If you enjoy visiting places with a “most something” distinction, head to Neah Bay, Washington, a tiny town on the Olympic Peninsula where you will find the most northwestern point in the continental United States! In addition to this distinctive point on the map, this area is also home to the Makah Nation, historically known as the People of the Cape, or Qwiqwidicciat.
As you enter the town of Neah Bay, stop first at the Makah Cultural and Research Center (MCRC). Inside is the very nice Makah Museum where you’ll learn about the sovereign nation that occupies its traditional homeland. The museum features 18 “showcases” that interpret Makah culture and history through artifacts, text, and photographs. In order to travel the surrounding rough waters of the Pacific Ocean and Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Makah were highly skilled mariners. You’ll see evidence of this in the full-sized replica canoes on display, plus an entire longhouse.
A highlight of the museum is the fascinating story and extensive exhibit of 300-500 year old artifacts recovered from the ancient Makah village of Ozette. In the winter of 1969-1970, a storm washed away an embankment, exposing hundreds of perfectly preserved wooden artifacts. Radiocarbon dating showed that a slide some 500 + years ago buried six longhouses and their contents, locking the artifacts in a shroud of mud. They lay hidden until that storm uncovered them. The 11-year excavation project produced over 55,000 artifacts. Consequently, the MCRC came about from the Tribe’s desire to curate and interpret this unique collection.
Although you cannot stand on the actual most northwestern spot in the continental United States, you can come pretty close. The precise point is located on Tatoosh Island, which you can see by hiking through a cedar forest to the end of the three quarter-mile Cape Flattery Trail. Four observation decks offer dramatic views of the coastline and the Cape Flattery Lighthouse, located on nearby Tatoosh Island (closed to the public). Although Tatoosh (named for a Makah Indian chief) is a former Indian fishing and whaling camp, the only real residents today are nesting seabirds and marine mammals. The lighthouse, located here since 1857, is now a Coast Guard Station.
When you visit the Makah Indian Reservation, be sure to buy a $10 recreational use permit at the museum, valid for the calendar year in which it is purchased. The permit is required if you plan to make stops or participate in any type of activity, including hiking, camping, beach-combing, or fishing (this area is especially known for the best halibut fishing). In the summer, be sure to make camping reservations early since the RV parks fill up fast.
In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com