The northern end of the Olympic Peninsula has a lot to offer a photographer. There’s so much undeveloped natural beauty here that it can be overwhelming. Unlike other places I’ve lived, the problem often isn’t that there’s nothing new to photograph but rather figuring out how to access new areas. With that in mind, I’ve explored the North Olympic Peninsula extensively but I keep coming back to a few places.
Neah Bay and Hobuck Beach
Covid has put a huge damper on this location because there’s no access to Makah land for outsiders. I can only imagine the tourism crush that’ll happen when it eventually re-opens, because it’s an amazing area. There’s a great museum on the reservation and then so many great little spots right on the water that cater to visitors.
One of my favorite activities was to travel out to the coast and snag a camp spot or a small cabin right on the beach and then spend the evening getting some great night photos. The beach is facing a great direction for sunset photos as well. Interesting rock formations, animals, and dramatic wave action all feature here. For portrait-focused photographers, there are also a lot of really interesting people around if you know how to connect with them.
Cape Alava and the Flattery Rocks
The area most commonly accessed by the Ozette Triangle loop hike is another amazing area of the Olympic Peninsula. There’s great road access to the trailhead and there’s really no other rugged, wild coast hike like this anywhere in the lower 48. There’s only history and views on this hike and no sign of real development.
This is an amazing sunset hike. Imagine camping on the beach, exploring petroglyphs and taking photos of waves as the sun sinks below the water in a pristine natural environment. There’s nowhere as rugged and raw as this anywhere on the west coast.
On this loop hike you’ll see areas like Sand Point, Wedding Rocks, Cape Alava and the Flattery Rocks. There are so many interesting sea stacks, rock formations, and tide pools that you can hike this loop a dozen times and never photograph everything.
The Ozette Village Archaeological Site
If you take a bit of a detour north from the official loop triangle you can visit a stunning, historic site. In the winter of 1969-1970 storm wave action revealed a large quantity of historic Makah artifacts. Makah oral history told of a village buried by a mudslide long before contact with Europeans.
The University of Washington, in partnership with the tribes, investigated the archaeological site and discovered that’s exactly what had been revealed. While the site is still mostly unexcavated and concealed by the foliage and the hillside, there is a scale model of a traditional Ozette longhouse built on the shore that can be visited. Across the beach, west of the scale longhouse there’s also Tskawahyah Island, which can be framed up perfectly for photos of the sun disappearing behind it at certain times of the year.
Washington’s Pacific Coast and the Olympic Peninsula
The northern end of the Olympic Pensinula has countless spots to take amazing photos. I drive the two hours to the coast from Port Angeles because there’s a sense of undeveloped wonder there that can rarely be found in the US in the 21st century. The coast itself is art — the petroglyphs, the wave action, the sea stacks. They’re nature’s art.
A photographer captures things that already exist, which makes this place incredible for practicing the skill of arranging the elements of a scene. As a photographer, you can’t paint whatever you want. You have to collect things that exist. But as an artist, you need to communicate. This is the perfect place to make fine art photography because there’s so much here, so much beauty curated by nature alone. You can communicate anything you want with the parts.
If you haven’t made your way out to the northern end of the Washington coast, take a trip ASAP!