It is largely surrounded by karri, marri and jarrah forest and is close to the Warren, D'Entrecasteaux and Shannon national parks. Primarily a farming area since Group Settlement, both logging and conservation interests are represented in Northcliffe.
The town was the centre of a Group Settlement Scheme in the 1920s, and was surveyed at the request of the Premier of Western Australia, James Mitchell in 1923. It became the terminus of the Bridgetown-Jarnadup railway, and was gazetted in May 1924. Mitchell named it after Lord Northcliffe, owner of The Times and the Daily Mail in London, and Director of Propaganda in the British government during World War I, who had died in 1922.
Contemporary community organisations in Northcliffe include Northcliffe Pioneer Museum, Northcliffe Streetscape, Northcliffe Community Resource Centre, Northcliffe Family and Community Centre, Northcliffe Arts Association, Southern Forest Arts, Northcliffe Workers Club, Northcliffe Recreation Association, Northcliffe Visitor Centre and Northcliffe Town Hall.
Locations of great natural beauty close to the town include Mt Chudalup (a granite monolith), Northcliffe Forest Park and the beaches of Windy Harbour. Sites of importance to Aboriginal people include Tookalup.
The town boasts a primary/district high school, a Post Office, cafe, museum, recreation centre, family & community centre, town hall, hotel, gallery, a local supermarket, a public playground with barbecue and gazebo.
A significant and well known local business is the Bannister Downs dairy. The dairy sells milk and related products in biodegradable containers through various local, regional and Perth-based outlets.
Northcliffe was affected by a huge bushfire on February 2012, forcing most of the residents to flee their homes.