On the “Job” At North Head Lighthouse – Cape Disappointment, WA

Paul poses at our new "office"
Paul poses at our new “office”

We’re back at “work” (and I use that term veeeery loosely) which means it’s time to update you all about what exactly we’re doing.

Those who follow the blog know that we like to volunteer in the summer months. In fact I’ve written extensively about volunteering & previous jobs in our volunteer section HERE. The volunteer jobs are something we truly enjoy. They allow us to “settle down” during the kid-crazy summer months in great weather at spots we love while giving something back to history and the community. We are partial to the NW coast and we are lighthouse nuts so combining those two is like a match made in heaven. We don’t do this for the money (no pay involved), but we *do* get some benefit in the form of a free full-hookup campsite for the month. Plus I can’t deny that our overall expenses reduce during our hosting months -> we travel less (less gas $$), shop locally (less grocery $$) and pay zero camping fees. You won’t be able to clear a living with what we do, but you can definitely enjoy beautiful areas at very low cost and that’s part of what we love about the flexibility of fulltime RVing.

So, what are we actually DOING?????

I demonstrate the classic “lighthouse hairdo”
Our daily "commute"
Our daily “commute”

We are what you officially call Lighthouse Interpretive Hosts. Our “office” here in WA is North Head Lighthouse, a lovely old lady dating back to 1898 with her light perched 194 feet above  sea level atop stunning pillow basalt cliffs. She’s still an active aid to navigation with a Vega Industries VRB-25 lens and 2-flash every 30 secs signature. She sits on one of the most dangerous sections of the WA coast (over 200 shipwrecks have happened within 20 miles of her) which also boasts to be one of the windiest (and foggiest) to boot. What is unique here is that most of the original lighthouse structures are still intact including the keepers residence (where you can overnight), barn, carriage houses, coop and oil houses. Plus, she’s even got a ghost story (ooooooooo).

We get to work via a short (less than 2 mile) drive to the grounds followed by a gorgeous 1/4 mile hike along the cliffs to the lighthouse. Once there we start the easy job of overseeing visitors & tours into the lighthouse itself. Here’s a few details:

Hours -> There are a total of 4 couples hosting at the lighthouse and we split the day-shifts. Each pair of couples has 4 days “on” followed by 4 days “off”. During your “on” days you have a 3 1/2 hour shift, either 10am-1:30pm or 1:30pm-5pm (one couple does the first, the other the second & you swap around each week). There are a few extra details opening up & closing down the lighthouse so it ends up being around 4 hours per day. Total volunteering time averages out to around 28 hours per week (combined = 14 hours each person). It’s a very light schedule.

Paul poses on the lighthouse tower steps. These are GREAT butt firmers :)

Duties -> This is a simple lighthouse with a downstairs workroom and a tower with 69 steps up to the lens room. One person stays downstairs in the workroom, takes cash for the tours ($2.50 each, 17 and under free) and organizes groups to the top (8 people allowed at a time), while the other person greets people in the lens room and completes the tour there. Unlike some of the other lighthouses we’ve worked at there is no “formal” tour process here, so it’s up to the individual couples how they want to run their shift. Both Paul and I like to give a brief history of the lighthouse and what life was like back in the 1900’s, with more details if folks are interested (we usually gauge individually). If visitation is slow we typically end up chatting longer. If visitation is high we’ll be more regimented. There are a few extra duties before & after closing such as wiping down surfaces for dust, opening/closing the till & opening/locking the lighthouse. Overall it’s a very easy job and all you need is a love of lighthouses and comfort speaking in front of groups.

Our host site in the campground.
Our host site in the campground.

RV Lodging -> Like all the jobs we’ve done previously the State Park in WA offers a full hookup campsite within the state park grounds in return for your hosting hours. At this park most of the lighthouse hosts are in the “Lakeside loop” which is near the park entrance and has 30 Amp/water/sewer sites with good Verizon signal (we’re getting 2 bars 4G). Only negative is that these sites are on grass right next to the most popular tent camping area in the park which can get very busy. You can choose if you wish to be placed in the main camping pods further back from the entrance (nicer sites, more privacy), but these latter sites have zero (or very close to zero) Verizon connectivity. So, there’s a bit of a compromise in campsite choice.

