We briefly considered his negative review and went anyway. We had wanted to visit Neah Bay and nearby Cape Flattery for years, but the remote location had never fit into our travel plans, until now. Leaving Salt Creek Recreation Area, we drove fifty-seven slow miles on a two-lane winding road along the shores of Clallam Bay. Not quite two hours later, we cruised into the town of Neah Bay, in the far northwestern corner of Washington.
A Rustic Little Town
On our way to the RV park, we passed by a working fishing harbor, carved totems, and trailer homes in various stages of disrepair. If you’re looking for a resort beach town, this isn’t it. There are no fancy tourist shops, no gourmet restaurants, no wine bars. But if you’re looking for a spectacular natural location, fascinating tribal history, welcoming townspeople, and excellent smoked salmon, you’ll love this place. We did.
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This is the home of the Makah, a native northwest tribe who have lived here for eons. Remote, buffeted by fierce winds, and drenched by 100 inches of rain each year, this is not an easy place to live. Nonetheless, more than 1500 members of the Makah nation still call Neah Bay and the surrounding area home. “I left for a year. Moved to Nebraska. Missed home so much I walked five miles one way just to see the river. Came home and never want to leave again,” recollected the Makah guide we met on the trail at nearby Cape Flattery.
We were in Neah Bay for just a couple of days in late September. It stormed off and on the entire time. Snuggled into our spacious site at Hobuck Beach Resort, we had a gorgeous view of the Pacific. One moment, ominous storm clouds rolled by on the horizon and gray-green waves thundered onto the beach. The next, blue sky appeared and the ocean calmed to sparkling aquamarine.
We timed our outings to coincide with breaks in the storm (as best as possible), but mostly just layered on rain gear and headed out. Here, our adventures in and around Neah Bay:
Hiking To Cape Flattery
Just a few miles from Neah Bay is Cape Flattery, which truly is at the end of the earth. Or so it seems. A meandering ¾ mile hobbit-like trail leads through a lush rainforest of cedars, spruce, mosses, and ferns to the furthest northwestern point of the continental U.S. Standing atop a wooden platform just shy of the edge, we surveyed the endless ocean. Here is where the Strait of Juan de Fuca meets the Pacific.
A Dramatic Coastline And Hidden Sea Caves
This is untamed and raw beauty at its most awe-inspiring. The wild Pacific waves and frequent gale-force storms have hewn a rugged coastline of dramatic headlands, sea stacks, deep coves and hidden caves. Far below, shorebirds and sea lions seek refuge on rocks exposed by the tide. If you’re lucky, you might see whales passing by. Or even sea otters in the protected coves.
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This is sacred land to the Makah, and they’ve wisely declared Cape Flattery a nature sanctuary. Makah tribal members improved the trail in the late 90s. They built a series of rugged boardwalks and viewing platforms to keep visitors from slogging through deep mud and plunging off the edge of precarious cliffs. Just offshore of the tip of Cape Flattery is tiny Tatoosh Island, which once served as the summer fishing camp of the Makah. Crowning the island is the lighthouse built in 1857 by the U.S. Coast Guard to mark the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
(Note that before you hike on this or any trail or beach on the Makah reservation, you must obtain a $10 annual recreation permit, available in Neah Bay.)
Shi Shi Beach
“Generations of Makah people have used this area. If you are patient and respectful, its enduring beauty will enrich and teach you too.”
So reads a sign posted at the beginning of the trail to Shi Shi Beach (pronounced Shy-Shy). Located 8.5 miles south of Neah Bay, this remote beach bordering the Makah reservation became part of Olympic National Park in 1976.
A two-mile hike through the forest (part boardwalk built by the Makah, part undeveloped and muddy on a rainy day) leads to the beach. I fretted a bit when a couple of people we met on the trail said, “Oh, wait till you come to the ropes at the bluff!” The ropes were actually a tremendous help in navigating the 150-foot drop down to the beach. I can’t imagine any other way of getting down or up the cliff. Once on the beach, we found an otherworldly landscape of rock spires, sea stacks, caves, arches, and tidepools surrounding a crescent-shaped cove.
Although Shi Shi isn’t easy to get to, it’s apparently a popular spot in the summer, when people backpack to camp on the beach. On a late September day, though, we encountered only a handful of people on the trail. Once on the beach, were alone in the silvery light of the late afternoon. We briefly considered staying until sunset, imagining the unique rock formations in Technicolor. But then we remembered we had a two-mile return hike, which included scaling the bluff and hiking through the deep dark forest.
There are more hiking options at Shi Shi Beach. Had it been earlier in the day, we would have continued on two miles down the beach to Point of Arches, which are said to be even more spectacular rock formations than those we encountered. Next time.
Makah Cultural And Research Center Museum
You wouldn’t expect a world-class museum in little Neah Bay, but there it is. We were drawn in by the fabulous 20-foot-tall carved cedar Makah figures on the grounds of the cultural center. We entered the doors for an immersion in the Makah way of life, long before Europeans entered the picture.
Long-Buried Artifacts Tell The Story Of The Makah
In 1970, a pre-contact village was discovered at Ozette, 15 miles south of the tribe’s present day home in Neah Bay. During a storm in 1750, a mudslide buried the beachfront village in 10-feet of clay. The resulting wet, oxygen-free environment perfectly preserved five longhouses and objects of everyday life in the village. For more than a decade, archaeologists and tribal members worked together to unearth more than 55,000 Makah artifacts. Considered to be one of the most significant archaeological finds in North America, some refer to it as the “Pompeii of North America.”
I can only imagine the tedious work involved in cleaning thick wet mud off of delicate objects like woven baskets and dog hair blankets (yes, they wove blankets out of dog hair). I had a hard enough time washing the mud off of my shoes after our expedition to Shi Shi Beach.
