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Deception Pass.
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Washington State’s bummer place names, mapped

These spots sound like real downers

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Deception Pass.
| Christopher Nash/Shutterstock

As much as we love it here, we all know it can be dreary sometimes in the Pacific Northwest—and as it turns out, many of our towns and geographical features have names to match. Some explorers and pioneers had a real rollercoaster of a time here, because for every Mount Triumph, there's also a Mount Despair.

Some of these names, although blunt, really tell their own story: Mount Terror, for example, or Foulweather Bluff.

A lot of those origins seem weather-related. In one case, an explorer couldn't find something because of the fog. In a few cases, an expedition—or a group of cattlemen—got stuck somewhere kind of miserable and inconvenient during a harsh winter.

Others are almost a personal vendetta towards the places themselves: Deception Pass, Mount Horrible, Useless Bay, Cape Disappointment.

It’s notable that most of these places had perfectly serviceable names before white explorers came along and gave their own bummer spin while drawing their maps. For example, before Charles Wilkes named Point No Point, it was called Hadsks, or “Long Nose.”

From Desolation Peak to Crying Lady Rock, these places were perhaps not named by people in a good mental place.

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1. Desolation Peak

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Jack Kerouac spent a couple of months as a fire lookout on Desolation Peak, in case the sorrowful name wouldn't already be a selling point for the Northwest's most bookish hikers.

2. Poison Lake

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This lake in Okanogan County has many names, including Epso Lake, Bitter Lake, Salts Lake, and Spotted Lake. Most seem to reference the lake’s unique chemical composition: crystalline deposits cause bowls or pans to form on the surface, and the lake gets incredibly hot in its depths.

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3. Mount Terror

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This high peak in the Picket Range has been called "aptly-named."

4. Mount Despair

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Mount Despair is next to many other descriptively-named mountain features in the Picket Range, like Damnation Peak and Mount Terror. It's possible it’s all just a narrative of what it's like to hike through them.

5. Damnation Peak

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Like many others in the Picket Range, this name might be pretty straightforward: You could have a frustrating hike ahead of you.

6. Danger Shoal

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This submerged reef between Spieden and Henry Island was named by British Royal Navy captain Henry Richards while exploring the San Juans. The justification seems self-explanatory (and Richards was a pretty big fan of self-explanatory names—he named one island Dinner Island after his crew ate dinner on it).

7. Massacre Bay

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Massacre Bay
Eastsound, WA 98245

This bay in the San Juans was named because of a raid that destroyed a Lummi village along this bay. A British navy captain started calling it Massacre Bay after finding a burial site.

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8. Victim Island

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Victim Island
Eastsound, WA 98245

This small island in the San Juans was named for the same reasons as Massacre Bay: It was the site of a devastating raid on the Lummi people who lived there.

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9. Obstruction Island

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This small island on the San Juans lies just off Orcas Island—notably, directly off Obstruction Pass State Park. In 1841, Lieutenant Charles Wilkes thought this island was getting in the way of an otherwise-ideal route for large ships. Obstruction Pass separates the island from Orcas.

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10. Broken Point

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Broken Point
Shaw Island, WA 98245

This name, rather than referencing some kind of tragedy, is more descriptive; the rocks along this point on Shaw Island “had a considerable amount of fracture” when British explorers encountered it.

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11. False Bay

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False Bay San Juan Islands Marine Preserve
Friday Harbor, WA 98250

This bay was named on a British expedition in 1859. At low tide, water completely clears out of the bay—making it more of a part-time bay.

12. Deception Pass

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George Vancouver felt deceived when he learned this body of water was a pass and not a port—making Whidbey Island an island and not a peninsula.

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13. Dirty Biter Park

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622 1st St
La Conner, WA 98257

So while this La Conner city park’s name sounds like it could be an insult, it actually has a pretty wholesome backstory. The short version: The town loved a very special dog so much that they named a park after him.

Dirty Biter, according to the plaque near the statue erected in his honor, was everyone’s very good boy, switching from home to home as he pleased. He even had his own barstool at the local tavern, where he’d go for broasted chicken, steak, and burgers.

In 1982, when he was about 10 years old, he was killed in a dog fight, prompting the town to build a memorial, which still stands today.

14. Broken Mountains

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The name origin for these mountains on the edge of Ferry County is unclear—but could be descriptive based on the distance between the peaks.

