massive (inoperable) guns on the grass above the fort’s trenches. And because it’s the Washington coast, almost everything is dewy and green and covered in moss.


There are a handful of castle-like forts in the Americas dating back as far as the 1500s. But Fort Columbia stands out; comparatively, it’s from modern times; it’s free to visit and you can climb all over; and it’s maintained in a state of suspended decay. Together, those things give it the air of an old castle and visiting was as close to exploring an old European ruin as anything I’ve done in the US.

If you go:

Fort Columbia State Park is open from 6:30 am to 9 pm daily in the summer, with somewhat shorter hours in the winter. Admission is free. For more information, visit the park’s website.

Related reading:

This Oregon shipwreck is like a ghost from the past

Wahekeena Falls: The one Oregon waterfall everyone should see

— Jim Dalrymple II



Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.

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