Cape Flattery in Washington state holds a pretty epic claim to fame- it’s the northwestern most point in the entire contiguous United States. It also offers a jaw dropping backdrop, with rugged sea stacks jutting out of the turquoise ocean, and excellent wildlife watching opportunities- I saw several seals and even a pod of orcas while I was there!
So if you want to check off a major bucket list destination and possibly even see some orca friends along the way, here’s everything you need to know about the Cape Flattery Trail.
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About the Cape Flattery Trail
- Distance: 1.2 miles roundtrip
- Elevation gain: 229 feet
- Difficulty: Easy. While the trail isn’t wheelchair accessible, there’s plenty of benches or other stops to rest along the way if you have mobility issues.
- Dog-friendly? Furbabies are welcome, but must stay on a leash.
What makes Cape Flattery so special?
While you can hike all the way to the tip of Cape Flattery, the northwesternmost point of the U.S. is actually Tatoosh Island, three quarters of a mile off the cape.
Holding that title is pretty cool and all, but Tatoosh Island is also special, due to its importance to the Makah people, who have lived in this corner of the planet for almost 4,000 years.
Throughout this period of time, they’ve actually used Tatoosh Island as a seasonal village, due to its proximity to productive fishing and whaling grounds. While members of the Makah tribe still hold special hunting privileges, the area around Cape Flattery is otherwise considered the Flattery Rocks National Wildlife Refuge, a sanctuary and home to elephant seals, tufted puffins, otters, our aforementioned killer whale friends, and hundreds of other species of wildlife.
How to get to the Cape Flattery Trail
Cape Flattery is located just shy of two hours west of Port Angeles, known as the gateway to Olympic National Park. The drive here along Highway 112 is beautiful, winding through dense rainforests with peekaboo glimpses of the Strait of Juan de Fuca through the lush trees.
You’ll eventually pass through the teeny town of Neah Bay, with a population just over 1,000 and the home of the Makah tribe since time immemorial.
You’ll need to stop in town to pick up a Makah Tribe Recreation Permit, which is required to park at any of the amazing beaches or trails on the reservation, like hiking or camping at Shi Shi Beach. You can pick one up from a variety of local businesses, like the Museum of Makah Culture and Research (which is worth a stop in and of itself) or the Makah Mini Mart, for $20 per vehicle and you can use it throughout the calendar year that you purchased it.
From Neah Bay, it’s a windy 15 minute drive along the Cape Flattery Road to the trailhead, which offers a parking lot that holds about 20 cars and a vault toilet.
When to Hike the Cape Flattery Trail
Thanks to its location along the coastline, Cape Flattery enjoys moderate weather throughout the year and thus, is open and accessible year round.
That being said, you’re more likely to encounter gloomy and rainy weather in the wintertime, with this area receiving a whopping 100 inches of rainfall each year.
To be honest, in my opinion, this area is gorgeous in the wintertime, with lots of low hanging fog and a kind of mysterious beauty (seriously, you gotta visit Olympic National Park in winter– it’s stunning!)- just make sure to bring along a positive attitude, a tolerance for a bit of mud, and a rain jacket (like this one for men and this one for women).
Not everything about visiting in the wintertime is a negative, though- if you time your visit during mid-December through January or March through April, you’ll increase your chances of spotting any of 18,000 gray whales that migrate back and forth from the arctic waters of Alaska to the warm lagoons of Baja, Mexico to breed and raise their young.
Otherwise, if you’re looking for peak outdoor adventure weather, the Cape Flattery hike is best enjoyed June through October.
What to Expect Along The Cape Flattery Trail
From the parking lot, you’ll walk along the Cape Flattery trail, gently sloping downhill, through a beautiful forest. Eventually, the ground beneath you will turn slightly boggy so the trail will continue along a series of wooden platforms and stairs.
Between the wooden boardwalks, you’ll walk over a dirt trail, with lots of uneven roots poking out. Be careful here, especially if the trail is wet or muddy- it can be super slippery!
By the time you get 0.5 miles into the trail, you’ll have reached the first overlook, with views of a rugged sea stack south of the point. About .1 miles further up the trail, you’ll reach a second overlook on the right side of the trail, with two wooden platforms that provide an excellent view of the sea caves and their churning water below.
Finally, about 0.1 miles down the trail, you’ll reach the final endpoint, a wooden platform with jaw-dropping views of the Kessiso Rocks to the south, Tatoosh Island straight ahead, and the Cape Flattery Reef and, on a clear day, even Canada all the way to your north. From here, you’ll have a great shot of seeing eagles, cormorants, and sea lions, from your vantage point above the dramatic cliffs and sea caves.
When you’re done, simply retrace your steps and make the climb back uphill to the trailhead.
Tips for the Cape Flattery Trail
- While low-hanging fog can be absolutely gorgeous in a moody, Twilight kind of way, it can also make it literally impossible to enjoy the view from the cape or, you know, challenging to not fall off the 70-foot cliff you’re standing on. Given how remote Cape Flattery is, you may want to check the visibility online before you drive out here, especially if you’re visiting in the wintertime, to avoid disappointment.
- If you really want a spectacular view, time your hike along the Cape Flattery trail with sunset- I promise you won’t be disappointed!
- As mentioned above, it can get quite muddy and slippery when wet, so I’d highly recommend wearing shoes with some sort of traction. When I visited during the summer, I got by just fine with my Teva hiking sandals (here’s an option for men), but if you’re visiting in the wintertime, I’d strongly suggest wearing actual hiking boots (like these for men and these for women), to avoid slipping on one of those gnarly roots along the trail.
I hope you enjoy the breathtaking views of the Cape Flattery trail as much as I go. Do you have any questions about the hike? Sound off in the comments below!