Kestner Homestead Trail: Short, Easy Hike near Lake Quinault

Busy Reader Highlights

  • Easy.
    At only 1.1 miles long, the Kestner Homestead Trail is also very flat, making this a great selection for those looking for a relatively easy walk.
  • Great for lovers of nature and lovers of history alike.
    The main attraction of the trail is the Kestner Homestead historical site, but getting there also takes you through a beautiful stretch of temperate rain forest.
  • Low-stress for those unused to the wilderness.
    Though hikers should always be mindful of wildlife (mandatory legal disclaimer), this trail starts near a well-visited ranger station and ends close to a road with a small house beside it. The trails around Lake Quinault tend to be rugged and to take you far away from civilization, but the Kestner Homestead Trail is about as safe as it gets.
  • It’s literally right next to another short, easy trail.
    A few yards from the Kestner Homestead trailhead is the trailhead for the Maple Glade Nature Loop Trail.
  • You can do this trail guided or unguided.
    The park rangers lead tours along the Kestner Trail, stopping at spots along the way to share educational talks on important points. You can also hike it alone on your own time (this is how I did the trails).

Leisurely Reader Discussion

Getting to this trail is easy. Simply park at the ranger station (location embedded below) and you’ll see the clearly marked trailhead. There’s a restroom in the parking lot as well. The rangers at this site have always seemed particularly friendly and relaxed. It’s such a quiet location on the sparsely-populated North Shore Road of the Lake Quinault loop, and an easy-going vibe resonates there.

At the trailhead a bridge crosses Kestner Creek (which was almost completely dried up when I was there in July 2019) and takes you into a hall of gigantic hemlocks, maples, and spruces, most of them covered in thick, shaggy coats of moss. There are also impressive sword ferns and skunk cabbage. It feels like stepping back into the age of the dinosaurs.

You follow this flat, well-maintained trail until it reaches a wide open area with the remnants of the Kestner Homestead. A crab apple tree stands out front with some rusting farm machinery. The primary attraction of course is the old house, barn, and work buildings. The front door of the house is locked but other than that the stuff is there to be explored freely.

This is apparently a good spot to view the Roosevelt elk (the area I’ve had most luck in finding them is shown here), but I didn’t see any while there.

From the homestead, the trail loops back towards where you started. Before you get to the end of your circuit, you can switch over onto the Maple Glade Rain Forest Trail where they intersect, or you can continue on your way back to the parking lot.

Either way, have fun and enjoy the Kestner Homestead Trail.

Happy nomadding, friends.

Frog Invasion at Irely Lake

I long ago lost count of how many times I’ve hiked the Irely Lake trail just outside Lake Quinault, Washington, but during my latest visit I witnessed a something I’ve never seen there before. Swarming along every step of the path was a great, hopping, flopping multitude of frogs. Baby frogs, to be exact.

Yes, baby frogs as far as the eye could see, my friends.

I’m sure this must be an annual occurrence, but when I told a ranger about it the next day he was as unaware of the phenomenon and as fascinated at hearing the news as I was in experiencing it. He was also unaware that Irely Lake was almost completely dried up. This is one more thing I’ve never witnessed before in all my excursions up that path.

Dried up Irely Lake
This entire flat area is usually filled up with Irely Lake.

To my memory, the lake’s always been filled up to the woodline, giving little shore-space. On this day, however (July 12, 2019), the lake had shriveled down to a little pool in the middle of a muddy flat—a muddy flat also swarming with baby frogs.

The little buggers made the hike very slow-going. I had to tiptoe along the entirety of the trail and pause several times to let a particularly big cluster of baby frogs leap off into the sword ferns growing alongside the trail.

When I reached the dry lakebed, another hiker (the only other hiker I encountered that day) said he’d encountered a mountain lion on the trail. He seemed an experienced outdoorsman. I don’t doubt his account. For me, though, there was no mountain lion (though I did encounter one a few years ago in that same area)—there were only the baby frogs.

