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Discovering Neah Bay: A Coastal Paradise Near Cape Flattery

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Perched on the wild Washington coastline lies Neah Bay – a hidden paradise with rugged cliffs, sparkling beaches, and a rich indigenous culture. Explore its ancient beauty at Cape Flattery and Shi Shi Beach.

Perched on the edge of the wild Washington coastline lies a hidden paradise waiting to be unearthed: Neah Bay. This breathtaking enclave, just outside the rugged expanse of Olympic National Park, is not only a feast for the eyes but also a sacred sanctuary, steeped in the ancient culture of its indigenous inhabitants – the Makah people. From the towering cliffs of Cape Flattery jutting out into the endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean, to the shimmering shores of Shi Shi Beach, Neah Bay beckons weary travelers to bask in its raw natural beauty and embrace its rich cultural heritage.

Cape Flattery lighthouse on Tatoosh Island on the Makah reservation at the Olympic Peninsula, Washington.

This land is not just a destination for tourists, but a beloved homeland for the Makah Tribe whose roots run deep within every inch of this pristine landscape. Whether immersing oneself in the vibrant traditions and customs of Makah culture within the quaint town, luxuriating in a waterfront cabin perched upon the edge of unfettered nature, or traversing remote beaches and exploring teeming tide pools, this untouched corner of Washington is an all-inclusive experience that caters to all interests and desires. In this blog post, we will delve deep into all that Neah Bay has to offer – from its proud status as a reservation to its captivating history and top-rated hiking trails, and even recommended accommodations and dining options that promise an unforgettable stay.

Neah Bay: Permit Requirements

Neah Bay, located on the Makah Indian Reservation, is not a part of Olympic National Park. This area is home to the Makah people, who have their own government and cultural traditions as a sovereign nation. As you explore the town and other reservation locations like Cape Flattery and the Shi Shi Beach trailhead, remember that you are entering someone else’s home. The Makah are known for their hospitality and generosity towards visitors–the name “Makah” even means “people generous with food” in the neighboring Salish language. Be sure to show respect and consideration for both the land and its inhabitants during your visit.

To access various attractions on the reservation such as beaches and trailheads, you will need to purchase a Makah Recreation Permit in person. These permits can be obtained from businesses in town like the Makah Culture and Resource Center, Makah Marina, or Makah Mini Mart for $20 per vehicle. Make sure to display it on your car window. Your national park pass or America the Beautiful pass will not be valid in Neah Bay.

If you plan on exploring areas within Olympic National Park, such as Shi Shi Beach, you may also need a national park pass in addition to your Makah permit. Certain activities like camping may require separate permits as well, so it’s important to check current regulations and guidelines before starting your journey.

Rocky Coastal Cliffs at Cape Flattery. Olympic National Park, Washington, USA.
Photo: Victoria Nefedova / Adobe Stock.

The Makah Tribe: Guardians of the Coast

The Makah people have inhabited the shores of Neah Bay for thousands of years, relying on the bounty of the sea for sustenance and cultural significance. Their connection to the ocean is deeply woven into their traditions, artwork, and way of life. Visitors to Neah Bay have the opportunity to learn about Makah history and culture at the Makah Cultural and Research Center, where artifacts and exhibits offer insights into their rich heritage. The Makah Tribe also continues their tradition of whaling, conducting ceremonial hunts as a means of honoring their ancestors and maintaining their cultural identity.

History and Origins

The history of the Makah Tribe traces back over 2,000 years, with archaeological evidence indicating their presence along the coast of the Pacific Northwest since ancient times. The name “Makah” translates to “people who live by the rocks and seagulls,” a fitting description of their close connection to the sea and the rugged landscape of Neah Bay.

For centuries, the Makah people have relied on the ocean for sustenance, hunting whales, seals, and other marine mammals using traditional cedar canoes and harpoons. Their whaling tradition is one of the oldest in the world, dating back millennia and serving as a central aspect of Makah culture and identity.

Cape Alava in Olympic National Park.

Cultural Traditions and Practices

Central to Makah culture are their rich oral traditions, storytelling, and ceremonial practices passed down through generations. These traditions encompass a deep reverence for the natural world, with spiritual beliefs intertwined with the rhythms of the sea and the cycles of nature.

One of the most iconic traditions of the Makah Tribe is their annual whaling ceremony, known as the Makah Days, which celebrates the tribe’s connection to the ocean and honors their ancestors every August. This multi-day event features traditional songs, dances, and rituals, culminating in the sharing of the whale harvest with the community.

Contemporary Life and Challenges

While the Makah Tribe continues to uphold their cultural traditions and practices, they also face challenges in preserving their way of life in the modern world. Like many indigenous communities, the Makah people have grappled with issues such as economic development, environmental conservation, and cultural preservation.

Efforts to balance traditional practices with contemporary realities have led to initiatives aimed at revitalizing Makah language and culture, as well as sustainable stewardship of natural resources. The Makah Cultural and Research Center plays a crucial role in these efforts, serving as a hub for education, research, and the preservation of Makah heritage.

Exploring the Ozette Archaeological Site near Neah Bay

In the winter of 1969-70, a powerful storm battered the coastline near Neah Bay, Washington, causing a section of coast to slump and revealing a remarkable archaeological treasure. Buried for over 500 years by a mudslide, the southernmost village of Ozette emerged from its watery grave, unveiling a trove of over 55,000 perfectly preserved artifacts. This extraordinary discovery shed light on the ancient inhabitants of the area, offering a glimpse into their way of life and cultural practices.

The Makah Tribe, the indigenous people of Neah Bay, wasted no time in partnering with archaeologists from the University of Washington to excavate the site and uncover its secrets. Working tirelessly, they unearthed a wealth of artifacts, including tools, utensils, household items, and ceremonial objects, providing invaluable insights into the daily lives and traditions of the Ozette people.