15. Mount Forgotten

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This apparently very strenuous climbing destination was named by a Forest Service trail-building crew in 1919, although the meaning behind the name is appropriately unclear.

16. Useless Bay

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Charles Wilkes noted that this bay offered no protection for vessels—apparently his only use for a bay.

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17. Foulweather Bluff

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Foulweather Bluff
Hansville, WA 98340

George Vancouver named this one "in consequence of the change we experienced in its neighbourhood."

18. Cultus Bay

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Several things around the Northwest—in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and BC—are named Cultus, like Mount Cultus, Cultus Lake, and Cultus Creek. It’s from Chinook jargon meaning useless or bad, so lakes with undrinkable water and no fish, bays with no anchorage, or places with just general bad vibes.

19. Point No Point

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Point No Point
Hansville, WA 98340

Charles Wilkes was apparently disappointed when his expedition approached this point. Before Wilkes got to it, it was called Hadsks.

20. Crying Lady Rock

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Lore says that this rock formation south of La Push off Second Beach looks like a woman’s face.

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21. Manson

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We’ve gotten a few tips about Manson—but its name was not considered a bummer by those who named in 1912, more than 20 years before famed murderer and cult leader Charles Manson was even born. (In that same vein, plenty of non-murderers are still named Manson.)

But here’s the story, which is its own kind of bummer: American Indians still owned a lot of the land around Lake Chelan until 1906, when Congress passed legislation that limited the Native allotment to 80 acres, prompting a flurry of white speculation. An irrigation company bought up a bunch of land, then conveyed it to what was called the Lake Chelan Land Company, owned by Seattle banker Manson F. Backus, to sell it off to settlers five acres at a time. The land company would go bankrupt by 1920, but the town on the eastern shore of Lake Chelan still bears Backus’s first name.

22. Termination Point

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This one doesn't have a particularly depressing story attached to it; Charles Wilkes just named it to note that it's one end of the Hood Canal.

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23. Bitter Lake

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Bitter Lake
Seattle, WA 98133

The lake, which anchors the Seattle neighborhood of the same name, was so named because the tannic acid from logs dumped into the lake made the water so bitter that horses refused to drink from it.

24. Destruction Island, aka Island of Sorrows

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Originally called hob-to-la-bish, this rocky island four miles off Jefferson County in the Pacific Ocean was dubbed Isla de Dolores by Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra after losing six men there.

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25. Broken Island

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Broken Island
Seattle, WA 98105

This little island, which has a bummer name of unclear origin (tip us if you know), is just offshore from the University of Washington’s Waterfront Activities Center and Husky Stadium.

26. Poo Poo Point

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Apparently the name of this small peak in the Tiger Mountains came from steam whistle sounds during early logging days, but that reference seems to be lost in time translation. Regardless, it’s a popular takeoff spot for paragliders.

27. Wrong Creek

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This creek, which flows into White River, was on White River Lumber Company land when it was named, although what prompted it is unclear.

28. Lonesome Lake

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The White River Lumber Company once ran a lonesome operation from this lake on the north side of Mount Rainier. This is actually one of two lakes called Lonesome in the state; another is in Skamania County.

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29. Disappointment Cleaver

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While it sounds like part of an extremely intellectually distressing horror movie, this formation on Mount Rainier is named because Ingraham Glacier is so crevassed that climbers have to take an apparently disappointing route below it.

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30. Angry Mountain

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This 5,200-foot mountain in Lewis County was named for the frequent stormclouds around its peak.

31. Cape Disappointment

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Cape Disappointment had two perfectly good names—Kah'eese to the Chinook and Cabo San Roque to Bruno Heceta—before English fur trader John Meares came along and couldn't find everything.

Seriously: Meares was working off Heceta's map, which included the cape and what's now known as the Columbia River. He couldn't find the river, so he noted that the river does not exist and named the cape after what he was feeling, and somehow that's the name that stuck.

32. Dismal Nitch

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This one is self-explanatory: The Lewis and Clark expedition got stuck here one winter, and it was quite dismal.

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33. Mount Misery

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The same cattlemen who named Mount Horrible named Mount Misery, if that tells you anything.

34. Mount Horrible

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The story goes that a group of cattlemen had to endure some nasty storms here in the 1880s.