One of my favorite things about nature is how nothing is ever the same from one day to the next. You can hike the identical stretch of woods every morning for a year, and every morning you’ll see something slightly different. Sometimes, you’ll see something spectacularly different. In this particular case, I’ve hiked the Irely Lake Trail dozens of times and this was the first I ever saw the swarm of baby frogs.

Though they slowed my progress, the frogs made every foot of the trail a pleasure. It was a privilege to witness that spectacle of nature, and the frogs made for a hike I’ll never forget.

The Irely Lake Trail has a funny way of surprising me. For a modest mile of hiking trail, it’s sure given me plenty to write about.

http://nwestnomad.com/travels/washington-places/strange-conversation-at-irely-lake-olympic-national-park/

It’s the same reason why I maintain that Lake Quinault and the surrounding rain forest are the best spots in Washington. A part of me wants to keep quiet on that and keep Quinault under-visited, but another part of me wants to share that amazing place. There’s no place I’d rather spend a long weekend or a vacation than in the Lake Quinault area. I made that conclusion long ago, but the place never stops strengthening its case.

Frogs, my friends. Baby frogs. A whole multitude of them. I’m grateful I decided to do Irely again that day. Dang near missed it.

Keep nomadding, friends.

Dungeness Spit to Dungeness Lighthouse

I didn’t know where the Dungeness Spit led to when I started walking it. I was just taking a weekend to explore Sequim, staying at the Seqium Bay Lodge (which is remarkably spacious and clean for the price, by the way).

On my second day in town, I cruised the back-country roads aimlessly for a while, got some books at the Seqium Library book sale, and  happened upon the Dungeness Spit.

I parked, paid a whopping three dollars, and started walking…and walking…and walking…

It turns out that the Dungness Spit is five-miles long. You get a good view of the spit as you descend down to the coastline, but (for me, anyway) it was hard to gage how long it actually was.

Stack of rounded stones in foreground with Mount Baker in background.
Some people complain about these rock stacks in natural places, but I find them pretty cool. Here they made for a neat visual.

The grade of the Dungness Spit is level but made a bit more challenging than a typical five-mile-walk by the sand and cobbles, which shift under your feet as you go. I hiked back during high tide and there was still plenty of room to walk, though the angle of the walk becomes more extreme as you’re forced towards the middle of the spit.

I have no idea, however, if it’s always safe to hike at high tide, and anyone going there should check that out for themselves. There are some enormous pieces of driftwood on the spit, and I imagine it’d be a bad day to get caught out there when one of them slammed into you.

There weren’t a great deal of people on the Dungeness Spit as I hiked. I’m not sure if that’s normal, or if it’s because I was there in October when the weather normally isn’t suitable for a long walk. I got lucky, because the weather was perfect.

Things to Do at Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park

As it turns out, the Dungeness Spit leads to the Dungeness Lighthouse. The lighthouse and its grounds are maintained in their originals state as a historical site, but the lighthouse is also still functional. Volunteers stay in the guest quarters and give free tours. They’ll take you to the top of the lighthouse tower.

One thing I’d want to say as a heads up to anyone thinking of making the trip is to remember that the Dungeness Spit is completely exposed to the elements. I imagine the walk would be somewhat miserable on a blustery day, unless you’re the sort of person who enjoys getting blasted by the elements that way (and if you are shoot me a line because we’d get along just fine).

This is definitely a trip I plan on doing again. It’s a nice walk with some beautiful views. You’ve got Sound and mountains surrounding you in a circle as you go.

It’s one of those experiences that makes me love the Pacific Northwest. The Dungeness Lighthouse joins Point Robinson Light as my favorite lighthouses in the state of Washington.

Ducks: Nature’s Great Generalists

Walking around Olympia’s Capitol Lake, blissfully unaware that less than half-a-mile away police were launching canisters of tear gas at protesters, I found myself watching a file of ducks standing on a fallen tree. As I studied them, heads tucked slightly under their wings to shelter from the wind, it occurred to me what utterly odd animals they are.

