Cape Flattery on the Olympic Peninsula is a world-class travel destination of geographical and historical significance.
I live three hours from Cape Flattery. I’ve been twice and would go again in a heartbeat.
But its claim to fame – being the most northwestern point of the continental United States – means it’s a long drive to get there.
It’s no wonder that people ask: is Cape Flattery worth visiting?
Drawing from my experiences visiting the Cape, I’ll help you answer this question. But – spoiler alert! – it depends on your preferences as a traveler.
Everything in life is a trade-off. Doing one thing means you’re saying no to other choices.
Together, we’ll determine if visiting Cape Flattery is worth your time.
I also discuss what you’ll see on the trail, the best time to visit, and nearby attractions, and I answer FAQs at the end.
Let’s get into it!
Is Cape Flattery Worth the Drive?
The combination of dramatic cliffs, powerful ocean waves, sea caves, wildlife, and coastal forests makes it an unforgettable destination.
With that said, whether or not it’s worth the trip depends on how much time you have, your Olympic Peninsula itinerary, and what you want to experience.
If you live in Western WA…
..and seeing stunning views on the Washington coast is your idea of a good time, the answer is yes!
It’s a roughly 10-hour round-trip drive if you’re coming from Seattle.
To really make the day trip worth the drive, I recommend stopping at other attractions on your way there, like Crescent Beach at Salt Creek.
Even better, stay one night and choose from other Neah Bay activities. My husband, Colby, and I did in August, and it was one of the best weekends of our entire summer.
More time allowed us to visit the Cape and explore other coastline destinations in the area, like Point of Arches on Shi Shi Beach, without feeling rushed.
If you’re traveling from outside of Western WA…
..and have one day on the Peninsula
The answer is maybe.
With limited time, you must know what kind of experience you want (one epic hike with mountain views or seeing old-growth trees in a rainforest, for example).
And then you have to know which region will offer you that experience. Then, you have to know the amount of driving required for that experience.
The Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center is more than two hours away from the Cape.
If you want to see Olympic National Park’s signature combination of rainforest and beaches, then going to the Hoh and Ruby Beach makes more sense.
But, if seeing coastline attractions is at the top of your list, the answer is yes. And plan your itinerary to hike to Point of Arches, the best in the state.
..and have two days or more on the Peninsula
The answer is – absolutely – yes!
Why Cape Flattery is Special
I’ve seen incredible photos of this destination. But there’s nothing like actually being here.
Cape Flattery Trail is not part of Olympic National Park, but I was nonetheless immersed in nature’s raw beauty and splendor.
I could have watched the waves crash against the imposing rocky cliffs for hours when we visited.
I marveled at the ocean water’s aquamarine color and relished seeing bald eagles soar above me.
From the second of the Cape’s four viewpoints, I delighted in seeing the Pigeon Guillemots perch on shallow rock ledges along the frame of a big cave and hearing their high-pitched birdsong.
In addition to its natural wonders, other factors add to the interestingness of this destination.
The land and waters surrounding Cape Flattery and Tatoosh Island, just off the coast, have been vital to the Makah culture for thousands of years.
The Makah people have historically relied on these waters for seasonal fishing and hunting trips.
From the vantage point of the Cape’s final observation deck, Makah ancestors watched the ocean.
They spotted European imperial powers who sailed these waters in the 18th century, searching for the Northwest Passage and the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Geography & History
The Cape marks the confluence of two significant bodies of water: the Pacific Ocean and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Simply put, it’s where the Salish Sea empties into the ocean.
Tatoosh Island was named after a Makah Tribal Chief, Tatooche. British explorer John Meares recorded his encounter with the tribe in 1788:
“The island itself appeared to be barren rock, almost inaccessible… but the surface of it far as we could see was covered with inhabitants who were gazing at the ship. We could by no means reconcile the wild and uncultivated appearance of the place with such a flourishing state of population.”
Whales & Other Wildlife
This is a place cherished by birders. Birds that have been spotted on the Cape Flattery Trail are listed here.
It’s also a site on the Whale Trail, a collection of places along the Salish Sea and the Pacific Coast where gray whales are commonly seen.
Other commonly spotted marine mammals include seals and sea lions.
Cape Flattery Trail: Things to Know
Before your visit, stop in Neah Bay to pick up a Makah Recreation Permit for $20. Or, you can buy one online. This pass is good for the calendar year.
We bought our permit from Cape Resort, where we stayed in our RV.
Cape Flattery Trail
- Hike length: 1.2 miles roundtrip
- Elevation gain: 229 feet
- Difficulty: Easy
- Restrooms: At trailhead
The trail features a well-built wooden boardwalk constructed by the Makah Tribe that takes you to four observation decks.
What You’ll See
The forest hike is short but delightful.
You’ll see Western Hemlocks, Spruce and Cedar trees, and lots of Salal.
Seeing the aquamarine water through the trees as you approach the Cape is particularly enchanting.
Cape Flattery features some of the most dramatic coastal cliffs in the Pacific Northwest.
The rugged terrain, sea stacks topped with stands of evergreen trees, and waves crashing below – altogether, it’s mesmerizing.
When you reach the second viewing platform, you’ll see sea caves carved out of rock by the ocean’s relentless waves.
Look closely. Pigeon Guillemots fly and land on the largest sea cave’s outward-facing perimeter.
TATOOSH ISLAND & CAPE FLATTERY LIGHTHOUSE
From the last viewing platform, at the end of the trail, you’ll look out to Tatoosh Island. The island once served as a jump-off point for Makah whaling expeditions.