1. Desolation Peak

Desolation Peak, Washington 98283

Jack Kerouac spent a couple of months as a fire lookout on Desolation Peak, in case the sorrowful name wouldn't already be a selling point for the Northwest's most bookish hikers.

2. Poison Lake

Poison Lake, Washington 98855

This lake in Okanogan County has many names, including Epso Lake, Bitter Lake, Salts Lake, and Spotted Lake. Most seem to reference the lake’s unique chemical composition: crystalline deposits cause bowls or pans to form on the surface, and the lake gets incredibly hot in its depths.

3. Mount Terror

Mt Terror, Washington 98283

This high peak in the Picket Range has been called "aptly-named."

4. Mount Despair

Mt Despair, Washington 98283

Mount Despair is next to many other descriptively-named mountain features in the Picket Range, like Damnation Peak and Mount Terror. It's possible it’s all just a narrative of what it's like to hike through them.

5. Damnation Peak

Damnation Peak, Washington 98283

Like many others in the Picket Range, this name might be pretty straightforward: You could have a frustrating hike ahead of you.

6. Danger Shoal

Danger Shoal, Washington

This submerged reef between Spieden and Henry Island was named by British Royal Navy captain Henry Richards while exploring the San Juans. The justification seems self-explanatory (and Richards was a pretty big fan of self-explanatory names—he named one island Dinner Island after his crew ate dinner on it).

7. Massacre Bay

Massacre Bay, Eastsound, WA 98245

This bay in the San Juans was named because of a raid that destroyed a Lummi village along this bay. A British navy captain started calling it Massacre Bay after finding a burial site.

Massacre Bay
Eastsound, WA 98245

8. Victim Island

Victim Island, Eastsound, WA 98245

This small island in the San Juans was named for the same reasons as Massacre Bay: It was the site of a devastating raid on the Lummi people who lived there.

Victim Island
Eastsound, WA 98245

9. Obstruction Island

Obstruction Island, Washington

This small island on the San Juans lies just off Orcas Island—notably, directly off Obstruction Pass State Park. In 1841, Lieutenant Charles Wilkes thought this island was getting in the way of an otherwise-ideal route for large ships. Obstruction Pass separates the island from Orcas.

10. Broken Point

Broken Point, Shaw Island, WA 98245

This name, rather than referencing some kind of tragedy, is more descriptive; the rocks along this point on Shaw Island “had a considerable amount of fracture” when British explorers encountered it.

Broken Point
Shaw Island, WA 98245

11. False Bay

False Bay San Juan Islands Marine Preserve, Friday Harbor, WA 98250

This bay was named on a British expedition in 1859. At low tide, water completely clears out of the bay—making it more of a part-time bay.

False Bay San Juan Islands Marine Preserve
Friday Harbor, WA 98250

12. Deception Pass

Deception Pass, Washington

George Vancouver felt deceived when he learned this body of water was a pass and not a port—making Whidbey Island an island and not a peninsula.

13. Dirty Biter Park

622 1st St, La Conner, WA 98257

So while this La Conner city park’s name sounds like it could be an insult, it actually has a pretty wholesome backstory. The short version: The town loved a very special dog so much that they named a park after him.

Dirty Biter, according to the plaque near the statue erected in his honor, was everyone’s very good boy, switching from home to home as he pleased. He even had his own barstool at the local tavern, where he’d go for broasted chicken, steak, and burgers.

In 1982, when he was about 10 years old, he was killed in a dog fight, prompting the town to build a memorial, which still stands today.

622 1st St
La Conner, WA 98257

14. Broken Mountains

Broken Mountains North, Washington 99140

The name origin for these mountains on the edge of Ferry County is unclear—but could be descriptive based on the distance between the peaks.

15. Mount Forgotten

Mt Forgotten, Washington 98252

This apparently very strenuous climbing destination was named by a Forest Service trail-building crew in 1919, although the meaning behind the name is appropriately unclear.

16. Useless Bay

Useless Bay, Washington

Charles Wilkes noted that this bay offered no protection for vessels—apparently his only use for a bay.

17. Foulweather Bluff

Foulweather Bluff, Hansville, WA 98340

George Vancouver named this one "in consequence of the change we experienced in its neighbourhood."