And honestly that’s it!!

She's a oldie, but a beauty
She’s a oldie, but a beauty
Moi manning the cash register
Moi manning the cash register

For a mere 14 hours per week of chatting with folks about lighthouse history we get to stay in a gorgeous state park right on the coast with miles of dog-friendly beach to boot. Compared to our previous lighthouse jobs this is the lightest schedule we’ve ever done. I really like the 4-day on/4-day off schedule since it gives you a nice chunk of time to yourself outside of hosting duties. The lighthouse here is older (more musty) and needs renovation, plus the host campsites are not nearly as nice as some of our other positions (we used blocks under our jacks due to some sinking in the grass & we’re closer to the bathrooms than we’d like), but we’ve got great internet, a gorgeous beach only minutes away and you simply can’t beat our “office” view. Overall the experience is turning out to be pretty much exactly as we expected and we love being part of keeping history alive for this fine old lady.

We’ll be here for the entire month of June telling (mostly) true stories about the lighthouse so if you’re in the area come on by for a tour and a “hi”. And if you’ve got questions about lighthouse hosting fire away below….

Related Blog Posts -> On Lighthouse Hosting

Related Blog Posts -> On Volunteering

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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do

  1. Ralph says

    She sure is a pretty old gal! When I was in the U.S. Coast Guard…I spent some time around the Central California lighthouses. I met my wife at Point Pinos Lighthouse in Pacific Grove,CA.
    Needless to say, I’m in love with lighthouses and like I’ve told you before….I’ve never seen a lighthouse..with a bad view!! If I can ever get the wife to fulltime…I’d LOVE to volunteer at a lighthouse.
    You look like you’re so content and having a blast. Take care!

    • libertatemamo says

      What an absolutely romantic story! We meet many lighthouse lovers at the lighthouse and they have so many cool stories -> some met at lighthouses like you, some married there, others have been actual keepers. It is so interesting to hear the connection that folks have to these lovely old ladies. Hope you get to volunteer at one someday!


      • Ralph says

        Didn’t marry at a lighthouse…but filled in for some of the “keepers” when they were on leave. When not doing that I was on 44′ rescue boats.

        • libertatemamo says

          Super cool! One day, when we are post-pets we’d love to do one of the volunteer jobs where we get to actually live at a lighthouse. Lots of these opportunities around, but sadly none of them are pet friendly.


    • jonthebru says

      There’s the fundraising bumper sticker for your old friend. “I’ve never seen a lighthouse with a bad view!”

  2. paul karl says

    we are currently working for the army corp and i was curious is 1 month the normal time length for volunteering

    • libertatemamo says

      1 month is the minimum in OR and WA State Parks, but you can certainly do more. We like to do one month in one place and another month in another so it suits us, but we have plenty of host buddies who prefer to stay 3-4 months in one place and the State Parks out here offer that too. They’re very flexible.

      Other states are different and may require longer commitments up front. For example we looked at volunteering in CA, but most of the parks we were interested in required 4-6 month commitments which we were not prepared to give. So, just depends on location.


    • libertatemamo says

      No we don’t eat less, but we do we hook up with local deals -> farmers markets, local farms, local fishermen, upick berries etc. Plus we learn which grocery stores offer the best options in the area. After a few weeks we know exactly where to go to get the freshest stuff at the best deals. It definitely lowers the overall grocery bill. We’ve noticed the same effect every year we’ve volunteered.


      • says

        Oh got it. We usually go to a farmers market or just those off road vendors for quality produce as well.
        I thought the North Head lighthouse was the same one we checked out two years ago at Cape Disappointment but its not :(

        • libertatemamo says

          There are 2 lighthouses at Cape Disappointment so it can be a tad confusing. You probably saw the Cape Disappointment lighthouse which is the older one. She’s not open for visits, but it’s a great little hike to go see her, plus she’s the oldest lighthouse on the WA coast so she’s got some distinction too.

