Feeding off dozens of creeks and tributaries in the southern Sierra Nevada, the Kern River is a force of nature to be reckoned with during snowmelt season.
Years like this especially, when the winter snowpack is deep, the river roars to life. That’s when the river rafters and kayakers spring into action, taking advantage of the high water while they can.
Later in the summer the river calms to better accommodate fisherman, swimmers and gold prospectors. Later in the summer is also when temperatures soar, averaging over 98 degrees during July and August.
Really, whatever time of year it is, the recreational activities are plentiful. There’s even skiing in the winter just a few miles west of Lake Isabella. I’d go as far as to say that the lower section of the Kern River is one of the more under-appreciated outdoor recreation areas in the entire state of California.
Just be careful. The river’s nickname is “Killer Kern” because scores of people have tragically drowned in the strong currents.
There are a few companies that run whitewater rafting trips. The Kern River offers rapids that range from Class II to Class IV. River rats would be interested in the Kern River Festival.
Whether it’s large trout on the Kern, or bass, catfish and crappie on Lake Isabella, fishing is robust. The lake hosts a popular fishing derby every spring.
The Keyesville Recreation Area that flanks the river below the Isabella Dam allows gold panning. There was a mini gold rush here in the 1850s and small amounts of the mineral can still be found in the river.
There are numerous campgrounds along the river stretching from the beginning of the canyon all the way past Lake Isabella and Kernville up to the Johnsondale Bridge. Some campgrounds are pay sites maintained by the Forest Service. Others are primitive sites free to use.
No shortage of hiking trails, including nearby access to the Domeland Wilderness and Golden Trout Wilderness. Long stretches of the upper forks of the Kern River are only accessible by hiking trail.
Kernville Brewing Company is a worthwhile stop if you need a place to eat or drink while in the area. Great house-brewed beers where live music can be found on select nights. The home-made root beer is awesome.
Located in Kernville across the street from the Sierra Gateway Market on Sierra Way.
The Sierra Gateway Market has everything you could possibly need including all sorts of outdoors supplies and toys. Without a ridiculous mark-up either.
KERN SIERRA RECREATION GUIDE
I recommend purchasing the Kern River Sierra Adventure Map for anyone planning on spending time exploring the Kern River area and Southern Sierras. It’s a great resource detailing trails and terrain that aren’t found on Google maps. It’s available at local stores in the Kern River Valley as well as REI’s throughout California and on Amazon.com.
The map features the hiking and mountain biking trails, rock climbing spots, whitewater launches, named rapids with ratings, giant sequoia groves, winter trailheads, water sports, fishing and hunting access, and other recreational opportunities in the Kern River and Southern Sierra region–Extremeline Productions