The Quinault rainforest and Kestner Homestead are at the southwest corner of Olympic National Park. It is the newest part of the park. Positioned northeast of Lake Quinault, the Kestners tried to carve a farm out of the rainforest and eventually failed. It wasn’t for the lack of effort or associated with lack of water. After all, it is a rainforest. The Olympic National Park purchased the Quinault rainforest and Kestner Homestead in 1986.
The story isn’t well known about this part of the park. The park seems to want to keep the history of this corner of the Olympic National Park a secret. I had to find the National Register of Historic Places Registration Form to get information about this early homestead. The park describes it as a rainforest with a nice trail and some old buildings.
Quinault River Valley and Lake Quinault
A glacier carved the Quinault River Valley and Lake Quinault during the last Ice Age. Lake Quinault is a natural lake at the bottom of the glacier-carved round bottom valley. Sediment accumulated in the lake and made the bottom of the valley flat. The same applies to all the valleys in the western Olympic National Park area including the Hoh Rain Forest which was the subject of this article describing our stay in the rainforest. Hoh Rain Forest
Newly carved glacier valleys have a round bottom. If the valley has a flat bottom it indicates that the valley was once a lake bottom and filled with silt deposits over vast expanses of time. This rainforest exhibits this feature and the topsoil at the bottom of a valley like this one are especially good for growing vegetation, trees, ferns, grasses, undergrowth, and of course, it is great farmland.
The Quinault Nation
Historically the rainforest region was the territory of the Quinault Indian Tribe. The Quinault tribe used the valley as a hunting ground. Elk were a primary food source. Mostly, however, the Quinault tribe was focused on fishing in the ocean and during the abundant salmon runs.
Eventually, the federal government and the state of Washington placed Quinault people on a reservation to the west of Lake Quinault. Today the Quinault Nation owns Lake Quinault and the southwest shore of Lake Quinault. The U.S. Department of the interior owns the north shore of the lake holding parts of the shoreline as part National Forest and other parts as part of the Olympic National Park.
There are a couple of small campgrounds, a few private lakefront homes, and the Quinault Lodge on the southeast side of the lake. The Quinault Reservation occupies the lower Quinault River Valley, starting south of the Queets River Valley (along the coast to the north) and following the coastline to the south centered on the Quinault River.
Quinault rainforest and Kestner Homestead
When we stayed at the Kalaloch campground we visited the rainforest. It was the last place we visited in Olympic National Park. It is located at the southwest corner of the park. Just like the rest of Olympic Nationa Park, this rainforest is wet. After all, it is a rainforest.
The rainforest creates a wet challenge to homesteading that is difficult to overcome. Unlike the desert where nothing wants to grow for the lack of water, in a rainforest, everything wants to grow and the growth will make all your progress disappear under a blanket of new vegetation all before the next spring planting season.
The Kestner Homestead
In about 1891 Anton Kestner homesteaded the land to the east of Lake Quinault to create a farm and orchard. A flood destroyed everything during the first winter. The flood took away everything they owned, including their first house. All the progress made in the previous summer was gone. It was not a good beginning. Undeterred Anton Kestner didn’t leave but continued building and clearing the forest to make pastures.
Overall the Kestner’s cleared land for three pastures and built a multi-outbuilding farm and planted a small orchard. It took 30 years to carve a small homestead out of the bottom land in the valley. Rain was a constant problem.
Until 1920 the only access to the location was to boat across Lake Quinault to the northeast shore and then take the gravel road to the homestead. As part of building the farm, the Kestners’ put in a gravel driveway and bridge over Kestner creek. Both the road and bridge are still there but the bridge no longer can support vehicles.
After the initial setback associated with the flood, Anton Kestner continued beating back the forest and building. The family’s children took over the operation of the property in 1939 after his death. The children unsuccessfully attempted to rent the property.
Anton’s vision failed
Anton’s children were unwilling or unable to continue the work and vision of their father. They attempted to rent the farm to tenants. The children soon realized that renters wouldn’t put in the same level of effort as their father did to keep the rainforest from returning and making the homestead disappear. During World War II they sold it to a local businessman Orlo Higley.
Orlo Higley, great-grandson of the first postmaster at Lake Quinault eventually purchased the property from the Kestner’s in 1944. He too was unsuccessful at creating a commercial farm and sold the property to the National Park Service in 1986. Orlo Higley built the first building on the property that was not made entirely from wood. This new structure has steel skin and dimensional lumber.
I hesitate to call the farm a failure and the operations of the National Park Service a rescue. The National Park Service has a long history of converting private land into parkland without regard for historical private ownership. Overall I am happy to be able to enjoy visiting places like this but I still have reservations about some of their techniques.
Our visit to this corner of the Olympic National Park
We visited the Quinault rainforest and Kestner Homestead on a day trip from our spot at the Kalaloch Beach Campground. Here is a quick link to that story. Kalaloch Beach.
Kalaloch Beach is located on U.S. Highway 101. From our campsite, we could have easily driven forty miles north, back to the Hoh Rain Forest. The Quinault rainforest and Kestner Homestead are about the same distance to the south. One of the places we skipped (saved for next time) is the Queets section of Olympic National Park. The Queets River is about ten miles south of Kalaloch Beach.
The Queets River is the northern boundary of the Quinault Nation and also a very recent addition to the park. When you get to the river you turn east into the park and travel (by car) another eleven miles along the river to the homestead areas. At the end of the road, you will find the Queets Campground. The Queets Campground wasn’t for us, one note was that trailers are not advised. If trailers are not advised then our RV is not suitable.