The spectacular Klamath River is both the second largest and second longest river in California, making its way through over 250 miles both the Cascade and Coast Mountain Ranges. It’s one of the most important rivers in the U.S. for fish migration.
This NorCal river is renowned for its fishing (salmon and steelhead).
The river is easily accessible off of Highway 96 w/ boat ramps, trailhead parking and campgrounds located nearby.
Klamath River flows down into California from Klamath Falls, Oregon. Many feeder streams and rivers join the big river – Shasta River, Scott River, Salmon River, and it takes a sharp turn north again where the Trinity River joins it from the south. Copco and Iron Gate Dam located at the Oregon border, plus Upper Klamath Lake, north of the state line, are the significant dams along this river.
This area is the last hold-out for tribal members of
Dispersed camping outside of developed campgrounds. Fire permits are required during fire restrictions. Call for more info Orleans Ranger District at 530-627-3291
Aikens Creek West Campground, Road #10N75
No fee. Open all year. No reservations. No services. Trailer spaces available. Maximum trailer length 35′
Ten Bear Trailhead
No fee. Dispersed camping area w/ several corrals, water for animals, and 2 campsites; pefect hunter’s camp. At the hiking trailhead for Ten Bear trail, in the Marble Mountains Wilderness.
Ti-bar, North of Orleans, CA No fee. Heavy use. Ti-bar River Access offers a paved road to excellent dispersed camping with picnic tables, camp fire rings, a vault toilet and information kiosk. Gravel, steep boat ramp; 4WD may be needed to launch boats.
Smith River Recreation Area
Doe Flat Trailhead, Road #16N02
Trail Parking @ elevation: 4500′
3 campsites and a vault toilet
Dry Lake, County Road 405.
No fee. Open all year. Tent camping, Vault toilet. Good fishing.
Stanshaw Equestrian Camp & Trailhead
Dispersed camping; No fee. Excellent base camp for equestrian recreationists heading out on the Stanshaw Trail in the Marble Mountains Wilderness Area. One restroom, 5 large campsites with picnic tables, fire rings; corrals with running water for animals.
Ten Bear Trailhead
No fee. Dispersed camping area w/ several corrals, water for animals, and 2 campsites; pefect hunter’s camp. At the hiking trailhead for Ten Bear trail, in the Marble Mountains Wilderness.
US Highway 101 cuts thru Salinas Valley & is home to the Salinas River. This area is rich in farming, and industry w/ some residential
Rolling hills with oak trees; cattle in every open field, fresh air and wide open vistas. River has no big campgrounds or city campgrounds, except for the seaside area, where the river hits the ocean @ Marina, CA
Central Coast California Wine Country
Paso Robles, Northern San Luis Obispo County – is where the Salinas River begins & flows northbound along mountains and highway – until it meets the Monterey Bay near Castroville, California.
dirt bike trails
This is a big valley river which drains agricultural land, so boating/kayaking is okay, but fishing/swimming – maybe not so great. This region grows huge amounts of produce, due to the inland coastal foothills near perfect climate. Pesticide runoffs can hardly be controlled. It’s in the well water, it’s in the irrigation channels, it’s everywhere – even inside your gut.
Anyhoo, there are several tourist sites, such as historical California missions & wineries in this region, along with Hollister Hills OHV Park. Be warned summer months can get very hot here.
Best time to visit SALINAS RIVER is NOV-MAY, and in between winter storms, and June Gloom. NOTE: Flooding does occur in these lowlands.
Northern Sierra Nevada Mountains
Tahoe National Forest
North Gold Country @ Historic Highway 49
Historic ‘gold rush’ mining camps and towns line this popular recreation river in the Northern Sierra. Numerous State Parks, museums, and campgrounds can be found along this route, in which Tahoe National Forest land encompasses the whole region.
North fork of the Yuba River lines Historic Highway 49, on the way to Downieville and Sierra City, CA. Plenty of camping in these parts. Lakes Basin Recreation Area is located up behind the impressive granite spires called Sierra Buttes and this area is the headwaters for this portion of the river.