Foulweather Bluff
Hansville, WA 98340

18. Cultus Bay

Cultus Bay, Washington 98236

Several things around the Northwest—in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and BC—are named Cultus, like Mount Cultus, Cultus Lake, and Cultus Creek. It’s from Chinook jargon meaning useless or bad, so lakes with undrinkable water and no fish, bays with no anchorage, or places with just general bad vibes.

19. Point No Point

Point No Point, Hansville, WA 98340

Charles Wilkes was apparently disappointed when his expedition approached this point. Before Wilkes got to it, it was called Hadsks.

Point No Point
Hansville, WA 98340

20. Crying Lady Rock

Crying Lady Rock, Washington 98350

Lore says that this rock formation south of La Push off Second Beach looks like a woman’s face.

21. Manson

Manson, WA 98831

We’ve gotten a few tips about Manson—but its name was not considered a bummer by those who named in 1912, more than 20 years before famed murderer and cult leader Charles Manson was even born. (In that same vein, plenty of non-murderers are still named Manson.)

But here’s the story, which is its own kind of bummer: American Indians still owned a lot of the land around Lake Chelan until 1906, when Congress passed legislation that limited the Native allotment to 80 acres, prompting a flurry of white speculation. An irrigation company bought up a bunch of land, then conveyed it to what was called the Lake Chelan Land Company, owned by Seattle banker Manson F. Backus, to sell it off to settlers five acres at a time. The land company would go bankrupt by 1920, but the town on the eastern shore of Lake Chelan still bears Backus’s first name.

22. Termination Point

Termination Point, Washington

This one doesn't have a particularly depressing story attached to it; Charles Wilkes just named it to note that it's one end of the Hood Canal.

23. Bitter Lake

Bitter Lake, Seattle, WA 98133

The lake, which anchors the Seattle neighborhood of the same name, was so named because the tannic acid from logs dumped into the lake made the water so bitter that horses refused to drink from it.

Bitter Lake
Seattle, WA 98133

24. Destruction Island, aka Island of Sorrows

Destruction Island, Washington

Originally called hob-to-la-bish, this rocky island four miles off Jefferson County in the Pacific Ocean was dubbed Isla de Dolores by Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra after losing six men there.

25. Broken Island

Broken Island, Seattle, WA 98105

This little island, which has a bummer name of unclear origin (tip us if you know), is just offshore from the University of Washington’s Waterfront Activities Center and Husky Stadium.

Broken Island
Seattle, WA 98105

26. Poo Poo Point

Poo Poo Point, Washington 98027

Apparently the name of this small peak in the Tiger Mountains came from steam whistle sounds during early logging days, but that reference seems to be lost in time translation. Regardless, it’s a popular takeoff spot for paragliders.

27. Wrong Creek

Wrong Creek, Washington 98323

This creek, which flows into White River, was on White River Lumber Company land when it was named, although what prompted it is unclear.

28. Lonesome Lake

Lonesome Lake, Washington 98022

The White River Lumber Company once ran a lonesome operation from this lake on the north side of Mount Rainier. This is actually one of two lakes called Lonesome in the state; another is in Skamania County.

29. Disappointment Cleaver

Disappointment Cleaver, Washington 98304

While it sounds like part of an extremely intellectually distressing horror movie, this formation on Mount Rainier is named because Ingraham Glacier is so crevassed that climbers have to take an apparently disappointing route below it.

30. Angry Mountain

Packwood, WA 98361

This 5,200-foot mountain in Lewis County was named for the frequent stormclouds around its peak.

31. Cape Disappointment

Cape Disappointment, Washington 98624

Cape Disappointment had two perfectly good names—Kah'eese to the Chinook and Cabo San Roque to Bruno Heceta—before English fur trader John Meares came along and couldn't find everything.

Seriously: Meares was working off Heceta's map, which included the cape and what's now known as the Columbia River. He couldn't find the river, so he noted that the river does not exist and named the cape after what he was feeling, and somehow that's the name that stuck.

32. Dismal Nitch

Naselle, WA 98638

This one is self-explanatory: The Lewis and Clark expedition got stuck here one winter, and it was quite dismal.

33. Mount Misery

Mt Misery, Washington 99347

The same cattlemen who named Mount Horrible named Mount Misery, if that tells you anything.

34. Mount Horrible

Mt Horrible, Washington 99402

The story goes that a group of cattlemen had to endure some nasty storms here in the 1880s.