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The Cape Flattery Trail offers wild coastal views that are worth the trek

Why you need to visit the Cape Flattery Trail

Image of the cape flattery reef at the end of the trail off a cliff
Rachel Dennis / The Manual

When Washingtonians told me I needed to take a trip to Cape Flattery, the northwesternmost point of the contiguous U.S., I assumed it was just for bragging rights. I added a short detour to the trail before returning to well-known sites on the Olympic Peninsula, like Lake Quinault’s rainforest or Mount Olympus’ cloudy peaks.

But to my surprise, my journey to Cape Flattery trail, through the idyllic Neah Bay, was as, if not more stunning than the neighboring Olympic National Park and completely worth the additional drive.

Along the trail, you’re privy to lush rainforest views, craggy cliffs, marine life, and millennia of Indigenous and ecological history, all within a 1.5-mile hike.

Ready to visit this Pacific northwestern gem, located just 160 miles north of Seattle? Here’s how to get there and what you’ll see along the way.

How to Get to the Cape Flattery Trail

A booth and stop sign at the entrance of Cape Flattery
Rachel Dennis / The Manual

The Cape Flattery Trail is located in Neah Bay, a coastal town on the Makah Reservation. It’s located on the western side of the Olympic peninsula and passes sleepy towns, beach access points, and campgrounds along the 101 highway.

Assuming you’re heading here from Seattle, you can take a ferry over to the peninsula or a four to five-hour drive south through Tacoma to avoid the ferry altogether. If you’re headed from Portland, the commute will take about five to six hours and is accessible by land and bridges.

When you arrive at Neah Bay, you’ll need to purchase a $20 parking permit from the Makah tribe. It’s easy to grab your pass right before you reach the trail at a convenient booth, but a local store and community center also sell passes. This is also a great time to ask any burning questions about the Cape Flattery Trail or Neah Bay’s Makah Tribe, the town’s governing body.

If you’re planning ahead, you can also purchase and print your permit online.

Recreation parking permits are valid for a year, so you can return and park in the area as much as you’d like within that timeframe. You can also use it if you visit Shi Shi Beach to tackle the 8.8 Point of Arches trail in Neah Bay.

A quick note on what to wear: make sure to bring layers. You can expect strong coastal winds, high-elevation weather, and, of course, rain. However, sun showers and bright skies aren’t uncommon at the cliff’s edge, so pack for anything.

Sneakers are fine for this trail, but hiking boots or shoes with traction may make things a bit easier on wetter days.

The natural wonders you’ll encounter on the Cape Flattery Trail

A man walking on a boardwalk on the Cape Flattery Trail
Rachel Dennis / The Manual

There’s ample parking at the trailhead, and you can find a helpful information board with a trail map alongside local announcements. There’s a bucket full of hand-carved walking sticks, kindly provided for guests to use during their hike.

The trail is relatively short at 1.5 miles and great for any age, but it’s worth it to take things slowly, with endless details to view on this trail.

The Cape Flattery trail’s unique radiance is hard to put into words – the dewy steam seems to make the fauna glisten and glimmer in the dappled sunlight.

This rainforest’s vibrant moss collects raindrops with its small tendrils outstretched, and the moist sea air gives life to the forest’s many shades of green.

The Sitka spruces, hemlocks, and maple trees weave a dense overhead canopy, shading the area and softening the light. Lichens, mosses, and vines create a carpet of green along the forest floor, with ferns brightly dotting the path.

The ground is moist and sometimes very slippery, but thoughtfully placed stepping stones, boardwalks, and stairs create a safe and varied trail experience.

Exploring the northwesternmost point in the U.S.

Thousands of mussels and an orange starfish at the edge of the cape flattery cliff
Rachel Dennis / The Manual

When you make it to the cliff’s edge at the end of the trail, the rainforest opens up to the sea, where you’ll find four wooden viewing platforms. It’s worth visiting them all and enjoying telescopes on select platforms. I spent about 10 minutes at each, taking in the varied cave, forest, and inlet vistas.

300 feet below, thousands of mussels clustered together on the rocky banks. Bright, muscular starfish impressively clung to the boulders despite the endless crashing waves. The coast feels rugged and wild, dotted with surprise sea lion and whale sightings in the right season.

A lighthouse stands atop the neighboring Tatoosh island, contrasting the untouched nature. To the north are sweeping views of Cape Flattery Reef’s rocks, and Kessiso Rocks rise along the southern shoreline.

For the brave, small dirt side trails provide even better views than from the decks and offer a completely immersive experience. Watch your step along the slippery banks and take care not to disturb any fauna off-trail.

I was pleased to meet fellow hikers from around the world along the trail, yet it never felt overcrowded. After about 40 minutes at the country’s tip, I re-entered the lush rainforest and departed on a small connected loop that provided another stunning cliff view and huge old-growth tree views.

You can expect your visit to take about 40 minutes at its shortest, but it’s best to plan two hours for the location, and additi can further extend your time spent here.

The Rich History of the Makah Tribe and Neah Bay

A public artwork in the Makah Tribe, Neah Bay
Rachel Dennis / The Manual

Cape Flattery is 30 million years in the making, with sediments and lava flows from the ancient Pacific Plate shaping the land. The bay’s cultural history extends thousands of years back, inhabited by the Makah Tribe, known for its rich history of skilled whaling and fishing along the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Despite the introduction of Western diseases such as smallpox and assimilation efforts, the Makah culture is still preserved in the Neah Bay, and the tribe tends to the trail and other tourist regions in the area.

Visitors can engage in plenty of attractions alongside a Cape Flattery Trail hike. Fishing tours, beach trips, and the Makah Museum can round out a perfect day trip to the reservation. The annual Makah Day celebration curates a fair and activities such as canoe racing and traditional dancing each August if you happen to be in town during summer.

If you’re hungry after your hike, head to Calvin’s Crab House in Neah Bay for some delicious chowder and fried fish paired with a relaxing ocean view. While this locale feels down to earth, it offers million-dollar views of the sweeping bay.

So, is the Cape Flattery Trail simply a photo op at the northwesternmost corner of the country? I would say it’s much more. The journey to the cliff edge connects you with millions of years of geologic and cultural history alongside the coastal rainforest’s distinct beauty, offering one of the most iconic experiences in the great Pacific Northwest.

Rachel Dennis
Artist & writer with a flair for the outdoors, sustainability & travel. Off-duty chef, bookworm, and conversation lover.
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