We first visited Neah Bay and the Makah Reservation a couple of years ago, despite the advice we received from someone who told us, “There’s nothing there worth seeing.” Au contraire. This is exactly the kind of place that captures our interest, and we returned in mid-June for an adventure we missed the first time around.
Hiking To Cape Flattery
Just like last time, we hiked the trail to Cape Flattery, which is as far as you can go and still be in the continental U.S. This is sacred tribal land, and the Makah have declared Cape Flattery a nature sanctuary. A three-quarter mile rugged trail winds through the dense rainforest. At the end of the trail, cedar platforms resembling the prow of a canoe jut above the churning ocean, dramatic headlands, and hidden sea caves.
Hanging over the railing, we scanned the ocean for whales and puffins. No whales or puffins this time, but a family of sea otters appeared, rolling and playing in the waves, mama holding baby close.
Standing on the tip of Cape Flattery, we could see tiny Tatoosh Island in the distance. Once a fishing camp for the Makah, a lighthouse here has pointed mariners to the entrance of the Strait of San Juan de Fuca since 1857.
Visiting The Museum Of The Makah
We also paid a return visit to the Museum of the Makah Indian Nation, one of the most intriguing museums we’ve encountered anywhere in our travels. The artifacts here were discovered in 1970 at Ozette, a Makah village 15 miles south of Neah Bay.
During a storm in 1750, a catastrophic mudslide buried the village in 10 feet of clay, creating an oxygen-free environment that perfectly preserved five longhouses and objects of everyday life. For more than a decade, archaeologists and tribal members worked together to unearth more than 55,000 artifacts. It’s considered to be one of the most significant archaeological finds in North America.
Despite living in a challenging environment, buffeted by wild storms and drenched in 100 inches of rain each year, the Makah shaped a life of rich traditions, comfort, and beauty, creating what they needed from the abundance of the rainforest and ocean surrounding them. The museum is arranged according to the seasonal life of the Makah; thousands of artifacts in pristine condition are engagingly displayed. There’s a replica of a full-size longhouse and four beautiful cedar dugout canoes built by tribal members, and an excellent hour-long film on the Makah and the Ozette site.
Blankets woven of woodpecker feathers, dog hair, and cattail fluff; clothing woven of cedar bark (the inner bark was pounded until soft and pliable); baskets and boxes of red cedar; intricately carved and decorated tools and ceremonial items made of bone, shell, and wood; all survived centuries of burial in mud. It’s a remarkable and beautiful display of a unique culture. I wanted so much to take photos, but the tribe asks that we refrain, and we did.
Hiking To 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 trailhead 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 rainforest (the first mile has a partial boardwalk, built by the Makah) leads to the beach.
We hiked this trail two years ago, but only to Shi Shi Beach. We returned this time to hike all the way to Point of Arches, for a total of 8 miles round-trip.
Never in all of our years of hiking have we encountered so much mud. The last time we hiked the trail to Shi Shi Beach it was muddy, but nothing like this. This was an epic mud bath, ankle deep in many places. We bushwhacked, made little bridges of logs, climbed trees, attempted great leaps. There was no way around the mud and the mud puddles. Why did we continue, you ask? Well, the worst of the mud didn’t start until about a mile in, and we kept thinking, “Surely this will improve!” It didn’t.
Finally, after more than an hour of slogging, we reached the bluffs and caught our first glimpse of the beach below. A series of ropes help in navigating the 150-foot drop down to the beach. There, we stepped into the otherworldly landscape of rock spires, sea stacks, caves, and arches that decorate Shi Shi Beach.
Continuing On To Point Of Arches
We didn’t linger long, because our destination—Point of Arches—was another two miles down the beach. The hike was gorgeous, with exposed rock formations and tide pools all along the way, and views of Point of Arches coming closer as we walked.
The ideal time to visit Point of Arches is at low tide when the numerous tidepools are exposed. It’s a beautiful, peaceful hike, and the reward is a picturesque seascape of dozens of sea stacks, spires, arches, and caves, with tidepools surrounding it all. Ideally, we would have stayed overnight on the beach, which is what many hardy souls do after making the effort to get here. The sunsets are reputed to be spectacular. Maybe next time.
(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 or at Hobuck RV Park.)
About The Campground
Just like last time, we stayed at Hobuck Beach RV Park and Campground. Last time, we stayed in the RV Park, which offers 10 full-hookup RV sites ($40 per night) with a fabulous view of the Pacific and easy access to the beach. This time, we opted for the big open field. It’s a free-for-all. You pay your $20 and stake out your spot anywhere that looks good to you.
We arrived on a Thursday and found a choice location. By Saturday, we were surrounded by tents, VW campers, boats, and surfers. This is apparently a prime fishing and surfing locale. Everyone was well behaved, and we enjoyed our stay. We had speedy Verizon coverage, a place to fill our water tanks, and amazingly, there was a free, almost new shower house with unlimited hot water.
The landscape looks so unique and worth exploring. Interesting how everyone’s tastes are different and what one person finds boring another finds captivating. I look forward to exploring that area of the country someday … soon!
Ingrid, you’ll love it when you get here. There are so many wonderful opportunities for photography!
