Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, five military forts guarded the Pacific Northwest against naval invasions. Four of the sites: Fort Worden, Fort Flagler, Fort Casey, and Fort Columbia are in Washington State, and the fifth, Fort Stevens, is located in Oregon State. Three defended the Puget Sound, and two defended the Columbia River.
The term “Triangle of Fire Forts” describes Fort Worden, Fort Flagler, and Fort Casey. The massive guns from these forts could supposedly protect the Puget Sound, Seattle, Tacoma, Everest, and Bremerton from any invasion by sea.
Visit the only U.S. fort to be attacked by the Japanese during WWII, learn about historic military buildings, bunkers, artillery hills, museums, and Victorian mansions along Officer’s Row. Enjoy the Pacific Northwest’s beauty and fantastic views of Puget Sound, the Columbia River, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the Pacific Ocean. Here are 31 fascinating experiences to explore at these five historic forts.
Things To See, Do, And Experience At Fort Worden
Fort Worden is located at the northern tip of Port Townsend, Washington, at the Puget Sound entrance on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The 434-acre site, constructed between 1898 and 1917, was home to 1,000 troops and is the largest of the five historic forts. Movie buffs will recognize Fort Worden as the filming location for the movie An Officer and A Gentleman. Check this link for a printable Fort Worden park brochure.
Here are eight activities to enjoy at Fort Worden.
1. Stroll Officer’s Row
Admire the Victorian architecture along Officer’s Row. Stop at the 5,000-square-foot Commanding Officer’s Quarters for a guided tour of the 1904 Edwardian-style house. The restored home has Victorian and Edwardian period furnishings and gives a glimpse of a U.S. Army Colonel and his family’s life. It is best to reserve your tour in advance.
2. Explore The Batteries and Bunkers
The 12 batteries had 41 mounted seacoast guns. Artillery Hill is the 250-foot-high hill in the middle of the fort. A steep path with some stairs takes one to the eight large gun batteries on the top. Pause at the bench to enjoy views of the lighthouse below.
3. Visit The Artillery Museum
The Artillery Museum has exhibits of uniforms, guns, historic photographs, and video presentations. The three-dimensional scale model of Battery Kenzie illustrates the design and operation of the fort and the two 12-inch disappearing guns kept in readiness against attack.
4. Hike On Paths Or Shoreline
Hike up Artillery Hill for stunning views of the ocean below. Learn about the railway constructed to transport equipment to the hilltop. There are also two miles of shoreline to hike.
Pro Tip: The path is very steep with stairs.
5. Enjoy The Rhododendron Garden
Stroll through the 1,100 rhododendrons to enjoy the iconic flower of the Pacific Northwest.
6. Visit Point Wilson Lighthouse
The Point Wilson Lighthouse dates back to 1914; however, a lighthouse has stood here since 1879. The restored Coast Guard dwelling next to the lighthouse is available as a vacation rental.
7. Sleep On Site
Fort Worden offers both camping and vacation rentals. Reserve campsites and beach shelters through this link. Vacation rentals in one of the historical buildings may be reserved here.
8. Dine At The Guard House Pub Or Enjoy A Picnic
Offering lunch and dinner, the Guard House Pub offers small plates and a range of local craft beers, wines, and spirits. Outdoor seating is available.
There are also picnic and day-use areas around the park.
Pro Tip: All the Washington forts require the Washington Discover Pass. Available are day passes for $11.50 or an annual pass for $35. Plan to spend the entire day at Fort Worden; there is so much to see and do!
Things To See, Do, And Experience At Fort Flagler
The second historic fort is Fort Flagler, located at the northern tip of Marrowstone Island, approximately 18 miles from Port Townsend. To reach Marrowstone Island, one passes through the military island called Indian Island.
In the late 1890s, Fort Flagler was constructed to guard the entry to Puget Sound. The complex features many original military buildings used during WWI, WWII, and the Korean War. Here is a link to a printable park brochure. Six activities to enjoy at Fort Flagler include the following:
9. Tour The Historic Gun Emplacement
Two-hour guided walking tours of the historic gun emplacements and other historic buildings are available from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Off-season, wander on your own.
10. Tour The Historic 1905 Military Hospital
Guided tours are also available during summer.
11. Take A Hike Or Stroll
Enjoy a hike or stroll over two miles of beach trails and four miles of wooded trails.
12. Visit The Military Museum
Learn about local history through the displays. A small gift shop offers unique gifts.
13. Enjoy Beach Activities
Activities along the beach include crabbing, clam digging, kite flying, saltwater fishing, and boat launching. There are picnic facilities for day use, including reservable kitchen shelters.
Pro Tip: Check Washington State regulations for crabbing and clam digging. Also, anyone over the age of 15 needs a fishing and shellfish license. Check this link for information.
14. Sleep On Site
Fort Flagler has various accommodations from group camps, beachfront tents, and RV sites to historic officers’ homes available as vacation rentals. There is a concession stand at the lower beach during summer, which sells firewood, ice, espresso, snacks, and grilled food.
Things To See, Do, And Experience At Fort Casey
The third fort of the “Triangle of Fire Forts,” Fort Casey is located on Whidbey Island, where the Puget Sound meets the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Whidbey Island is a short ferry ride from Port Townsend, Tacoma, or Seattle.
