Trip takes breath away, destination disappoints

Summer in Washington brings the beautiful weather residents are used to, and with it, the opportunity to do some serious summer recreation. Activities abound close to home, but sometimes wanderlust needs to be satisfied.

It was with this urge that I ventured to Neah Bay and Port Angeles to camp in the extreme northwest corner of the state, learning some very important lessons on the way.
Neah Bay is about a five hour trip from the Seattle area, taking the ferry from Edmonds to Kingston, then west through the peninsula. Not too far to be grueling, but definitely far enough to feel like a serious trip was taken.

Sadly, there is not much good to say about the camping at Neah Bay, but as a consolation, the drive there is breathtaking. While it may not be as consistently pretty as some other drives in the state, the Strait of Juan de Fuca Scenic Byway has stunning views of the Washington coast. Far enough away from any real concentration of civilization, the sea air smells truly sweet, the air a tonic for those weary of the metropolitan atmosphere so present around Bellevue and Seattle.

Neah Bay is on the Makah Reservation, which had some unforeseen consequences. Not bound by Washington State law, the recent legalization of recreational marijuana does not apply within reservation territory. A rather disconcerting sign posted on the border of the reservation alerts travelers that alcohol and marijuana are illegal – not something a camping expedition with people ready to kick back and relax really wants to see. Of course, teetotalers will feel right at home. An amusing side effect of the prohibition is a multitude of colorful hand-drawn signs along the road with slogans like “Hugs, not drugs,” “Avoid a tragic death, stay away from crystal meth,” and “Yes 2 healthy babies, no 2 drugs.” Looking like they were painted by an elementary school class, the signs were good for a chuckle.

The Hobuck Beach Resort seems to be the only campground near Neah Bay proper, but doesn’t necessarily deserve the label of campground. There were a couple of actual campsites, with trees for privacy next to the beach, but those sites fill up nearly instantly. The majority of the campground is simply a field with fire pits scattered around, no delineations between campsites exist at all. Campers pay the rather exorbitant $30 fee for the privilege of laying claim to a patch of grass. Privacy is minimal and sound carries very well.

Hobuck beach was inarguably beautiful, huge rock formations and a sunset over the Pacific draws people in for their outdoor recreation. Surfers were a common sight, as were their wetsuits hung up around the campground. Judging by the sights and smells, not many of the other campers got the memo about drugs and alcohol.

With beautiful scenery but surprising restrictions and sub-par camping, Neah Bay is definitely a destination to keep on a list, but travelers should be prepared on what to expect and plan accordingly. A cooler full of chill beer and a trip to the recreational dispensary is not something that should be wasted.