Middle fork of the Yuba River cuts through the residential mountain community on Moonshine Road, and ends up in Lake Bullards Bar; The rest of the middle fork flows through remote forest lands and is only crossed by one dirt road #191 in Tahoe NF.
South fork of the Yuba River flows from the far heights of Donner Pass and I-80; near Lake Spaulding. Passing Washington Ridge; northeast of Nevada City; and North Bloomfield @ Malakoff Diggins continuing down to Bridgeport @ South YUBA – where the longest wooden, covered bridge is located. Numerous old, one-lane bridges cross this southern fork of the river, and the region can take years to explore. Lots of residential and private properties.
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has a campground way back here, the CHEAPEST CAMP around; Look for signs, along the dusty North Bloomfield Rd (graded dirt road) about a mile UP hill from rickety Edwards Crossing (pictured below).
South Yuba State Park, located along the Golden Chain Hwy 49, is a short drive up Hwy 4 from Nevada City and a very popular spot for sightseeing, day hiking, backpacking, mountain biking and riverside picnics. The parking lot at the large curved bridge fills up fast, daily. Pedestrians and hikers are always seen here, so slow down driving along this portion of the highway.
The big river forks all join west of Grass Valley, heading down the mountains, paralleling Hwy 20 to Marysville, CA
The historic river town of Sierra City is defined by the North Yuba River that cuts through the granite, forested canyon. Granite towers above and snow is around more than half the year.
The river is free-running up here; Sierra City is only about 10 miles below the headwaters of the Yuba, at Lakes Basin Gold Lake California. In spring, runoff is pure Class 5 whitewater. Wild Plum Campground is walking distance to town.
Free primitive camping on dirt roads, can be found way up near the Bassetts intersection. Opposite from Gold Lake Hwy – turn RIGHT (south) on to logging roads: Forest Rd #54 (long ridge route, all dirt) and club into the forest. Drive a several miles up to any large dirt pulls out. Passenger car accessible road; No low riders. Carry a good forest map. Many primitive camp spots have wide openings with views of the Sierra Buttes and crystal clear night skies. Wind can get bad on this mountain ridge, so pick your camp spot with that in mind.
Epic view camp – or expensive river camp? (you choose). Campfire permit are required for camping outside of developed campgrounds. Bring your own water and shovel!
Northern California’s impressive Feather River Watershed is massive and drains the lower half of snowy Mount Lassen @ 10,457′ elevation. The Plumas National Forest and Lassen Forest region is where the Sierra Nevada granite meets the volcanic rock of the Cascade mountain range.
In most recent times, 2017 was the wettest year on record for California. The Feather River Watershed recorded more water than any other year, based on 112 years of hydrology records.
West Branch (Paradise, CA) North Feather (Hwy 70 Beldon) Middle Feather (Berry Creek, CA) South Feather (LaPorte, CA)
Northern Sierra Nevada Mountains meet the Cascade Range @ Lassen
The North Feather runs along Highway 70 in the Feather River Canyon with railways, tunnels and trestles traversing the giant gorge. This granite lined canyon is known as the “stairway to power” – water flows stepping down the mountain from numerous reservoirs. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) operate a series of 9 power plants all interconnected – producing electric power (and in rare occasions, wildfires)
The East Branch of the North Feather River comes out of the American Valley near Quincy, CA
The West Branch of the North Feather River flows south down from “the ridge” – a forested, volcanic ridge line descending from Mount Lassen. West branch flows directly into Lake Oroville at Lime Saddle (Marina). This residential area is currently off limits to tourists, as it recovers from the most destructive and deadly wildfire in California history. The 2018 #CampFire destroyed most of the town and forests of Paradise, Lake Concow, and Yankee Hill. The incident made national news in November, as the worst wildfire season dragged well into autumn.