          By the way we picked up a half flat of berries today at the farmers market for only $14…unbelievably good! Plus we got a weeks worth of veggies for $40. Love, love, love the summer months!


  3. Rowanova says

    North Head is an awesome place to visit. The views are amazing. I hope you both enjoy your time there as much as I’ve enjoyed my visits there.

    • Rowanova says

      By the way, Cape Disappointment Light House does not disappoint either, and it’s only a short drive from North Head. Enjoy.

      • libertatemamo says

        Oh yes I know! She’s a fine lady too…and the oldest one in WA no less. We hiked out to her last year send will be back this year.


        • Rowanova says

          While at Cape Disappointment State Park I’d also highly recommend the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. A very worthy experience, and it sits on a bluff with great views over the coast. ‘coarse, may be a tad bit biased… 😉

          • libertatemamo says

            Indeed. We also went there last year and it’s a wonderful museum. The original first order Fresnel lens from our lighthouse is displayed there so that’s an added bonus, and as volunteers we get to go in for free.


  4. says

    Really great idea about avoiding the summer kid fest by staying in one place and you guys sure picked a beauty. Gorgeous pictures! Wish I could stop on by for a tour. I LOVE lighthouses. Maybe next year. Really hope we’ll be in Oregon and Washington next summer. The lighthouse gig looks super and so flexible….one month, three months….really nice.

  5. says

    I like the sounds of the four on/four off schedule. That might be something I would be interested in some day. You certainly can’t beat those hours! Even I could get up for that morning start:)

    Have a wonderful time telling the lady’s story:)

  6. Doug says

    I do find lighthouses fascinating. Does your lighthouse light spin around? Do you get to turn it on and off? Do they only want couples as volunteers?

    • libertatemamo says

      Yes, our lighthouse lens is active and spins around. We don’t turn it on/off. It’s all automated these days and just runs constantly. Certain lighthouses will accept singles as volunteers. See my other response to Anne above.


      • Doug says

        Couldn’t find the response to Anne you suggested, but did check out your other links. Does this lighthouse also feature an ICR? How about a foghorn?

        • libertatemamo says

          So sorry! My mistake. I just realized that response ended up on another post. This lighthouse does have a register, but it’s not as idiotic as the one in Coquille River, so I’m not complaining about it :) There is no foghorn (and never was here).

          Cape Blanco is the other lighthouse where the ranger told us he hires singles on occasion. So, there definitely are positions out there. Also there are many other interpretive type jobs at museums, forts, historic houses which potentially hire singles. With persistence I’m sure you can find the perfect fit.


  7. scott says

    Hey Nina, I was wondering if volunteering at the lighthouses was only for couples or if I could do it as a single somehow?

    • libertatemamo says

      Most prefer couples, but some lighthouses do accept singles. The ranger here at North Head told us he does accept single volunteers on occasion, so it’s definitely worth it to call and ask.


  8. says

    We were wondering if there had been any renovations yet. It seems the last time we were there they were talking about work that was planned on the lighthouse. We loved that area and some of my favorite ocean photos are from around Cape Disappointment. Enjoy your time there!

    • libertatemamo says

      Yup, there have definitely been renovations. The lighthouse is now finally owned by the State Park and they’ve put in new windows in the lens room, new front doors and new cover over the walkway. It’s slow, but it’s happening. The lighthouse is leak-free now which is a big deal from where it was only a few years ago. There are a lot more renovations planned ahead. Eventually the plan is to have this baby fully restored.


  9. says

    Sounds as if you guys are settling in–hope you have a wonderful, windy time on the NW coast this summer. Keep talking up these volunteer gigs, maybe I will convince the cowboy one of these days!!

    • libertatemamo says

      I’m not sure I could see the cowboy at a lighthouse, but I’m sure he would offer a great tour. He’d definitely be the only one in a cowboy hat :)


  10. says

    My in-laws spent many years doing the same “job” at North Head. They preferred to stay in the main camping area, but the internet and phones were not as important then.
    We will be in the area the end of the month and will try to stop by.

