Neah Bay & Cape Flattery: Northwesternmost Point

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Once you leave Lake Crescent behind, US 101 gets a bit boring.  All you pass are trees, trees, and more trees.  So take a detour back to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, up State Route 113, then 112, headed north and west.   You’ll still have to drive through another half-hour or more of forest, but you’ll eventually reach water again.

Strait of Juan de Fuca, Clallam Bay & Neah Bay

After you pass through Clallam Bay (we’ll come back to this town, and its famous Running Fish statue later), you reach the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  There are plenty of places here to pull off the road and walk down to the water.

Strait of Juan de Fuca, Clallam Bay & Neah Bay

Some of these rocks were covered with graffiti, but some creative camerawork, and the lack of light from the quickly setting sun, helped me hide the spray paint scars.

Use caution as you approach Neah Bay, the tiny town that’s home to the Makah Indians.  The road has been poorly maintained.  As of September 2004, one lane of the twisty two lane road had completely washed away.  Road crews didn’t rebuild the road, they just lowered the speed limit and put up a stop sign on each end of the wash-out.

Cape Flattery, Near Neah Bay

Cape Flattery at Sunset

One wind-swept tree hangs on the edge of Cape Flattery, the most northwestern point in the contiguous U.S.

As you enter the Makah Reservation, signs advise you to pay $5 for the privilege of visiting their corner of the country.  There are no toll booths, however, and to be quite honest, I’m not sure where you’re supposed to go, to pay.

Cape Flattery at Sunset, Tatoosh Island

Just off Cape Flattery, you can see Tatoosh Island.  There’s a lighthouse here, whichtechnically marks the most northwestern point in the country (excluding Alaska, of course.)  The island and surrounding waters are protected by the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

Cape Flattery at Sunset

Several viewpoints provide incredible views of the rocky coastline.  This one looks south…

Cape Flattery at Sunset

… while this one looks north.  The crashing waves have eroded the rock, forming a series of sea caves and inlets.  If the surf is rough, you can feel the waves shaking the ground below your feet.

Cape Flattery at Sunset

As you look at this last picture, and notice how the sun has almost set, consider this: I still must hike a half mile up a muddy trail through a thick forest in near darkness, to get back to my car!  That experience was a bit scary.

The Makah tribe has recently made improvements in the trail that takes you to Cape Flattery, and the viewpoints at the end of the path.  While the trail can still be a muddy, slippery mess in places, it’s much better than it used to be.  You can learn more about the restoration effort here.  Or, learn about tribe, and view some impressive aerial photos of the coast, by visiting the official Makah website.

Neah Bay, WA

Neah Bay Indian Reservation, Washington

Once I made my way back through Neah Bay, it was almost too dark to take any more pictures.  Neah Bay’s most scenic feature is the water that surrounds it.  As for the town itself, it’s a run-down, depressing place, that’s obviously consumed by poverty.  I didn’t see any motels or restaurants in town, nice enough to recommend.  That’s a shame, because it seems this community could do more to capitalize on its two biggest tourist draws: Cape Flattery, and sport fishing.

One attraction in Neah Bay is worth visiting: the modern museum run by the Makah Indians. You’ll pass it on your way into Neah Bay.

Neah Bay Indian Reservation, Washington

A view of town, from the outskirts.  You can’t see much, because there isn’t much there.

Neah Bay Indian Reservation, Washington

As you climb the hill on the way out of Neah Bay, a small roadside turnout provides this view.  This is also the last place you’ll have cell-phone coverage, until Clallam Bay, so if you haven’t called your friends to tell them you’ve survived your trip to the northwestern corner of the country, do it now.

The Makah tribe made news a few years back, when it was granted permission to hunt and kill whales, as part of its tribal rituals.

Note: This trip was first published in 2004.

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