The South Fork of the Feather River and its reservoirs, are managed by the South Feather Power Project, consisting of 5 lakes, 4 power plants, and 3 diversion dams. The closest paved road to this region would be La Porte Road, off of Highway 70 between Gridley & Marysville, CA
The Middle Feather, or Middle Fork of the Feather, is a beautiful wild and scenic river for 78 miles, with granite walls, domes and few trails or roads. Only 2 campgrounds – Milsap Bar and Little North Fork, are well worth the journey.
EAST PLUMAS CO. Above the lumber & rail town of Quincy, Lake Davis and Frenchman Reservoir are both managed by the Department of Water Resources (DWR). Excellent mountain biking, stargazing and camping at both locations. NFS Campgrounds w/ fee.
North Sierra Waters:
via OROVILLE Reservoir Lake Oroville
All this water listed above is the massive Feather River Watershed. Like a thousand fine hairs that make up a bird feather, there are over 4,500 miles of mountain streams and rivers feeding the bigger Reservoir system below. Dam run by DWR (Department of Water and Power) at the State Recreation Area known as Lake Oroville SRA
Feather River has always been prone to flooding and wild river swings. All that Mount Lassen snowmelt needs to be managed in harmony with one another, so destructive floods do not ruin the agriculture and cities of the valley. Lake Oroville is the place; they try to control these river flows that are headed down to the Sacramento Valley. Oroville Dam was built in 1967. In 2017, a record rainfall winter in California, the Oroville dam showed major signs of stress with massive amounts of incoming water. Several recently published books tell the story in greater detail.
Below Lake Oroville, 2 giant warming ponds Thermalito Forebay & Thermalito Afterbay – built to control irrigation water and also heat the cold river water for the fish downstream
CA SR 162 – West Highway 162: the farming and residential areas of Thermalito & Biggs are held together by rock levees, all running right next to Highway 99. Diversion drainage leads out of Lake Orovillle above to the large inland bays – with river parks and salmon fish hatchery in historic, downtown Oroville. Wildlife viewing , kayaking, boating, fishing. Minimal camping at this area. Big rigs may be seen parked along this stretch of highway, due to its proximity to Hwy 99
Grand-eous ideas, from white men who conquered this land. The scouts on horseback mapped the canyons w/ primitive tools; the with dynamite and danger, they built a railroad through in 1850.
Hydro-electric power systems on the Feather, were constructed between 1908-1961. Native lands and tribal communities have been treated as sacrifice zones for national priorities of irrigation, flood control, and hydroelectric development.
Recent upgrades to Oroville Dam have been completed, although a lot of work still goes on around the Feather region due to wildfire debris, tree trimming, fire clearance, upgrades to power lines, and structural improvements.
Hiking trails, dirt roads and highways may be re-routed, inaccessible or closed due to construction, landslides, rock slides or utility work. Call local rangers for up to date info.
This is a major river in the Sierra Nevada landscape, as well as in the Gold Rush history of California. Many mining camps, railways, old abandon mines, dirt roads, hiking trails, mountain biking routes, waterfalls and even ancient artifacts can be found on the back roads. The native tribes once heavily populated these river canyons since the location is ideal, half way between the big mountains and the sunny warm valley.
North fork of American River drains most of the Donner Pass region, all along Interstate 80. Indian Creek is a feeder stream coming from Sugar Pine Reservoir. No large reservoirs exist along this American North Fork, although there is a wide section of the river, above Auburn, called the North Fork Lake.
Middle fork of American River comes down from the Granite Cheif Wilderness, next to Lake Tahoe; Foresthill (3225′ elev) is a small mountain community w/ a ranger station; French Meadows Reservoir is way back in there, toward the highest peaks @ 9000′ elevation.
South fork of American River parallels the State Highway 50, which connects Placerville to Lake Tahoe via the Kyburz Pass. Union Valley Reservoir and Ice House Reservoir make up this part of the drainage for abundant snow melt.