Today, many of these artifacts are proudly displayed at the Makah Cultural & Resource Center, a world-class museum located on the reservation. Housing one of the most extensive collections of Northwest Coast Native American artifacts in the world, the museum offers visitors a captivating journey through Makah history and culture.

Among the highlights of the museum’s collection are exhibits showcasing whaling and fishing gear, intricately woven basketry, and life-size replicas of traditional longhouses and canoes. These artifacts offer a tangible connection to the past, allowing visitors to appreciate the ingenuity and craftsmanship of the Ozette people.

For those eager to delve even deeper into the history of the Ozette Archaeological Site, guided tours are available for a fee of $125. Led by knowledgeable guides, these tours offer a firsthand exploration of the excavation site, providing fascinating insights into the archaeological process and the significance of the discoveries made at Ozette.

The Makah Cultural & Resource Center is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., welcoming visitors to immerse themselves in the rich heritage of the Makah Tribe and the archaeological wonders of the Ozette site. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, an art aficionado, or simply curious about the past, a visit to this museum is an absolute must.

Community Engagement and Outreach

Despite the challenges they face, the Makah Tribe remains resilient and determined to safeguard their cultural legacy for future generations. Community engagement and outreach efforts are vital components of this endeavor, fostering pride in Makah identity and fostering connections with neighboring communities and visitors to Neah Bay.

Visitors to Neah Bay have the opportunity to learn about Makah history and culture through guided tours, cultural events, and visits to the Makah Cultural and Research Center. These interactions not only offer insights into Makah traditions but also promote cross-cultural understanding and appreciation.

The Makah Tribe’s presence in Neah Bay is a testament to their enduring resilience, cultural richness, and deep connection to the land and sea. As stewards of this coastal paradise for millennia, the Makah people continue to inspire awe and admiration with their traditions, heritage, and unwavering commitment to preserving their way of life. In visiting Neah Bay and learning about the Makah Tribe, we have the opportunity to honor their legacy and celebrate the vibrant tapestry of indigenous cultures that enrich our world.

Shi Shi Beach

Five Spectacular Hiking Trails Near Neah Bay

Cape Flattery Trail: This short but scenic trail leads visitors through lush coastal forest to the northwesternmost point of the contiguous United States. Along the way, hikers are treated to sweeping views of the rugged coastline, sea stacks, and, if lucky, sightings of marine life such as seals and whales.

Shi Shi Beach Trail: Accessible via a moderately challenging hike through dense forest and over rugged terrain, the Shi Shi Beach Trail rewards adventurers with one of the most stunning stretches of coastline in the Pacific Northwest. With its pristine sands, tide pools, and towering sea stacks, Shi Shi Beach is a paradise for nature lovers and photographers alike.

Ozette Loop Trail: Located in Olympic National Park, just south of Neah Bay, the Ozette Loop Trail offers a unique opportunity to explore both coastal and forested landscapes. The loop trail winds through old-growth forest before emerging onto the rugged coastline, where hikers can marvel at sea stacks, tide pools, and expansive views of the Pacific Ocean.

Cape Alava Trail: Another gem within Olympic National Park, the Cape Alava Trail offers a tranquil hike through coastal forest to a secluded stretch of beach. With its driftwood-strewn shores and panoramic ocean views, Cape Alava is the perfect spot for a peaceful beach walk or picnic.

North Coast Wilderness Trail: For experienced hikers looking for a multi-day adventure, the North Coast Wilderness Trail offers a challenging trek along the remote coastline of Olympic National Park. This 20-mile trail traverses rugged terrain, secluded beaches, and lush rainforest, providing unparalleled opportunities for exploration and solitude.

Woman on observation deck at Cape Flattery, the most northwesterly tip of the contiguous USA, at terminus of the Makah tribe trail.

Where to Stay and Eat in Neah Bay

While Neah Bay is a relatively small community, there are options for accommodations and dining to suit every traveler’s needs. Several lodges, cabins, and campgrounds offer cozy places to rest after a day of hiking and exploration. For those seeking a taste of local cuisine, seafood lovers are in for a treat with fresh catches available at local restaurants and markets. From salmon to Dungeness crab, the flavors of the Pacific Northwest are on full display in Neah Bay.

In Neah Bay, there are several great places to stay that offer a range of accommodations to suit different preferences and budgets. Here are some of the best places to stay in Neah Bay:
  1. Hobuck Beach Resort: This oceanfront resort offers a variety of accommodations, including cabins, RV sites, and tent camping areas. The resort also features a general store, a café, and a beach with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.
  2. Cape Resort: Located on the west end of the Makah Reservation, Cape Resort offers a range of accommodations, including cabins, RV sites, and tent camping areas. The resort also features a general store, a café, and a beach with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.
  3. Neah Bay Cabins: These cabins are located on the Makah Reservation and offer a range of accommodations, including cabins, RV sites, and tent camping areas. The cabins also feature a general store, a café, and a beach with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.

These are just a few of the best places to stay in Neah Bay. Whether you’re looking for a beachfront resort, an RV park, or a cabin in the woods, Neah Bay has something for everyone.


In conclusion, Neah Bay is a destination that truly offers something for everyone—breathtaking natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, and opportunities for outdoor adventure. Whether you’re exploring the rugged coastline of Cape Flattery, soaking in the sun at Shi Shi Beach, or learning about the traditions of the Makah Tribe, a visit to Neah Bay is sure to leave a lasting impression. So pack your bags, lace up your hiking boots, and embark on an unforgettable journey to this coastal paradise.

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