At The Untamed Edge – Cape Flattery, WA
It would be easy to imagine yourself at the end of the world. The fog is so heavy it rains a stream of constant moisture on your face, the waves so wild they crash dangerously on the rocks below and the shoreline so untamed it makes you gasp just to stand on the edge. We’ve made it to the northwesternmost (yes, it’s a mouthful) corner of the lower 48 and we’re teetering five stories above the water on a lonely cape that juts into the space between the Pacific Ocean and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Over the water, somewhere past the thick fog is Canada and to the West is nothing but roaring ocean for thousands of miles. The only thing that marks this point is the end of the trail and the lonely remains of a lighthouse just visible on the edge of Tatoosh Island across the way.
We made it!!
For some reason I’ve been drawn to this spot ever since we started planning our WA trip over 6 months ago. Cape Flattery and next-door town Neah Bay are part of a Makah Indian Reservation on the very northwestern tip of the Olympic Peninsula. It’s a damp and wild place steeped in thousand year-old Makah history and punctuated by crazy Cape Flattery Lighthouse.
Cape Flattery Lighthouse
The latter was an obvious draw (being lighthouse nuts as we are) and had been on my lighthouse radar for a few years. Built on Tatoosh Island ~0.5 miles from shore, Cape Flattery Lighthouse is the western-most lighthouse in the lower 48 and was first lit 1857. Conditions on this remote posting were so damp, miserable and rotten that several keepers resigned and by 1873 the dwelling was declared “not fit to be occupied”. New dwellings were built and the light persisted, remaining manned until 1977 and finally extinguished in 2009 when it was handed back to the Makah.
You can’t actually visit her, but you catch a glimpse of the girl (and some Puffins), if you’re lucky, from the short 3/4 mile trail that leads to the end of Cape Flattery. We managed the trail on a foggy and grey, but relatively clear day mixed with about 40 other people (?!) who had the same idea. Despite the crowds and the slippery ground we were able to find a few quiet corners to soak in the views and absorb the desolation of the place.
Lighthouse -> check!!
NOTE/ Cape Flattery trail is entirely dog-friendly. It lies within the Makah Reservation and requires a $10 recreation pass which you can pick-up at the Neah Bay Museum.
Neah Bay & Makah Taditions
Next-door Neah Bay is the heart of Makah country and preserves not only the history of the tribe, but also the traditions of the sea. The Makah were skilled mariners who had both summer and permanent residents along the entire northern NW coast. The small Makah Museum in Neah Bay is an excellent little stop to soak in the history, followed by a trip to the bustling marina and (this is important, so pay attention now) a stop by “Kimm’s Place”, more formally known as Take Home Fish Co, to pick-up freshly smoked salmon.
The Makah word for salmon literally translates to “food”, so it’s no accident that you can find some of the finest creations of fish right here. Kimm’s place is nothing but a run-down (near collapsing) blue trailer located inconspicuously across from the mini-mart, but he is an artist when it comes to smoking fish. We snagged a slice of warm alder-smoked salmon right out of the oven that was simply swoon-worthy -> a delectable, melt-in-your-mouth treat soft as butter and sweet as candy. Oh my, oh my….you cannot miss this, folks! Thanks to blog reader Chris for this tip!
Salmon -> check!
NOTE/ The Makah Museum costs $5 to visit. It is open 10-5 PM daily.
Foggy Hobuck Beach
Our sojourn at this little NW corner was completed by dry-camping on the field of Hobuck Beach Resort. For a reasonable $20/night you can camp with plenty of space and nothing but a short trail between you and the sand. Nothing fancy, but perfect for “the beast”. The beach was a beautifully-deserted crescent of sand with plenty of space to play with doggie and commune alone with nature. It was massive, gorgeous and practically empty.
The only hiccup was the fog.
It’s a well-known effect that the warmer it gets inland, the more frequently the fog gets sucked into the coast, and sticking as we are so far west we’re the very first recipients. Temps have been ferociously hot just a few hours inland, so naturally things been ferociously foggy here. What that means is pleasantly cool weather (60-degrees and fog versus 95-degrees and sun…..I’ll take that anyday!), but sadly no chance of sunset shots. Oh well, you can’t have everything.
Sunset -> next time.
NOTE/ Hobuck beach is within the Hobuck Beach Resort and is entirely off-leash dog friendly
From here we depart from the Pacific Coast and make our way along the Strait of Juan de Fuca to another stretch of water and (yes) another lighthouse (whoo hooo!). We plan to be in the shadow of the rain shadow, if that makes sense, so hopefully that means sunnier weather. Also I just happened to have booked at exactly the right time for a certain lavender festival. Coincidence? I think not! ‘Tis all part of the cunning grand plan MWAhahahahaha…See ya at the next spot!
- Neah Bay -> Link to Neah Bay info HERE and Makah Museum HERE
- Cape Flattery -> Link to hike HERE and Lighthouse history HERE