The north and middle flows of this river join in Auburn, near the freway @ I-80. The south fork joins the rest downhill in the Central Valley, at Folsom Lake, NW of Sacramento, CA
Auburn Lodging near the American River with numerous unique overnight options closeby. Colfax, the rail-town up the interstate, also has small motels and inns, most are freeway close. Foresthill is a residential area near the Middle Fork of the American River. Placerville, on the South Fork has more hotel choices.
CAL SALMON – a 19.6-mile long tributary to the Klamath River, located in western Siskiyou County, CA
One of the most remote & biologically intact watersheds left inside California. The headwaters of the Salmon River flow from the Trinity Alps, Marble Mountains, and the Russian Wilderness Areas. 850,000 acres of Wilderness surrounding the Salmon River watershed.
There’s another Salmon River in Idaho, but this page deals with the Northern California river, dubbed “Cal Salmon” with it’s emerald green waters and lush fern-filled canyons. A granite inner gorge.
You gotta know how to read a map if you wanna find this hidden gem. Highly sought after destination for whitewater rafting and river kayaking. Rapids! With a short rafting season (March-June)
This is a place for those who love seclusion. It’s kinda far for most people to drive here. The NorCal river region is a prime secret spot for true nature lovers: campers, hikers, fishermen, river rafters, kayakers, mountain bikers, backpackers, birdwatchers and horse enthusiasts. Summer is the busiest time and of course, the best weather. The remainder of the year, you’ll basically have the place all to yourself. Winters can be wet and sloppy, so don’t get stuck in the mud. Cell phone reception is minimal in these densely forested backwoods.
Rafting, river beaches, kayak spots. Campground camping, RV camping, tent camping, primitive and wilderness too.
A significant part of the Klamath River’s watershed is in the Karuk Tribe’s Ancestral Territory. Karuk Indians have carefully managed their lands through an integrated continuum with the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystem functions for thousands of years. Salmon, or “Ama” in the Karuk language, was a major source of food and spiritual renewal.
One of the largest rivers on the Central Coast of California, close to 100 miles long. You can find this river name spelled with “I” as well as “Y” on various maps featuring Santa Barbara. The smaller river “Inez” begins w/ the upper reservoirs, deep in Los Padres National Forest. After leaving Lake Cachuma heading westward, the name turns into the bigger “Santa Ynez” river. Agricultural farmlands, wineries, horse pastures, all the way to Lompoc.
Everyone knows this area as Lake Cachuma, in the mountains
behind Santa Barbara. This fire-prone mountain range parallels the palm tree lined coastal villages, along the scenic coastline of California. North of Ventura, Ojai and Los Angeles.
Indian Creek and Mono Creek drain the Dick Smith Wilderness Area, from the east, in Los Padres National Forest. Jameson Lake (2224′ elev) is a small reservoir where this river starts to come together. Downstream Agua Caliente Hot Springs flows, west to join Gibraltar Reservoir (1399′ elev). Then another 10 miles or so to meet w/ larger Lake Cachuma. The large river continues thru Santa Ynez Valley, on to Lompoc and empties into the sea around Vandenburg.
Ocean Beach sits in pristine isolation steps from engaging and beautiful shoreline, where the Santa Ynez River meets the sea. Bird-watchers and nature photographers love this spot. Beach access is closed to the public annually, from March – September due to bird (snowy plover) nesting season. Fishing is not allowed. Also known as “Surf Beach” and a well known coast for shark attacks.
Hiking is a popular recreation around this whole wine country region; Campgrounds are generally open all year long. Summers can be hot, winters are usually wet. Wildflowers bloom March-May.
Santa Ynez Recreation Area
Campgrounds near this River
Camps in this list are managed by Santa Barbara County, USFS and privately owned campgrounds
Gibraltar & Agua Caliente (access road #5N15 closed due to landslide; hike-in access only)
Dry SoCal terrain means that this river may be ‘seasonal’ – down to a trickle in drought years, or free flowing and wide during a good winter. Spring and winter storms can bring dangerous conditions and high water flowing over the paved roadways is possible. Authorities may close roads at any time depending on rainfall and river height. Check the weather forecast and know what to expect, cuz it’s a dead end canyon way back in here.
