Sunday, May 4, 2014

Cape Flattery: Drama at the Continent's Edge

At the remote upper left hand corner of the continental United States lies a pilgrimage trail that calls to the adventurous and those stalking wonder.  

The lovely Cape Flattery trail winds through the forest to a series of five dramatic overlooks. When you arrive, stand on a platform overlooking a precipice at the northwestern-most point of the Lower 48 and watch the roiling Pacific ocean in all its power and beauty. With ocean-cut sea stacks, colliding cross-current waves, and a constant breeze, the views here are always breathtaking.

Although I've been to Neah Bay on the Makah Reservation, this is my first time hiking out to the point at Cape Flattery. When I was younger this was a much more rugged hike, but thanks to the Makah Tribe, a new trail was installed in  2008 with boardwalks over the muddiest portions and safe viewing platforms near the point.  

After driving to the end of the road on Cape Flattery above Neah Bay, we park  at the trailhead.  Then it's an easy walk down through a forest kept rich green by frequent drenching rains off the Pacific.
Skunk cabbage in bloom.

About 3/4 of the way down the 3/4-mile trail, the ocean to the west and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north come into view through the woods.

Looking northeast toward the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Vancouver Island in the distance.
 Here wind and currents combine and collide in showy displays of splashing waves and rough seas. These headlands and cliffs are being pounded and eroded away by the sea.

While we're blessed with blue skies today, this would be a stunning place to visit in any weather.  The view below is one of the many reasons I'm so passionate about my homeland.

View west-southwest to the Pacific Ocean

On an April weekday, we don't see many others on the trail, but with the renovated trail and newly paved road, more visitors are making their way here.  Today we find a few birders from Whidbey (Island) Audubon at the point, who let us look through a spotting scope at some huge Steller sea lions on a rocky outcrop offshore. 

Because I can't resist, I sneak around the platform to touch the northwestern-most tree in the contiguous U.S.  But just for a second because it's not a safe or smart thing to get too close to the cliff edges off the trail.

Kids, don't do this...

Lighthouse on Tatoosh Island.

This place holds special meaning for the Makah, who have lived in the area for thousands of years.  Tatoosh Island just offshore was a fishing camp for the tribal whalers and fishers, was a Coast Guard station (now decommissioned), and is the subject of several decades of ongoing biological research showing alarming changes likely related to climate change.

For now I put aside concern for our oceans and marine wildlife and just enjoy the beauty all around. Currents here boil and smash together as water rushes in from the Pacific and out from the Stait of Juan de Fuca, creating some impressive sprays.

It's hard to tear ourselves away and head back up the 300 feet we descended from the trailhead.  A few weeks later I'm still carrying the wonder and thrill of seeing this unique and stunning place.

Have you been to Cape Flattery? Before or after the new trail/road was installed? Would love to see your comments below. Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!

When You Go
Neah Bay is about 160 miles northwest from Seattle on the almost-northwest corner of the Olympic PeninsulaClick here for directions to the trailhead from Neah Bay. A Makah Recreation Pass must be purchased in Neah Bay prior to arriving at any trailheads on the Makah Indian Reservation.  

While in the area there are several other things to do/see since the hike out to Cape Flattery only takes an hour or two out and back. For a short side trip after you come back from the Cape trail, cross over the Waatch River to see Hobuck Beach and Shi Shi (pronounced shy shy) Beach. Also the Makah Museum in Neah Bay is worth a visit.


JoJo said...

I always meant to make it out there...the farthest I ever got was Second Beach at La Push. Then I moved away quite abruptly to the east coast and am kicking myself.

Unknown said...

haha me too JoJo!!!

jill said...

JoJo, Second Beach is pretty wonderful too. We went there the day after the trip to Cape Flattery.

Carla, at least we get to see you every year out here!

Marie said...

Looks gorgeous!!

Anonymous said...

Wow, I am missing something.
What a place. Very powerful.

Lisa said...

You captured it beautifully Jill! I was there before 2008 though when the road and trail were both pretty rugged and we really had no idea what to expect. Wonderful memories of a sunset picnic with the sea lions serenading us!

jill said...

Thanks for your comments Marie, Lisa, and Peter. A sunset picnic there sounds marvelous and romantic, especially with a chorus of sea lions! Peter, do make it out there, worth the long drive.