Save Time for This Unique Olympic Peninsula Side Trip
At Sappho, state Route 113 branches north 10 miles to the Juan de Fuca National Scenic Byway (state Route 112). The byway runs along the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the twin fishing towns of Clallam Bay and Sekiu.
Modest fishing resorts line the shore of the bay and the area hosts several annual fishing derbies. Charter fishing trips are available. Scuba diving and wildlife watching are also popular. Giant freighters and cruise ships ply the strait, the main shipping channel connecting Puget Sound with the open Pacific. The dark, forested bulk of Vancouver Island lies 15 miles across the strait.
At the mouth of the Hoko River, 2 miles west of Sekiu, is an important archaeological site (not open to the public) where ancestors of the Makah Tribe built a fishing encampment 3,000 years ago.
The Ozette-Hoko Road leads 21 miles southwest to Lake Ozette. Covering over 12 square miles, Ozette is the state’s third-largest natural lake, after Lake Chelan and Lake Washington. The lake is part of Olympic National Park’s coastal strip. The road ends at the resort settlement of Ozette, nestled in the woods on its northernmost inlet. The ranger station has information on trails and recreation. Canoeing and kayaking are popular ways of exploring the lake’s inlets and islands — its shores have several boat-in campsites.
From Ozette, hike west on the Cape Alava Trail. This 3.1-mile path to the ocean includes sections of wooden boardwalk and stairs that can be slippery when wet, a typical condition in this rainy climate. The Sand Point Trail leads 2.8 miles through coastal rainforest to a wide sandy beach. At low tide, it’s a 3.1-mile hike along the rocky and sandy beach between Cape Alava to Sand Point. Look for the Wedding Rocks petroglyphs on the beach hike. The three hikes combine to form the Ozette Triangle, a 9.2-mile loop.
Cape Alava is the westernmost mainland point in the lower 48 states. Its name recalls José Manuel de Álava, the Spanish naval commandant at Acapulco who served as a commissioner at the 1790 Nootka Convention on Vancouver Island. Spanish Capt. Manuel Quimper, exploring these shores in August 1790, first called the headland Punta de Hijosa, giving the adjacent indentation the name Boca de Álava. Later Spanish charts identified the headland as Punta de Álava. British chart maker Capt. Henry Kellet assigned the name Point Alava, and over the years the present nomenclature prevailed.
The cape holds important archaeological sites. The Makah inhabited an isolated village here until the 1920s, when they were forced to relocate to Neah Bay, where their children could attend school. Erosion over the winter of 1969-70 exposed remains of a much older settlement. Washington State University archaeologists excavated the Ozette Village site over a decade, uncovering artifacts in layers dating back over 2,000 years. Researchers described it as “Pompeii in mud.” Some of the finds are on display at the Makah Museum in Neah Bay. A plaque marks the village site.
Neah Bay and Cape Flattery
Return to state Route 112, which continues west, winding along the wooded shore to Neah Bay, a logging and fishing town on the Makah Indian Reservation. The Spanish established a small fort here in 1797, and although it was abandoned after five months it enjoys the historical distinction of being the first European settlement in present-day Washington. Spanish place names along the coast are the only remaining legacy of the Iberian explorers. The reservation was established by treaty in 1855. The Makah Cultural and Research Center preserves the cultural heritage of the tribe, including artifacts unearthed at various ancient sites in the area.
From the end of the road west of town a trail leads to Cape Flattery, the northwestern extremity of the contiguous United States. Ocean waves crash against Tatoosh Island, home to a lighthouse since 1857. Its beacon guides shipping into the entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. (Note: The Makah Tribe charges a fee to use trails and other recreation facilities on reservation land.)
Scenic Shi Shi Beach
Shi Shi Beach (pronounced shy-shy) is one of Washington’s most magnificent coastal panoramas. This 2-mile strand extends between Portage Head on the north and Point of Arches, with its phalanx of sea stacks, on the south. A rocky shelf extends out to sea, protecting the beach from the biggest waves. Its near-shore section hosts countless tidepools, teeming with marine life. The rocks off Portage Head are the site of a shipwreck.
Shi Shi is only accessible by trail. To reach the trailhead, drive south from Neah Bay along the ocean to the end of the road just beyond the Sooes River — here you’ll find a parking area. The trail extends 3 miles to the north end of Shi Shi Beach. The trail lies within the boundary of the Makah Reservation. At its end you enter the coastal strip of Olympic National Park. The beach is also accessible from the south, via the 6.4-mile Ozette River-Shi Shi Travelway, a difficult hike recommended only for the hearty.
Retrace the route back to Sappho. Although you can also follow Juan de Fuca National Scenic Byway (scenic Route 112) east, we recommend the drive east from Sappho passing beautiful Lake Crescent.
– Written by John King, last updated in October 2022.
– Top Image of Ozette Lake by Jachan DeVol/Getty Images.