Also constructed during the late 1800s, Fort Casey was occupied during WWI and WWII. Here are six activities to enjoy at Fort Casey:
15. Explore The Bunkers And Batteries
Guided tours are offered from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Other times, you may explore on your own. The fort displays a pair of rare 10-inch disappearing guns and two 3-inch mounted guns.
16. Visit The 1903 Red Bluff Lighthouse And Museum
The Interpretive center with exhibits tells Fort Casey’s history, including information on local Native American tribes, construction of the lighthouse, and the Fresnel lens. Tours may be arranged by calling (360) 678-1186.
17. Hike Or Stroll The Trails
Enjoy the 1.8-mile Admiralty Head Marine Preserve Trail, part of the Pacific Northwest Trail. Bring your binoculars for exciting bird watching.
18. Enjoy A Picnic
There are numerous picnic tables available. All are first-come, first-served. Firewood and ice are sold in the campground. Snacks, water, and souvenirs are sold in the park office.
19. Enjoy Water Activities
Take time to enjoy water activities such as fishing, boating, and diving.
20. Sleep On Site
Fort Casey offers camping sites for RV use. Note that there are no vacation rentals here.
Pro Tip: Fort Casey is on the flight path of the naval station on Whidbey Island. It might be noisy at times.
Things To See, Do, And Experience At Fort Columbia
Fort Columbia State Park, located at Chinook Point near Ilwaco, Washington, is “considered one of the most intact historical defense sites in the U.S.” Constructed between 1896 and 1903 as one of the Columbia River’s harbor defenses, the 593-acre site sits along 6,400 feet of the Mighty Columbia River located within the Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Park. The fort was renovated during WWII and decommissioned in 1947. Chinook Point, the setting of the fort within the vicinity of the Chinook Indian Nation, is declared a National Historic Landmark in honor of its historical importance over three centuries. There are 12 historic buildings and four coastal defense batteries.
Click this link for a printable park brochure, and consider these five activities to enjoy at Fort Columbia:
21. Begin Your Visit At The Interpretive Center
Explore the exhibits, photos, and artifacts about Fort Columbia’s history, including exploration, fur trade, Chinook Indian Nation, and the military installation.
22. Stroll Officer’s Row
Tour the Commanding Officer’s Historic House with its period furnishings and history of former occupants.
23. Study The Interpretive Panels Near The Gun Batteries
The exhibit includes blueprints and historical photos.
24. Savor A Picnic And Enjoy Watching Cargo Ships On The Columbia River
The Columbia River is an essential marine highway in the Pacific Northwest.
25. Sleep On Site
Two of the restored buildings, Steward’s House and Scarborough House, are available for vacation rental. The former accommodates up to four guests, and the latter accommodates up to 12. Here is a link to reserve online.
Things To See, Do, And Experience At Fort Stevens
Fort Stevens is Oregon’s only historic fort, in operation for 84 years, from the Civil War to the end of WWII. Located near Astoria, Oregon, where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean on the Oregon coast, the 4,300-acre park is a gem to discover. From the distinction of being the only military site to be attacked during WWII to historic buildings, batteries, bunkers, historic shipwrecks, and incredible wildlife viewing, there are many activities to explore. Plan to spend an entire day at Fort Stevens. Here is a link to a downloadable brochure.
Pro Tip: Day-use park fees are in effect at Fort Stevens. Purchase either a $ 5 day pass or a $30 annual Oregon pass through this link. Here are six activities to enjoy at Fort Stevens:
26. Begin At The Visitor Center
Plan your first stop at the visitor center, the former war games building where troops practiced their skills in mock battles.
27. Explore The Batteries And Bunkers
The batteries at Fort Steven’s date back to 1896. Learn the history of the fort’s unique guns, including the All Around Fire (A.R.F.) guns. The only other area in the U.S. where these guns were employed was on the Texas coast.
In the summertime, enjoy a guided tour in a 1952 military truck. Also available in the summer season is an underground tour of Battery Mishler.
28. Explore The Graveyard Of The Pacific
The bar at the Columbia River’s mouth is known as “the graveyard of the Pacific” because of its treacherous waters. More than 2,000 vessels and 700 lives have been lost here. Get up close to Peter Iredale‘s wreck, the four-masted steel ship that ran aground in 1906. The U.S. Coast Guard still guides ships through this dangerous bar.
Pro Tip: Dress warmly. This is a very windy area. Watch for sneaker waves and practice marine safety — never have your back towards the ocean.
29. Enjoy Birding And Other Wildlife
Fort Steven’s is located on the Pacific Migratory Flyway, so it is an exciting area for birders. Watch along the road also for the resident elk herds.
Pro Tip: Stay safe around wildlife — do not get out of your vehicle.
30. Sleep On Site
Boasting one of the largest public campgrounds in the U.S., there are many options for tenting or RVing here. You can reserve a camping spot through this link.
31. Visit The Pacific Rim Peace Memorial And Roadside Monument
A roadside monument marks the location where the Japanese submarine bombs landed during WWII. Pause also at the Pacific Rim Peace Memorial dedicated to American and Japanese soldiers.
A visit to the five historic military forts in the Pacific Northwest opens the door to understanding the early challenges of guarding the West Coast. Other experiences such as beachcombing, fishing, crabbing, enjoying nature, exploring lighthouses, and marveling at the views of mountains, oceans, and rivers will delight you over and over. Plan a visit soon. You will be glad that you did! For additional area Pacific Northwest inspiration, consider: