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Upper Kern River
Sequoia National Forest

The section of the Kern River between Lake Isabella and the Johnsondale Bridge is the North Fork of the Kern River and commonly called the Upper Kern. Designated a Wild and Scenic River, this section of the river is easily accessed by vehicle. Gray pines, scrub oaks, grass, and dry climate shrubs cling to steep, canyon walls while cottonwoods and willows line the river.

Overnight Along The Upper River. A number of developed campgrounds are available along the Upper Kern operated by concessionaire. For those interested in less developed opportunities, there are dispersed camping areas with portable toilets and trash bins. Tables, water, and fire rings are not provided. Don’t forget your valid California Campfire Permit for campfires, barbecues, stoves and lanterns during fire season. Camping is not allowed within 25 feet from the water’s edge.

Forks of the KernWhitewater Boating. Upper Kern is popular during the spring and summer months (late May through July). Water flows are dependent upon snow melt and natural run-off. This 21-mile stretch of river has four whitewater boating sections with varying degrees of difficulty. For more details, see the Upper Kern page at Mountain and River Adventures website.

Recreation Service Partners

The Kern River Whitewater Outfitters-Guides. On the Sequoia National Forest, five outfitters provide guided whitewater trips on the Kern River. Please contact these companies for details of trips offered or to make reservations:

California Land Management. There are 8 developed campgrounds operated under a concessionaire program with California Land Management (CLM) along the Upper and Lower Kern River. For additional information, please visit www.clm-services.com or call their Hume Lake office at 559-335-2232, their Springville office at 559-539-3004, or their Lake Isabella office at 760-376-1815.

Kern River Fish Hatchery. The California Department of Fish and Game manages the facility and the Friends of the Hatchery operate the visitor center and museums open to the public. Located at 14400 Sierra Way (Mountain Highway 99) hatchery hours are 10:00 am – 4:00 pm daily, Museum and Visitor Center hours are 10:00 am – 4:00 pm, Saturdays
and Sundays.

Kern River Valley Museum. Open Thursday through Sunday 10:00 am – 4:00 pm Kern River Valley Historical Society manages and maintains this museum. Archives and spectacular displays interpreting the rich and complex social, cultural and economic history of the Kern River Valley are offered to visitors without charge. Call (760) 376-6683 or visit the website at www.southern-sierra.com/Community/museum.

Bureau Of Land Management (BLM). A section of the Lower Kern just below the dam is managed by the BLM. White water boating activity along this section is managed in partnership with the Forest Service.

Along The Upper And Lower Kern River

Swimming Is Not Recommended. Powerful currents, cold water temperatures, and underwater hazards such as fallen trees and rocks, can trap even the strongest swimmers. Drowning is the number one cause of accidental death along the Kern. Falling in is as dangerous as swimming. Children should always be wearing life preservers and be closely supervised.

Hiking. See list of trails below. Be sure to pick a trail that matches your experience and ability. When hiking we suggest having the proper clothing, changes in the weather can happen rapidly. Wear good hiking boots and break them in before your hike! Always carry plenty of water, a first aid kit, map and food to meet your needs. Please remember to pack out what you pack in.

Fishing is a popular activity. A 3 day or 1 year California Fishing license is required and please know and follow California State Fish and Game regulations. Fishing is open year round along the Kern River. Live bait is allowed in the upper and lower sections and the limit is 5 trout per day/10 in possession. Above the Johnsondale Bridge special fishing restrictions apply, be sure to check local Fish and Game regulations.

Annual Kern River Use Permit. Good through April 30 of the following year, is required year round for EACH watercraft. Permits are issued at the Forest Services offices. A Coast Guard approved personal flotation device must be readily accessible, properly fit, and in good condition, for each member of the party. Daily water flow information is available from the Kern River Flow Phone. Flow information can be accessed toll-free at 877-537-6356 or locally at 760-376-8821.

Upper Kern River map

Campgrounds Elevation Sites Season Max. Trailer Potable Water Remarks
Camp 3 2800 52   30’ Yes Reservations available
Fairview 3500 55   45’ Yes Reservations available, 3 accessible campsites, multi-family groupsites
Goldledge 3200 37   30’ Yes Reservations available
Headquarters 2800 44   27’ Yes Reservations available, 1 accessible campsite
Hospital Flat 3000 40   30’ Yes Reservations available
Limestone 3800 22   30’ No Fee required
Day Use Areas Elevation Season Potable Water Remarks
Brush Creek Flat 3800     open parking, compacted dirt surface
Corral Creek 3000     open parking, compacted dirt surface
Riverkern Beach 2650     roadside parking, steep paths, rocky and sandy surface
Trails Trail # Elevation Miles Remarks
Whiskey Flat 32E35 2800-3600 14.5 Easy to moderate. Parallels the Kern River, good fishing spots.
Cannell 33E32 2800-7520 12.0 Moderate to strenuous. Magnificent views of the Kern River Valley
Rincon 33E23 3680-4640 19.5 Moderate to strenuous. Good fishing, some nice undeveloped camping.
Packsaddle Cave 33E34 3600-4500 2.3 Moderate. Bring a flashlight to explore the cave.
Flynn Canyon 32E33 3600-6000 3.9 Moderate to strenuous.
Tobias 32E34 3600-6400 4.6 Moderate to strenuous. Good fishing.
River Trail 33E30 3760-4000 5.2 Easy to moderate. Follows the Kern River. Good access for fishing. Suitable for day hikes or overnight backpack trips.

Hiking Handouts: Hiking Trails of Upper Kern Canyon (PDF - 109k)