Submitted by Susanne Bacon.
Have you ever been to the most Northwestern place in the US? I’m not talking as in Alaska, but here in Western Washington. It’s quite a trip to Cape Flattery, in the end takes a walk all in all a bit over one and a half mile’s distance, and culminates in an absolutely breathtaking view – provided the weather is good, of course. Let me take you there in your mind – or feel inspired to try it out yourself sometime and make it a weekend trip!
When my husband and I went to Cape Flattery for our first time, we had booked accommodations in Port Angeles. From there it is another two-hour ride along the coastline of the San Juan de Fuca Strait. It’s a beautiful exploration of the rural Pacific Northwest in itself, but it gets really dramatically picturesque during the final stretch from Sekiu towards Neah Bay and the Makah Reservation. Huge rock boulders loom out of the water, and the villages you pass through somehow have an otherworldly vibe. When you reach Neah Bay, you head through town towards the mountain that seems to block the road and take a left to circle up and around. In the end you will find a parking lot in the middle of the woods. That’s where the trail head to the cape starts.
The path starts out wide and slowly inclines. And then begins a boardwalk that is truly fun with its twists and turns. As it gets steeper, step carefully across the wooden planks, because if it has been raining recently, some might be a bit slippery. And in some parts, you will encounter the usual rain forest puddle. As you are walking downhill (and probably already realize that you will have to hike all that up on your way back!), you start wondering where the cape might be. For it stays a woodsy path for what it seems is forever. But then there is a first platform, and it is so worthwhile stepping off the path and out there to see the surge of the Pacific’s waves crash against the southern rocky coast with its wood-covered cliffs. If it is late afternoon, the sun might be blinding you, and the sea has this incredible hue that evades any precise description. In some places it is a dark teal, in others almost blackish. And the millions of sparkles the sun causes look like diamonds in motion. But that has only been your very first glimpse.
Let’s walk further on to the next platform that offers you a vista of the northern shore to where it bends into the Strait. There are huge caves that have been washed out of the rock. And bird colonies find rich harvesting grounds on the algae covered cliffs below where the tide has receded and left some puddles between the crevices. Don’t step around the platform boundaries just because you think you might get a better view. You don’t know what the ground looks like underneath – it might give. And a fall from there would be certainly deadly. But, oh, the view, the colors of the forest, the rocks, and the sea!
And finally, you reach the last platform. Yes, Cape Flattery provides another one. But this one is challenging. Because access is via an iron ladder. It’s not frighteningly high, but it is a vertical one with no railings or anything. A few steps up, and you are on the wooden platform. You made it to this spectacular location!
Out there lies Tatoosh Island with its lighthouse, and you wonder how anybody ever ventured to explore that steep, rocky island with its lush high plateau. Farther out on the ocean you might see huge freighters heading for the entrance of the Strait. And the thought that beyond the horizon line there will be hundreds and hundreds of miles of just the Sea is exhilarating. You seem to be standing at “finis terrae”, as ancient maps would have named such a place – at the end of the world.
While you are gazing out there, it’s hard to grasp why looking at so little to see takes you so long. And why it makes you want to hang out there forever. And why is this really rough spot called “flattery”? (Well, I looked it up for you: Captain Cook, who reached that place via ship, felt flattered by hopes to find a harbor in the teensie inlet just south of the cape.) And where does the name Tatoosh come from in the first place? (No, not from tattoo, but from a Makah chief’s name.) And how did the Makah make this their fishing camp during summer when the cliffs are looking so forbidding? And maybe this is the first time you come across the fact that three Japanese survivors of a shipwreck ended up on Cape Flattery in 1834 and were, thus the story, kept in slavery by the Makah until William Henry McNeill found them and had them saved to Fort Vancouver, which was run by the Hudson’s Bay company. Neat tidbit, right?
Well, just take a look behind you, guys. There are other hikers below who’d like to catch a glimpse of this incredibly unique spot in the Pacific Northwest. Approach the ladder backward and feel for the rungs carefully – they are just a little far apart. When you finally have firm ground underneath your feet, boost yourself for the upward walk. Remember – make it fun, take it at your pace. And if you have run out of water and provisions – stop by at the general store in Neah Bay after you have driven down the mountain again. Top your experience off with a fun treat.