Cape Flattery Hike Washington Coast
By Ron Finney
Here’s an easy Pacific Northwest hike for your bucket list. Hike the extreme northwest tip of the continental United States, Cape Flattery. The Cape Flattery Hike Washington Coast is 0.75 mile (each way) trail on the Makah Indian Reservation. Near Neah Bay, the trail recently received a major renovation, thanks to the DNR and Washington State DOT and the Makah Tribe. The far-flung outpost of Neah Bay, is considered by residents to be the place “where the road begins.” If you take a look at a map, you’ll have to agree. As $10 recreation use permit per vehicle is payable to the Makah tribe. The permit is good for a whole year. Stop in at the Makah Museum to get your permit, and explore the tribe’s amazing history while you’re there. So now you’re set to begin your Cape Flattery hike Washington Coast.
So “Cape Flattery”… yes there is a story behind the name. In March of 1778, Captain James Cook was cruising the waters off the northwestern tip of the Olympic Peninsula in search of the fabled “Northwest Passage.” An opening along the coast had “flattered” Captain Cook into thinking he had located a harbor or passage. For this reason he named the place Cape Flattery. Captain Cook noted in his logbook: “In this very latitude geographers have placed the pretended Strait of Juan de Fuca. But nothing of that kind presented itself to our view, nor is it probable that any such thing ever existed.” Thus, Captain Cook missed the Straight of Juan de Fuca. The Straight and Puget Sound were later discovered in 1787 by maritime fur trader Charles William Barkley, captain of the Imperial Eagle.
The picturesque Cape Flattery Hike Washington Coast winds through a forest of massive, twisted cedar, sitka spruce and pacific yew. Delightful cedar plank walkways and bridges cross the many watery, marshy features of the woodland landscape.
The excitement builds as you approach the rugged coastline. It is sculpted through the eons by powerful storms and the pounding surf, where ocean and land collide. Five different viewing platforms along the way offer stunning views of deep rocky coves, sea stacks, plunging cliffs and sea caves. These waters, despite their often turbulent nature, are home to all kinds of birds and wildlife. These include puffins, oyster catchers and sea otters. We spotted quite a variety of fauna ourselves, including puffin and ospreys, as well as a gray whale on our way out along the straight.
The final viewing platform at the end of the Cape Flattery Hike Washington Coast offers a sweeping view of the wild coastline, as well as windswept and treeless Tatoosh Island. Captain John Meares reportedly named the island for the “surly and forbidding” Tatooche, Chief of the Makah Indians. Surely Captain Meares had no attitude issues of his own! Twenty acre Tatoosh Island was at one time a popular summer fishing and whale hunting camp for the Makahs. The dangerous waters only hint at the skilled seamanship and elegant canoes that were essential to survival of the native Makah. A friendly and knowledgeable Makah tribal member greeted us at the main platform. She answered our many questions, and offered her binoculars to better view the lighthouse and the puffins bobbing on the waters below.
The island landscape of Tatoosh is now dominated by a the U.S. Coast Guard lighthouse, built in 1857. The lighthouse and its associated facilities were operated by a keeper until 1977 when it was automated. Tatoosh today is inhabited only by seals, rotund sea lions and multitudes of noisy seabirds. Cape Flattery has been designated a nature sanctuary by the Makah. Make a point of visiting this rugged and scenic destination, where the Pacific Northwest stretches with all her might to touch the sea. Learn more about the Cape Flattery Hike Washington Coast at www.makah.com/activities/cape-flattery-trail.