PARADISE ROAD: The is a main access road to numerous campgrounds, w/ hiking, biking and horseback trailheads and OHV routes all accessible. The canyon wide river bed is strewn will bowling ball sized boulders and wading pools may be found.
Off Roading OHV Trailhead
Buckhorn OHV, near Upper Oso
Indian Creek Camuesa OHV, near Mono Campground
Divided Peak OHV, on Camino Cielo East
Davy Brown OHV, Figueroa Mountain
CAMINO CIELO A popular paved, ridge route drive of Santa Barbara (coastline views) with junction at Highway 154.
Camino Cielo East (Rd#51N12), goes southeast to great viewpoints over the epic coast. Channel Islands usually seen on the ocean horizon. Road become dirt & sudden switchback into mountains is quite steep. SUV or high clearance vehicle may be needed; and possible 4×4 in wet weather.
[CLOSED DUE TO LANDSLIDE 2019] The dead-end route leads down to the Gibraltar Dam (#5N15), several camp sites and a remote hot springs (which may or may not be operational)
Camino Cielo West, turns northwest off the highway. Nice viewpoints over Lake Cachuma. Boulders and coves, a party spot for locals kids. Paved road quickly become dirt turns into steep mountains w/ off roading opportunities. OHV trails not well marked w/ signs, so drive slow until you know the terrain. 4×4 may be needed. Mountain bikers and hikers also use this route, so pass with caution.
Los Padres Forest Headquarters Goleta CA
Edison Lake, Florence Lake, Shaver Lake, Huntington Lake Kaiser Wilderness, Sierra National Forest
The San Joaquin watershed begins way up in the High Sierra, Ansel Adams Wilderness to be exact. Eastern Sierra ranges, up behind Mammoth Mountain peaks called The Minarets, the snow drains westward. Far from the San Joaquin Valley, way above Fresno, CA
Sierra Forest Road #80 is Kaiser Pass Rd. Starting next to China Peak Ski Resort (formerly Sierra Summit) Take the right turn, near Huntington Lake. Kaiser Pass Road is a paved back country road climbing steeply up into the high country.
Sierra National Forest Headquarters
1600 Tollhouse Road
Clovis, CA 93611
WINTER ACCESS: Kaiser Pass is one of the few areas to enjoy snowmobiling trails and hot spring soaking. The distance to the springs is about 25 miles, one way and requires either cross country skis, snow shoes or snow mobile to reach.
SNO MO RENTALS: Snow depth is usually best after the first of the year and last through April. The round trip hot springs (self-guided) excursion can be done w/ a half day rental, but only if you follow some guidelines: Reserve machine @ Rancheria Enterprises, way ahead of time; Pack a lunch and snacks. Arrive early, gear up, get instructions and have a topo map; Be on the trail and traveling, not stopping on side routes, or play in the meadow or sightsee.
Narrow route continues on passing the meadow and goes for many miles. Trail traverses some steep terrain, with curves and cliffs, especially coming down hill to the river & green metal bridge. Parking spot is before bridge on left side. Hike a short distance, across marshy hillside to reach the 2 primitive hot tubs.
Central Sierra Nevada Mountains
Sonora Pass CA 108 / Ebbetts Pass CA 4
Stanislaus National Forest
The Sierra Nevada mountain route that usually closes first and opens last, due to snow and rock slides . Sonora Pass snow is epic, but often unaccessible most of the year. Snow melt can be slow and this route may not open by until mid-summer. (Quite typical on this highway). Check Cal Trans Hwy Reports. Summer and early Autumn is the time to visit this region, so plan accordingly.
This Big Sierra River is so far reaching that it covers areas from two different Wilderness Areas and two Sierra highway systems: Sonora Pass 108 & Ebbetts Pass Hwy 4.