They look like footballs with heads. Their only defense is their rounded little beaks. Their stubby legs are comically insufficient. In the air, they’re nowhere near as fast or agile as hawks, eagles, or owls. Their swimming is woefully sub-par compared to seals, otters, and, of course, fish.

Aberdeen, Washington: Not the Lying-Down Kind

Yet, somehow, some way, ducks are a fantastically successful species. They’re everywhere, and in large numbers. That’s when it occurred to me that ducks are nature’s great generalists. They aren’t great anywhere, but they’re pretty good everywhere.

Ducks can swim pretty good. They can fly pretty good. They can handle the land pretty good. The only thing they’re really great at is being ducks. This is their real super-power: they’re pretty good everywhere.

As a fan of generalization, and as a man who isn’t fond of the hyper-specialization that is favored in modern society, my respect for the duck elevated tremendously as I realized the true wonder of their success.

Mallard duck swimming in water.

If you were to line up every animal species in the world and show them to a blind panel of judges who had never encountered Earth life before, no one would pick the duck to thrive the way it has.

The only reason we don’t realize how ridiculous ducks look is because they’re so dang successful that they are ubiquitous. We’ve been seeing them consistently since we were kids. They’re just part of the background noise at this point.

But, seriously, look at them…really sit down and look at them. They’re absurd, like one of creation’s inside jokes.

That’s part of the reason they’re so lovable, I believe, and why they amuse us so much when we take the time to observe them. They’re strange accidents of the animal world. They’re also wildly successful despite their supposed absurdity.

I texted this observation to my brother, who got a laugh out of it. So, I figured maybe it’d be an entertaining thought to share with you all, as well. That’s all.

Keep Northwesting, friends.

Hidden Treasures of Tumwater Historical Park

Music History Done Right: Peter Blecha and Sonic Boom

Any second-rate hack can mash a group of facts together into a book. Fortunately, Peter Blecha is no such hack, and Sonic Boom is no such book.

Blecha’s Sonic Boom: The History of Northwest Rock, from “Louis Louie” to “Smells Like Teen Spirit daisy-chains the stories together into one cohesive narrative. From Richard Berry to grunge, Blecha shows how each artist and each artist’s era flowed into the next, borrowed from the past, and built something brand new.

I read music history books on the regular. Glancing over to my bookshelf right now I see Waging Heavy Peace (Neil Young), Songs in the Key of Z, Bruce (Springsteen), and Testimony (Robbie Robertson)…among others.

As someone with such an absurd number of music books, I can say that Blecha’s Sonic Boom is one of my very favorites, and not just because I live in the Northwest, nor because I came of age in the grunge era. It’s just a damn good book.

After reading Sonic Boom, I realized that Nirvana and grunge didn’t erupt out of a vacuum. The Northwest music scene has always been categorized by a gritty individualism. It’s got a garage-rock heart, and it’s always had a garage-rock heart.

Aberdeen, Washington: Not the Lying-Down Kind

Now, when I listen to Louie Louie, I hear its premonitions of Smells Like Teen Spirit, and when I listen to Smells Like Teen Spirit, I hear the ghost-strings of Louie Louie. As a lover of history, that is the thing that I most appreciate about Blecha’s work.

In examining the Northwest musical currents, Blecha reveals the heart of the whole region. It’s this glowering, laughing thing in wet overalls covered in wood chips. It’s got a brilliant smile full of missing teeth. It’s carved out of granite and fog and sewn together with train rails.

You can’t get what the book’s got to give simply by looking up the individual parts on Wikipedia. I sound like a car salesman but I don’t know Blecha and this isn’t content marketing. It’s just how I feel.

Blecha’s a real writer in an age of hacks (this includes me). Read his book. It’s a good one.