Cape Flattery, Olympic coast, WA 27 Mar 2022


Jan 10, 2009
Seattle WA
[Cross-posted at]

Cape Flattery, on Washington’s Olympic coast, is the northwesternmost point of land in the Lower 48 contiguous United States. It is also home to Washington’s best sea caves.

March is a little early in the season to brave the open coast, but with only a five-foot swell running, and winds only to fifteen knots, conditions were manageable. The water was too rough to enter most of the sea caves, but I was able to enter some of the larger, more protected ones.

00 Route map.jpg

00 Route map. Shoals off Waatch Point demand a wide detour.

Originally, I had planned to go night-paddling offshore, but under a pitch-black moonless sky, conditions on the ocean were just too freaky. Instead, I did a little surfing and rolling in Makah Bay and waited for morning before heading north to the cape.

01 View of Cape Flattery.JPG

01 View of Cape Flattery. A trail atop the bluff leads to a series of lookouts.

02 Launch bauch at Hobuck.JPG

02 Launch beach at Hobuck. Makah Bay is a notorious slophole. There are only a few safe lines through the various shoals and boomers, and refracting waves are everywhere.

03 Waatch Point rainclouds.JPG

03 Waatch Point rainclouds. Bands of rain blew in throughout the day.

04 Looking out at Hobuck Beach.JPG

04 Surveying Hobuck Beach. The location and intensity of the breakers vary as the tide rises and falls.

The Olympic coast is well known for the dozens of Makah petroglyphs south of Cape Alava, accessible to hikers traversing the Ozette triangle route.

Far less well known is another Makah petroglyph site at Archawat on Cape Flattery. The Archawat petroglyph is not accessible by hikers, which may account for its obscurity.

I don’t believe any photograph of the Archawat petroglyph has been published online until now. Reproductions of rubbings of the Archawat petroglyph appear online in works by Richard McClure and Daniel Leen, but I believe mine are the first photographs of the petroglyph itself to appear online.

In keeping with best practice for discussing petroglyph sites on the internet, I will only identify the Archawat petroglyph’s location at the same level of precisions as has previously been published. According to McClure, the Archawat petroglyph is located in the “SW 1/4 of the NE 1/4 of the SE 1/4 of Section 13, T 33 N, R 16 W, on the Makah Indian Reservation.” Make sure to bring your theodolite!

05 Beach near Archawat petroglyph.JPG

05 Beach near Archawat petroglyph. Somewhat to my own amazement, I managed not to capsize landing through the surf line.

06 Archawat beach break.JPG

06 Archawat beach break. One of the Makah seasonal villages was here.

07 Archawat petroglyph.JPG

07 Archawat petroglyph. The petroglyph is nine feet long from snout to tail.

08 Archawat petroglyph design.JPG

08 Archawat petroglyph, contrast boosted. The petroglyph depicts a sea-wolf with an orca inside, both animals facing right.

09 Archawat petroglpyh head detail.JPG

09 Archawat petroglyph, sea-wolf head detail, contrast boosted. Many Pacific Northwest tribes have legends of a wolflike creature that lives in the ocean.

From Archawat, it is only a short distance to the magnificent sea stacks, arches, and caves of Cape Flattery. The cape is best visited during high tide, low swell, and calm winds.

At the cape today were three gray whales, four sea otters, and about fifty Steller sea lions. Tourists on the viewing platforms atop the cliffs gawked at the unexpected presence of a kayak far below. I wasn’t always able to return their friendly waves, as even a moderate five-foot swell was enough to demand my attention amid the clapotis and rip currents off the cape.

10 Fuca Pillar.JPG

10 Fuca Pillar, viewed from south. Named in 1788 by John Meares, after the lost (and possibly fictitious) 1592 voyage of Juan de Fuca.

11 View of Tatoosh Island.JPG

11 View of Tatoosh Island. The lighthouse, est. 1857, is no longer manned.

12 Marbled murrelets.JPG

12 Marbeled murrelets. The other alcids were all in their breeding plumage, but all the marbeled murrelet were still in their basic plumage.

13 Sea otter.JPG

13 Sea otter. The otters’ primary habitats lie well south of Tatoosh Island at Cape Johnson and Destruction Island, but there are always at least a couple of otters at Tatoosh.

15 Tatoosh Island lighthouse.JPG

15 Tatoosh Island. The island was omitted from the Makah reservation in the 1855 Treaty of Neah Bay, but Congress added the island to the reservation by statute in 1984.

The main attractions at Cape Flattery are the sea caves, arches, and sea stacks. There are dozens of caves of various sizes. Some have large, obvious mouths facing the ocean, while others have narrow entrances tucked away in odd corners of the various bays that comprise the cape.

Southbound back to the Hobuck Beach, the wind increased to fifteen knots. The water got a little lumpy as the wind waves interacted with the swell coming off the ocean and the clapotis coming off the cliffs. Add a little tidal current coming off Tatoosh Island, and it was very much a grip-the-paddle ride back to the beach.

At low tide, Hobuck Beach was all but devoid of surf. The last, forlorn surfers were just taking their boards out of the water when I landed.

16 Cape Flattery by kayak.JPG

16 Cape Flattery by kayak. The headlands are all hollowed out with caves.

17 Cape Flattery viewing platform.JPG

17 Noticin’ you, noticing’ me. Tourists on the viewing platform enjoyed the sight of a kayaker in the water below.

18 Kayaking under sea arch Cape Flattery.JPG

18 Kayaking under sea arch, Cape Flattery. The higher the tide, the easier the passage through the arches.

19 Kayaking protected bay.JPG

19 Protected bay, Cape Flattery. Some of the bays are connected by tunnels through the headlands.

20 Twin arches at Cape Flattery.JPG

20 Twin arches, Cape Flattery. A kayaker could play hide and seek for hours.

21 Kayaking through cave at Cape Flattery.JPG

21 Kayaking through tunnel, Cape Flattery. Some of the tunnels are so long they are more like caves.

22 Sea arch Cape Flattery.JPG

22 Sea arch, Cape Flattery. There are dozens of formations like this, each more spectacular than the last.

23 Inside large sea cave Cape Flattery.JPG

23 Inside large cave, Cape Flattery. Many of the caves are so large they have sandy beaches inside.

24 Approaching rock garden south of Cape Flattery.JPG

24 Approaching rock garden south of Pillar Point. In calm conditions, it’s safe to cut inside of the offshore rocks, but in rough seas, it’s better to go outside.

25 Finish trip at Hobuck.JPG

25 Kayak on cart, Hobuck Beach. The north end of the beach generally experiences less surf than the middle or south end.

Cape Flattery ranks among the best kayaking destinations in Washington. It’s remote enough to feel wild but near enough to be easily reached by kayak. Indeed, a kayak is the best way to visit the cape, better by far than hiking the trail to the viewing platforms. Down on the water, the kayaker investigates nooks and crannies whose existence the hikers overhead can only surmise. In each bay, a miniature world of rocks and trees. Around each corner, some fresh delight of geology or wildlife.


[Cross-posted at]
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Nov 24, 2007
Nanaimo, BC
Thanks so much for taking the time to post your trips. I always enjoy going through them. Cape Flattery is now on the 'to do' list. Those caves and tunnels looked fantastic.


Jan 10, 2009
Seattle WA
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