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Kern River Rafting & Kayaking with Sierra South

Whitewater Recreation Area
Rafting the Upper Kern – Sierra South

One of the oldest rivers in California, the snowmelt-fed Kern was established four million years ago when the Sierra Nevada were a volcanic range. The longest whitewater river in the state, the watershed flows from the 14,000 ft. slopes of the Sierra Nevada near Mt. Whitney for more than 165 miles to the fields and farms of the San Joaquin Valley, near Bakersfield. It is the only major river in the Sierra Nevada mountain range that drains in a southerly direction.

The Kern River is protected by more miles of Wild and Scenic designation than any other river system in the continental U.S. The river and its tributaries offer some of the most varied, challenging and aesthetic whitewater rafting and kayaking in the world. Boaters should have previous paddling experience, or consider booking a guided raft trip or kayak class on the mighty Kern.

The North Fork features the premier expert wilderness whitewater trip, The Forks (class IV-V), and downriver of the Johnsondale Bridge more than 20 miles of easily accessible, roadside boating. The Kern below Democrat (Cataracts of the Kern) has awesome class IV, V, and V whitewater that even the most experienced kayaker will find challenging. Creek-wise for kayakers, Brush Creek (class III with class V consequences) is one of the best, and Dry Meadow Creek (class V) is even steeper, more difficult, and amazing.

The Upper Kern season runs from March to August, depending on snow pack, weather conditions, etc. The Lower Kern season runs from May through September (again depending on conditions), with dependable summer flows, warm water, and exhilarating rapids.

Even late in the season (July-September) in a low-water year, there are a number of options for paddling kayaks on the Kern. These range from the creeky and technical Forks, to practicing eddy turns and ferries on the moving water at the Lake Ming day use area. All the options are not appropriate for every boater.

Not far from Southern California, and surrounded by Sequoia National Forest, Kernville offers itself as gateway to the Giant Sequoias. Originally called Whiskey Flat, before the church ladies sobered it up, Kernville started as a Gold Rush mining town and celebrates its Old West character, with shops, eateries, and lodging reflecting a bit of the area's history. Private and Forest Service campgrounds abound along both the river corridor and around Lake Isabella. For more information, go to

Access Points

Various put-ins and take-outs exist within downtown Kernville. There is road access on the Wild & Scenic North Fork of the Kern for 20 miles north of Kernville, which also offers close access to the Forks of the Kern, Brush Creek, and Dry Meadow Creek.

Best Seasons for Experiencing

Every year, March through early August.

Typical Class of Water

Classes 3, 4, and 5

Nearby Places