There has long been debate over the origin of the name Kin Kin. It is most widely believed to mean "plenty black ants" after the small black ants very common in the area. This is reflected in the local school newsletter "Kin Kin ANTics" and the large ant sculpture outside the Kin Kin General store, home of Black Ant Gourmet. Some sources suggest the name comes from the Aboriginal kauin kauin meaning red soil. In the west of Kin Kin is Woondum National Park and Woondum Forest Reserve. The hills and mountains in this area are covered by eucalypt forest and rainforest.
Timber-getters moved into the area in the late 1870s. Until the mid-1970s Kin Kin was predominantly a smallcrop and dairy farming community, from then on land and farm usage started to change and there was a decline in production farms. Early deforestation and clearing of land led to small produce and dairy farming from the early 1900s. The banana industry boomed in the years after World War 1, but experienced a significant decline in the 1930s as prices fell. Beans and Zucchini were major crops for many years, but smallcropping declined from the 1980s and is now undertaken on a limited basis.
The butter factory was closed in 1937 but the sawmill still survives. Deregulation of the milk industry led to the exit of all but a handful of family dairy farms. The last farms (in order of closure, Davis, Ferris, and Shepperson) had closed by 2012. Nowadays many original farms have been subdivided into small hobby farms, some growing fruit trees, and many carrying horses or beef cattle. Today Kin Kin boasts health retreats, accommodation, small businesses, artists and bush foods.
The family of William D. Francis one of Queensland's pioneering botanists owned land in the area, and many native trees first identified by him are found in the area.
On 14 August 1971, a tornado passed through the town killing three people. Another tornado hit on February 29 1985, destroying the Butter Factory and causing widespread property damage.