Life was no doubt challenging in this land of wild storms, yet the Makah shaped a life of rich traditions, comfort, and beauty. They created what they needed from the abundance of the forest, shore, and ocean surrounding them. The museum is arranged according to the seasonal life of the Makah and thousands of artifacts in pristine condition are attractively displayed. There’s also a replica of a full-size longhouse, as well as four beautiful cedar dugout canoes. And there’s an excellent hour-long film on the Makah and the Ozette site.
The $5 admission is a minimal charge for this wonderful museum. This is also a convenient place to buy the $10 parking pass required to access the trails and the beaches on the reservation.
About The RV Park
While in Neah Bay, we stayed at Hobuck Beach Resort. They offer 10 full-hook up RV sites ($30 per night) with a fabulous view of the Pacific and easy access to the beach. It was peaceful, quiet, and dark, and the perfect location for our explorations.
Thank you once again for taking us along on your adventures! Your photos are always a testament to living with your eyes wide open…such an inspiration to touch the world thru the lens. Too often I leave the camera in the car rather than have it get in the way of my experience. Glad you think of us and carry and shoot so we get to share…thank you both. Laurel your writing is superb, the humor and delight in life’s little moments and the foibles of our human condition in the midst of paradise…Thanks for the memories!
Thank you so much, Diana — it’s such a joy for us to share with our friends and family. Makes us feel like you’re along with us. :)
Gorgeous photos of such a wild and remote place. We did not make it out there this summer. Now that I am firmly situated in the SW for the next few months the green and wet of the PNW seems far far away and oh-so-lovely right now!
I understand, Lisa — the desert, sunshine, and sunsets of the Southwest feel really far away to us right now. We love both and are so grateful we have the opportunity to experience it all (just not simultaneously)!
Wow. What a very cool place. So glad you didn’t listen to that naysayer. Love the pictures. Thanks for sharing.
It was such a cool place, Jo! We would have liked at least a couple more days there.
This place looks dreamy! I love every photo. What cool forested trails and those views are wonderful. The misty weather kind of enhances the beauty. It was very nice of them to add the ropes for help.
This museum sounds like a place I would just love. I enjoy unique creations.
I bet you are so glad you didn’t listen to your “neighbor” and decided to make this trip:)
It was dream-like, Pam. We didn’t mind at all the mist and rain. I’m not sure that trail to Shi Shi beach is possible without the ropes!
Great post. Thanks so much. I’m glad you followed your instincts instead of someone else’s. I have put Neah Bay on my list.
Neah Bay is well worth a visit, Christine — and yes, we’re very happy we followed our instincts!
Love this entry and the one on Salt Creek. These are two areas we knew nothing about, but now feel like we do. We’re planning a trip to the Olympic peninsula next year. Thought to go in August, but now think after Labor Day is a better choice. Thanks for your informative, entertaining blog!
Joan, traveling after Labor Day is definitely better if you want to avoid the crowds. And the weather is still generally good — although the weather on the OP is notoriously unpredictable. We like some rainy days, though — it adds to the ambience of certain places! Glad to have you accompanying us on our journey. :-)
This is a place that I would never know about if it weren’t for you so I cannot thank you enough. I can see that it is exactly the kind of spot that is my favorite favorite place in this country, a still wild land inhabited by its original people. Your pictures are breathtaking, I simply cannot wait to be there for a week myself. thank you, thank you, thank you
Sherry, you and David would love being here. It’s a fascinating culture, history, and landscape. I look forward to when you write about visiting Neah Bay!
Love reading your blog. I have my map out and highlighting where you’ve been. I retire in June and can’t wait to go explore. Thanks!
Congratulations on your upcoming retirement, Pam! We have a map highlighted with places we want to explore, too. Thanks for joining us in our travels. :-)
Tidepools, rain forests, sea stacks, magic mushrooms, and smoked salmon – what more could one want? We will be adding this one to the list for our visit next summer. Thanks! :)
It’s a magical spot, LuAnn. We plan to spend more time around Neah Bay and the rest of the Olympic Peninsula, too.
Wow! I love the photos of this magical place. It’s the kind of place Morey & I like. To enjoy such beauty without hordes of people is truly special.
Thanks, Brenda — Eric and I feel exactly the same way and try our best to plan our travels so that we’re not surrounded by hordes of people. Not always possible, but it often is!
Wimps, I bet the natives didn’t have umbrellas! And you call yourselves Oregonions! Ha-Ha! As always wonderful writing and photos. You are definitely part of the Uke tribe if you are dubious of other’s opinions of what true beauty can look like. K
You are hilarious! No, we don’t pay much attention to other people’s opinions, preferring to go by our instincts — which can lead us astray, but at least they’re ours. Glad to know we’re part of the same tribe. :-)
Beautiful and Dreamy! This is one magical place that should be on our list which by the way is getting longer every time you post Laurel.
Those sea caves reminded me of the ones we saw Fundy Bay in New Brunswick.
Are you still in WA?
One of these days we’ll make it to Nova Scotia, too, ML. We’re currently at home in Ashland, enjoying the beautiful fall here.
I meant to write to you weeks ago to tell you how much I liked this post. I sent it to my sister who travels around a lot in her huge 5th wheel trailer. She lives in Sequim so they are always puttering around the Peninsula and she’s been to Neah Bay a lot. I wondered if she has hiked some of the same trails…but haven’t heard back from her specifically on this post. I don’t think they hike around very much so I thought she might be inspired by your walks!
Janet, I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! Those hikes in Neah Bay are definitely unique and gorgeous! The one to Cape Flattery is short, but one of my favorite hikes ever.