Photography locations - Washington

Kestner Creek Photography – Olympic National Forest

04.13.10 | Comment Below

Kestner Creek is a wonderful, little-known area on the north side of Lake Quinault in the Quinault Rainforest that is great for photographing large, moss-draped maples and sword fern.  With over 12 feet of rain each year, it’s no wonder the area is so green.

While there are many photographic opportunities in this part of the Olympic Peninsula, Kestner Creek is special to me.  It’s easy to reach, the loop trail and great photographs start right at the parking area, and, most of all, the trees and vegetation are spectacular.

The nature trail loop begins at the parking area west of the ranger station.  After a short boardwalk, the trail enters the forest.  It soon divides, and either direction is fine.  This portion of the trail is the beginning of the most photogenic area.  Large, old maples draped with moss are all around.  In some areas, large expanses of sword fern form the understory.  I’ve contemplated taking an eight-foot stepladder just to get a better perspective of the carpet of ferns in some areas.

Kestner Creek Maples and Sword Fern

As the trail turns north, it passes a large wetland, and views from either end are great.  Maples lean out over the wetland, and the open area of the wetland allows for good shots of trees and ferns on the other side.  There are a few more photogenic views after the trail passes over a wooden bridge (which makes a worthwhile subject in its own right).  However, while the trail continues through the forest to the Kestner homestead, the best areas of trees have already been seen.  I would recommend concentrating on the area around the wetland and between the wetland and the trailhead.

Kestner Creek Wetland
Juvenile Barred Owl, Kestner Creek
Kestner Creek Bridge

A shorter route to the homestead (which I did not find too interesting for photos) begins at a second trailhead in the parking area on the north side of the ranger station.

The best time for photography at Kestner Creek is mid-May when the sword ferns are nearly completely uncurled and before the mosquitoes have made their summer appearance.  Mosquitoes will show up toward the end of May.  Autumn photography at Kestner Creek, despite the abundance of deciduous maples, is hit or miss because the amount of fall color is highly variable and dependent on summer moisture.  I’ve mostly missed.

I prefer to photograph forests when the sky is overcast, especially if the clouds are high and relatively thin.  It can also be good if there is a light rain, as long as you have means to keep your gear dry and lens free of water drops.  A polarizing filter makes a huge difference in the forest interior.  In my experience, photography in a relatively dense forest is more difficult when the sky is clear and sunlight is streaming through the trees.  At these times, the range of light is too great for film or sensors.  However, selective compositions or HDR techniques can overcome areas of high contrast, and great compositions can still be found.

On one trip I arrived at the parking area well before sunrise.  Elk frequent the meadow in front of the ranger station, which stands a couple hundred yards back from the main road.  I watched them from my vehicle, but it was too dark to try any photographs.  As it got lighter, the elk gradually drifted into the safety of the forest.  I began my walk on the trail, and it wasn’t long before the entire herd of about 30 elk ran across the trail about 40 feet in front of me, splashed through the shallow wetland, and then stopped and looked back at me from the other side as if to say, “Go ahead, we dare you to get your feet wet.”  This is an area where you want to have a telephoto lens if you like to photograph large wildlife; elk are fairly common, and the best time to see them is early morning.

Access to Kestner Creek starts at Highway 101 just north of the small community of Amanda Park (about 37 miles north of Hoquiam).  Turn onto the North Shore Road and travel about five miles to the Quinault Rain Forest Ranger Station on the left side of the road.

For comprehensive information about the Quinault Rainforest, click here.

Kestner Creek Maples

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