The North Fork of Stanislaus River starts up at Highland Creek (below Highland Lakes) and parallels the Ebbetts Pass pavement westward down the mountain. Numerous lakes and parks along this steep northern fork, all lined with impressive granite rock. Spicer Reservoir, Elephant Rock, Summit Lake, Calaveras Big Trees State Park and Stanislaus National Forest.
Middle Fork of Stanislaus River, overview
Clark Fork flowing from the Dardanelles in Carson Peak Wilderness, become the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River. Numerous Campgrounds, RV camps, horse camps along Clark Fork Road. California Highway 108 may still have a real old fashioned pay phone at this intersection. Go look.
Kennedy Creek comes in from the south side of the highway and creates Kennedy Meadows, a horse packing ranch; Not to be confused with the Kern Kennedy Meadows, way down south.
Eagle Creek and Kennedy, plus the Clark Fork are the main headwaters to Stanislaus River making up the Middle fork of this river. Traveling southwest thru the forest, with numerous Reservoirs and plenty of campgrounds.
Middle Fork comes together near the Fence Creek Campground @ Hwy 108. Flowing downhill to join Donnell Lake, then 10 miles of ‘really rugged wild river’ down to Beardsley Lake, then to Sand Bar Flat Campground further below, and on towards the county line @ Calaveras.
South Fork Stanislaus, the shortest of the forks, flows down from Pinecrest Lake, Dodge Ridge Ski Resort and the Emigrant Wilderness Area. Then hits Lyons Reservoir (4228′ elev) near the community of Long Barn, CA Italian Bar brings it right down to Historical Gold Camp, Columbia.
Eventually the massive Stanislaus River ends up in the San Joaquin (Central) Valley, like most of the Western Sierra rivers do, growing the food crops for all. California is a huge agriculture state.
Backpacking Big Wilderness
With Wilderness making up the majority of the landscape around these river canyons , there is ample opportunity for day hiking, creek fishing and backpacking adventures. May as well plan for a full week off of work, if you wanna explore in some depth. Many trailheads have small parking lots located on dirt roads, which are usually passenger car accessible.
PCT = The Pacific Crest hiking trail cuts right across the tallest Sierra Nevada mountain pass – Sonora Pass 108 @ 9625′ elev.
Black Bears are common in this region and several areas have bear boxes for proper food storage. If not available, you’ll need a bear canister or learn to properly hang your food in a tree.
Winter closures due to deep snow is common more than half the year up here. Check Cal Trans for highway conditions and w/ local rangers to find out what back roads are open, and which ones are too muddy. 4WD may be needed to reach certain destinations, if snow & mud are still present. Winter SNOW CAN LAST UP HERE: on the peaks all summer long; And snow can start falling as early as October, so know the forecast before you set out on a major backcountry trip.
Wilderness permits are required for overnight stays in the backcountry. Stop by a ranger station to get the latest details before your big trek into the woods. USFS web sites are not always so up-to-date. A phone call or personal visit may be needed to get accurate info.
The Wilderness boundaries on each side of the pavement (CA 108) along with giant granite walls, steep cliffs, boulders, wild raging rivers and dense forests make dirt road accessibility somewhat limited along the Sonora Pass Highway. Ebbetts (CA 4) has more dirt road accessibility, especially beyond Beardsley Lake.
County Line Road #6N06 will take you past a developed NFS Camp called Fence Creek Campground. The dirt road climbs into the forest meadows, with 2 trailheads to be found within a few miles. Horse Corral at Wheats Meadow. Numerous primitive campsites for backpackers, car campers, horse campers. Lush meadows, hidden forests, boulder outcroppings, dead end roads.
Back behind Pinecrest Lake & Dodge Ridge Ski are several dirt road loops w/ primitive camping at Bell Meadow Crabtree
Campfire permits are Required for camping outside of developed NFS campgrounds. Obtain a free campfire permit before you build a fire. Have a bucket and shovel at camp, always; attend the fire at all times.
