The Best Way to See the Natural Wonders of Cape Flattery
Far up in the Northwest on the Washington state coastline sits Cape Flattery – the most Northwestern point of the continental United States. The nearest city is Seattle, which sits a whole 4 to 6-hour drive away.
It’s beautiful here, peaceful, as the wind rustles through the branches of the many trees on this canopied trail and the waves of the North Pacific crash against the rocks below. Welcome to paradise.
While it’s still on plenty of people’s bucket lists, the Cape Flattery trail lies mostly untouched and forgotten up in the wilderness of Washington state, which coincidentally, also lends it most of its unspoiled, rustic charm.
Fancy a visit to this coastal wonder? Then read this guide for the perfect trip up to the quaint town of Neah Bay, then on to the star of the show itself just 8 miles down the road.
Cape Flattery: What You Need to Know
This guide is intended for people who want to do a one-day trip to Cape Flattery, but there are campgrounds near the point, including two RV-friendly parks. I haven’t tried any of these camping sites yet, so can’t say whether any of them are worth staying at.
Getting to this remote area can be arduous, even if you live in Seattle.
Luckily, parts of the drive are really scenic, even if you hit some traffic on the highway.
Just keep in mind that the trail isn’t in a state park but on the Makah Reservation. You have to stop at Neah Bay to buy a $10 permit for your car because they don’t sell those at the trailhead (for some reason).
These permits are available at any of the restaurants in Neah Bay – they don’t tell you any of this on the way there though.
There is a bathroom at the start of the trail, but it leaves a lot to be desired for us modern folk so if you’re not up for braving the restrooms at Cape Flattery then it’s best to get those needs sorted before you continue on with the drive from Neah Bay.
A final thing you need to consider before heading out for Cape Flattery is the Washington weather.
If you’re traveling during the summer then it should be fine for the most part, though you might still have less of a view due to overall fogginess.
But the weather can change quite drastically in the winter.
Make sure to come prepared for storms, high winds, and possible mudslides.
Cape Flattery Fun Facts
When visiting Cape Flattery, you can see the almost rectangular Fuca Pillar in the west. Apparently, it was named after a Greek explorer called Juan de Fuca who claims to be the first person to have explored the area.
Cape Flattery was given its name in 1778 by John Cook, which makes it the oldest permanently named feature in the state.
Hiking the (Short) Cape Flattery Trail
Whether you’re planning on walking the full trail or only part of the trail, pack good shoes.
The route is very uneven with lots of tree roots and rocks, but there are wooden walkways and steps situated along the way to help for the most part.
You should plan for the trail to take around 30 minutes each way, with extra time set apart for taking in the breathtaking views from the various viewpoints in Cape Flattery.
Some of the viewpoints look down the coastline to the west and south, offering great views of the coast and rocks situated around the point, like Fuca Pillar.
There are also a couple of points where you can look north and, if the weather allows, see Vancouver Island in the distance.
On a good day, you’ll also get to see the lighthouse on Tatoosh Island in the west which makes for a really amazing photo opportunity.
Taking a Walk Down (and Then Back Up Again)
The walk down is easy enough if you’re careful about where you step, but getting back to the parking lot is uphill all the way and those 30-ish minutes can stretch into what feels like a very long time, so be prepared for that.
The best advice I can give about this part of the journey is that you should go at your own pace, even if it means having people pass you on the trail.
You should opt to take a break at some of the steep areas rather than try to finish it all in one go.
Always keep an eye on your footing (especially when going down) as the roots can trip you up pretty easily, and if you prefer walking with one, then take a walking stick along.
People can borrow the “natural” walking sticks that are available at the trailhead, but they only leave around 10 or so leaning against the information board and these go fairly quick on a busy day.
Technical stuff aside, part of what makes the Cape Flattery trail so spectacular is the peaceful presence of the woods around the trail.
Take in the lush greenery and birdsong along the way and breathe in the fresh sea air.
If you’re an avid birdwatcher then this will be a real treat too, so don’t forget to pack binoculars.
Things to Do in the Cape Flattery/Neah Bay Area
Getting to Cape Flattery takes a while, and even though you can just go to hike the trail and make a day of it, you might want to get more out of the trip by taking in some of the other attractions in the area.
Especially if you’re not planning on heading out that way again soon.
1. Relax at the Beach
There are two beaches in this area, but Shi Shi beach is by far the better one with a flat, sandy area and not as many rocks, so people can swim here.
This is also a very popular spot for surfers who come (mostly during the winter) to test their mettle against the unruly sea.
2. Visit the Ozette Native American Village Archeological Site
Ozette is about 15 miles southwest from the Cape Flattery trail, and you have to drive to Lake Ozette then hike a few short miles to get to the archeological site.
It’s enchantingly beautiful here and the short hike isn’t too tiring either.
Once you get to the excavation site, you’ll find a small replica of one of the loghouses that were discovered there, as well as a plaque detailing the history of the site.
3. Visit The Museum at the Makah Culture and Research Center
Most of the 55,000 artifacts – many of which were made of wood – that was discovered at the Ozette Archeological site now sits at the Makah Museum. These artifacts range between 300-500 years old.
There are also replicas of the longhouses the Makah tribe used to live in as well as the whaling canoes they used to fish with.
4. Eat at Pat’s Place
If you’re looking for some authentic hole-in-the-wall cuisine then head on over to Pat’s Place.
He bakes fresh pies every day and the homemade fry-bread tacos are really good too.
When’s the Best Time to Visit Cape Flattery?
When you go to Cape Flattery, you mostly go to appreciate nature, and each season can offer different sights and delights.
That said, if you’re planning on going during the winter then just make sure to call ahead to find out about which places will be open during the season, as some places in the area close during the winter months.
Have you been to Cape Flattery?
There you go!
That’s all you need to plan a trip to one of the most spellbinding parts of the US. Come explore the fascinating history of the Makah tribe and take in the beauty of the reservation and all its natural wonders.
Have you been to Cape Flattery? Let me know in the comments below!