You were so brave to walk/hike through the mud.
I would not have done that for anything. I think
you guys win the blue ribbon for all the amazing
out of the way places you adventure to.
Peggy, you know how we love adventures. :-) We were kind of thinking we were crazy for hiking through all that mud — but it was worth it!
We’ve not reached that little corner of the US…yet. Looks fabulous, except for the mud!
Otters are so darn adorable!
Lisa, we’re always especially thrilled to see sea otters, since they came close to being wiped out by the fur trade. You guys would like this hike, mud and all!
So glad we made the trip to visit this area. While the weather didn’t hold long enough for us to visit Shi Shi Beach, we did have sun for our hike to furthest point of Cape Flattery before the clouds and rain returned. The museum was amazing. I loved watching the discovery of this area and the artifacts. How clever to use the sea water to clean everything. What a treasure!
Pam, I know you and John would have loved this hike. But not in the rain. The mud was bad enough! I’m so glad you made it to Cape Flattery and the museum, though. It really is a treasure.
I absolutely love everything about this post!
The photos are stunning and your descriptions really do a great job of making the reader feel transported in to all the rugged beauty and wilderness of the area. Clearly a challenging hike, but it seems all that slogging through the mud was worth it! The climb back up, with all those tree roots looks pretty intense too. Shi shi beach? What a great name…
Love the photos of the cute sea otters, the funghi,the oyster catchers, tidepools and rock formations. And particularly the ones of you both in the mud and on the boardwalks!
Your descriptions of the museum artifacts brings them to life.The blankets and the clothes…how incredible to see all that and learn so much about the Makah people.
Thanks for sharing!
Thanks so much, Peta. This is truly a wild, rugged area, but that’s part of what calls us to explore it. It makes it even more special when there’s a bit of a challenge to reach a place of such stunning beauty. I feel certain that you and Ben would thoroughly enjoy the Makah museum. It’s such a rich culture, and the artifacts are remarkable.
I’ve been to Shi Shi beach once as child, and the power of the landscape has been etched in my mind ever since. Thank you for the photos.
Sheila, how interesting that you went to Shi Shi beach as a child! That must have been quite the adventure. It’s such a unique landscape — I would love to see it at sunset sometime. We should do an overnight backpacking trek together. :-)
I am glad you didn’t slide down the Bluff Trail. Looks slick. Someone actually didn’t park right next to you and block your view! Score!
Debbie, the trail is slippery and steep — definitely a rugged place. The ropes help. Yes, we were lucky that no one blocked our view — or worse, surrounded us so that we couldn’t move from the campground!
Cape Flattery looks lovely in sunshine. It was so foggy when we were there we could barely see 5 feet in front of us. And we had rain and fog starting out on the Shi Shi trail, so we scrapped that idea. Don’t think we would have braved that much mud!
J & G, we had an unusually sunny day on our visit to Cape Flattery. In a way, I almost liked it better when we visited a couple of years ago in the fall. It was misty and gray, but we still had good visibility (we could easily see Tatoosh Island), and it made for some beautiful, moody photos. Shi Shi and Point of Arches is a wonderful hike, even with the mud. Next time I’ll wear old boots and I won’t care.
Another wonderful post from a really unique corner of this country. It’s just too beautiful to really capture in pictures, although yours give us a tantalizing taste.
I keep forgetting to say how much I enjoy your “new” format. I love to see the pictures right along with the story. It helps me really get a good view.
Thanks, Sue. I’m glad you like the new format! I’m still getting used to it but I think it’s making my blogging life easier.
Photography is interesting — we’re always trying to capture what we see, but it’s just a brief moment in time and just a sliver of the whole experience. I always seem to need to see something in person to really get a sense of it. But I keep trying to capture the essence in photos. :-)
I think Green Global Trek and I are twins since they said everything I would have said except how much I love your visits to these Native Reservations and sites. They are always some of the most powerful and moving places we visit. As usual your pictures are stunning. What an amazing place. I would have been right there with you in the mud. Sure wish I could do an entire west coast tour with you two.
Sherry, we would have fun on a west coast tour! I know you wouldn’t hesitate to do a hike in the mud. It was worth the effort and the mess!
Like you and David, we always search out the Native American reservations, ruins, and museums wherever we go. You would absolutely love the Makah museum. Thanks for appreciating the photos. :-)
Ah, mud and ropes. Gives me flashbacks of my backpacking trip last September on the Olympic coast. As we follow your trip this year it just reinforces our plan that next year we will be returning to the Pacific NW.
Henry, you are a tough one — I remember that muddy, wet backpacking adventure you did last year! I want to go back and spend the night at Point of Arches. Maybe we could plan a trip with you two!
Thanks for hiking out to the tidepools so I could see them – I can’t imagine that mud and rope-aided climb! The museum sounds spectacular, I definitely have to get back there to see it. How wonderful to see the darling otters. Love that you stayed in the open field – it looked like a fun option. Neah Bay is definitely one of my favorite places in Washington!
Jodee, you really must go back and visit the Makah museum. I know you’ll love it, and then I can read your post on it. It’s one of the most interesting, most beautiful museums we’ve visited.I’m glad we could do that hike for you. :-)