The island is home to diverse species of seabirds being studied by university researchers.
It’s also the ground upon which Cape Flattery Lighthouse stands, whose light first shone in 1857.
You’ll also see Vancouver Island across the water on a clear day.
What to Bring
It’s a short and easy hike, so you don’t necessarily need to bring every item on the “Ten Essentials” list.
But sturdy footwear is a must because the trail has protruding tree roots.
Here are some other helpful items to bring:
- Camera: I regret not bringing my Canon on this hike! But my iPhone worked just fine.
- Backpack: It’s a shorter adventure, but I always bring a backpack to hold water and any valuables I don’t want to leave in the car.
- Binoculars: I didn’t bring any, but a pair would have been brilliant on this trail.
- Sun protection: It was August when I last did this hike, so I wore a sunhat and sunscreen.
- Trekking Poles: It doesn’t matter how short a trail is; I always hike with trekking poles. They help me stay balanced on uneven terrain.
- Softshell jacket: I recommend keeping a breathable jacket with a hood in your backpack, even in the summer.
When is the Best Time to Visit Cape Flattery?
You can visit any time of year, as long as it’s not too stormy.
Storms on the coast are exciting to watch, but seeing Cape views requires a short hike through the forest. Tree branches can come crashing down during a bad storm, making it unsafe.
Below, I discuss what it’s like during each season.
Cape Flattery in Spring
In spring, you’ll feel nature waking up from dormancy. The forest is lush from fall and winter rain.
Crowds are fewer, making it a fantastic time to visit.
Migratory seabirds return to the area and begin to nest, attracting birders from all over the world.
The weather is notoriously rainy from March to May. But stretches of dry weather are not uncommon, and temperatures are mild.
Cape Flattery in Summer
Summer is the peak of the travel season, and the weather is reliably good.
This is when the water takes on extraordinary gem-like colors.
Be prepared for larger crowds by showing up with patience. Include extra time in your schedule for the unexpected things that travel during a busier season can bring.
The Makah Tribe manages the traffic flow to Cape Flattery, so you’ll likely have to wait in line.
In August, we waited in a short line of vehicles for about 15 minutes.
The parking area was busy, and many people were on the trail. But I never felt like the views were inaccessible.
Cape Flattery in Fall
Early fall is the best season to visit the Olympic Peninsula.
The summer crowds have dwindled, making it an excellent time for unhurried exploration.
Visiting in September or October is your best chance for optimal fall weather.
In early October, blue-sky days when temperatures reach the low 80s can happen. These are perfect days for coastline exploration.
Cape Flattery in Winter
Winter is when Cape Flattery is its wildest.
The weather is rainy and windy from December to February, but that’s part of the charm.
Gray skies and fog create a moody atmosphere. Ocean waves crash against the cliffs with dramatic force.
A mild winter storm is exciting. Bad storms can be dangerous.
Check the forecast for storm weather advisories.
What is Near Cape Flattery?
There’s no shortage of things to do in Neah Bay and all recreational areas on the Makah Reservation.
Below are just a few.
You don’t need to be a guest of Hobuck Beach Resort to recreate on the beach. All you need is a Makah Recreation Permit, and you can enjoy this gorgeous beach for an entire afternoon.
The resort rents kayaks, stand-up paddles, and surfboards.
I even saw a dad and child fishing here, although the best fishing in the area requires a boat trip.
Another great thing about this beach is its easy access from the parking area.
The Makah Museum is a fascinating stop to learn about the Makah Tribe and their ancient relationship with the land and water.
Visitors love it. It has a 5-star rating on Google.
My favorite room at the museum features a nearly 30-foot-long whale skeleton.
Plan to spend at least one hour here.
Point of Arches
If you have time for a 5 – 6 hour adventure, the best coastline attraction in all of Washington, Point of Arches, is a short drive away at Shi Shi Beach.
Seeing this spectacular configuration of more than 30 sea stacks requires an 8.8-mile round-trip hike. But the hike is worth every step.
Point of Arches is an otherworldly experience at low tide.
Wear hiking boots because the trail is next-level muddy.
Directions to Cape Flattery
The journey here from Seattle takes about 4.5 – 5 hours, depending on traffic.
One option takes you south through Tacoma, then north towards the Kitsap Peninsula. An alternative is taking the Bainbridge Ferry.
Once you cross the Hood Canal Bridge that connects the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas, you’ll drive for about fifteen minutes before seeing the signs for Highway 101.
After passing through Port Angeles, look for signs for the 112 to head west. This remarkable highway was declared a national scenic byway in 2000.
Allow yourself some time to pull over to enjoy this scenic drive and stunning views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
LOCAL’S TIP: The best places to pull over are after passing Clallam Bay.
There’s a limited amount of parking spaces in the lot, but some parking is available along the side of the road.
Cape Flattery FAQs
Commonly asked questions are answered below.
Do you need a permit to visit Cape Flattery?
A Makah Recreation Permit is required and can be purchased online or in person at various places in Neah Bay. It costs $20 and must be visible in the window of your vehicle.
Is the road to Cape Flattery paved?
Yes, the road is paved, and so is the parking lot.
Are dogs allowed at Cape Flattery?
Dogs are allowed on the trail, but they must be on a leash.
Wrap-Up: Cape Flattery is Worth Visiting
Having hiked the Cape Flattery Trail twice, I know from experience that it’s worth the drive.
It’s a place where you can immerse yourself in nature and feel the mightiness of the Pacific Ocean.
Its awe-inspiring coastal beauty, rich history, and natural wonders make it a must-visit destination on the Olympic Peninsula.