    • libertatemamo says

      The main camping area is definitely nicer. We’re going to sneak back there with our booster and see if we can get any kind of signal, just for future reference. Based on our experience in the campground last year (and what other hosts have told us) it’ll probably be a no-go though. See you later in the month!


  11. David Horst says

    Hi, i was ,hosting at Tugman when you guys came through camping in may/june 2012, Ray and i sold wood etc. Glad to see you guys are still at it. I gave my rv up after my wife passed, august 2012. Happy Trails, maybe I’ll bring my new wife by Blanco as we now live in Yacahts. C ya. Peace.

    • libertatemamo says

      I remember you! We chatted quite a few times as you were doing your rounds of the sites. Sorry to hear of her passing, but it sounds like you’ve landed in a good place.


  12. Kelli Hoel says

    Nina I’m bummed we’re just going to miss you! We don’t head down to Cape Disappointment until July 1st for a long holiday weekend but enjoy your month on the coast! I saw your post on McMinnville – have you ever stayed it Champoeg State Park that’s nearby? We love it there and make it a home base when we’re checking out the Willamette Valley (usually in the Fall). Love all the wineries and there’s even a monastery out in the Amity area where you can buy fudge and truffles (wine and chocolate, what’s not to love?). Safe travels!

    • libertatemamo says

      We tried to get into Champoeg, but it was all booked out. seems it’s a really popular park. We would love to camp there one day!


  13. Smitty says

    One heck of a commute! My Dad was a Navy Lifer, and long time fisherman. I can remember going out off coast of San Diego for a day of fishing. One time when I was under 10, a fog bank rolled in before we could get all the way back into the harbor. I have always remembered my Dad first listening for the fog horn, and then as we got closer, seeing the ‘foggy light’ of the lower Point Loma Lighthouse. He told me as we were pulling the boat out, that at least 5 times in his life in the navy, he felt a lighthouse had saved his life. So cool your lighthouse is still sending out it’s help light all these years later…

    Enjoy. And Nina, I was a bit shocked that you and Paul enjoyed talking with people going thru on the tours. It never shows in your writing, you seem so shy…

    (Today in Denali National Park – way neato!)

    • libertatemamo says

      Amazing story Smitty. I always enjoy hearing how peoples lives have been touched by the lighthouses. We get a lot of former Navy men visiting us and they all have incredible stories of their time at sea. Cheers so much for sharing that.


      P.S. It’s true I’m shy…all this people stuff is a real effort :)

  14. Pam says

    I have been following your blog for a while and enjoy reading your thoughts on Fulltiming. My husband retires in 2 weeks and we will be starting out on the fulltime journey. We currently are staying on our daughters property not far from Winlock Wa. I would love to come out and meet you two, it is kinda crazy right now but maybe there will be a day free before you leave the area.

    Hope your stay is all that you hope it to be.

  15. says

    Hey there…guess who I spent the afternoon with? “Marvelous Marvin.” I am pretty sure it is the same guy from the picture on your post. I am going to ask him tomorrow morning if he is partially responsible for all those great boondocking experiences. 😉

  16. Michael says

    Hi Nina,

    If I recall, you commented on the effects the lighthouse stairs had on Paul’s butt last year. Is this the real reason you like coming back so much?


  17. says

    This was the lighthouse that it took my 3 tries to visit last year! The first time, we unknowingly got there 1 minute before closing. I went back by myself because I really wanted to see it, but they wouldn’t let me go up because I had flip-flops on! I went back and THIRD time and finally got to see it – it was worth all the effort. :)

    • libertatemamo says

      Oh yeah….the dreaded flip-flop rejection. Glad you finally made it up there. On a clear day the view from the lens room is amazing.


  18. Rusty Glen says

    That looks like so much fun, ive done lighthouse weekend’s in New Zealand as a ham radio operator, this is something we would really enjoy and as for beaches oh I so miss beaches. Ive been on one ocean beach since arriving in the states, I grew up surrounded by beaches in Auckland NZ.
    Thanks for another great story


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