The lighthouse has continued to watch over the entrance of the Columbia River since it was first lit on October 15, 1856. It stands 53 feet tall with a focal plane 220 feet above sea. Its black horizontal stripe was added later to distinguish it from North Head Lighthouse located just two miles north.
The first-order lens was transferred to North Head in 1898 and replaced with a fourth-order lens. The original lens was used in at least three lighthouses and then put on display at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at Cape Disappointment State Park. The fourth-order lens is still in operation today.