Levitt Lake @ 9556′ elev, on the eastern slope of Sonora Pass has rocky road to wonderful scenery. Mid summer snow melt, so bring the good jacket – even in summer. High elevation camping, hiking, kayaking; rock scrambling at tree line. This alpine lake best reached with high clearance vehicle.
Union, Utica, and Spicer Reservoirs have a few dirt roads to explore off Spicer Rd #7N01, with abundant trails for hiking and mountain biking. Tons of firewood, free for the cutting. Bring your saw!
Kayaking and canoeing are popular at both Union and Utica. Dirt road access. No motors on lake. FREE LAKE CAMP: Shoreline camping is possible, but summer crowds – can get downright insane. Nothing like a traffic jam in the middle of nowhere. Big families camping out all week long w/ all their toys, tents, multiple vehicles. Try to visit in the off-season for the best experience at these 2 lovely lakes. Spicer has developed campgrounds w/ fees, but has real boat ramps and can also accommodate RV campers.
OHV Trails Stanislaus
4×4 camps and dirt bike trails can be found at Niagra Creek, on the south side of Highway 108, before Clarks Fork.
Union Reservoir has a popular 4WD trail that connects up to Lake Alpine @ Ebbetts Pass.
BACK ROADS TIP
Regular dirt roads can become “4WD needed” with any decent amount of snow or heavy rains, especially on the steeper sections. Remember: No guard rails on the dirt roads. If you plan to camp ‘way back in there, in the boonies’ – make sure you know the weather forecast and have a vehicle that can get out; no matter how sloppy the road gets. Thunderstorms are possible. Snow is 75% of the year.
Due east of Bakersfield, CA the Kern Canyon’s massive rock opens to the west with big water. CA 178 Narrow 2-lane highway, lined by tall rock walls, cliffs, curves, few pull-outs and less guardrails. Geologically, the drive is impressive entering the canyon.
A large sign with death toll looms at the entrance, warning you to stay out and stay alive.
The Kern River is a southern flow, draining much of the southern mountains in the Sierra Nevada, including much Mount Whitney snow melt. Lake Isabella redirects the river westward to the Central Valley, so farmers can grow orchards of fruit. Citrus blossom fragrance fills the air on warm evenings, so be prepared to roll down the windows as you exit suburbia.
Kern County: Southern Sierra Nevada mountains river canyon, this prized recreation destination is the main attraction for the entire county. Lake levels at Isabella are often low, so know before you go w/ the Dam Task Force web page link and info.
The few oak & pines trees around this river may be the only shade you will find in the summer on the southern end, and this place can get triple digit hot in summer months (so be forewarned). A refreshing dip in the cool Kern River is what you really seek, but this is a real river, a fast river, a dangerous white water river – so take extreme precautions around this river w/ life jackets. Hundreds have died already, as the sign tells us so. Rafters consider whitewater rating a Class V, for most of the lower Kern section.
Upper Kern: Main fork of the Kern River is situated along the Rincon Fault line, which become the granite gorge of Kern River Canyon further north; the initial snowmelt and headwaters are located deep in backcountry of the Golden Trout Wilderness. All draining the backside of Mount Whitney and the Great Western Divide.
This larger, main river fork parallels the Sierra Hwy north of Kernville, CA with many miles of epic scenery. Plenty of camping for all types, fishing, tubing, rafting, kayaking, mountain biking and backpackers trailheads.
South fork of the Kern River begins up in the Golden Trout Wilderness. Tulare County. Eastern Sierra @ Olancha Peak. Monache Meadows, Inyo National Forest. The river traverses southward over the Kern plateau, Kennedy Meadows, Dome Land Wilderness. Chimney Peak Wilderness, Long Valley Campground. At Pilot Knob (6200′ elev) the South Kern turns west to join Lake Isabella.
Lower Kern: West of Lake Isabella, the river continues tumbling down the rocky, oak hills below the Greenhorn Mountains and eventually ends up at Lake Ming, or downtown Bako.
Little Kern River: a smaller, western fork coming down from Quinn Peak (10,168′ elev) on the Great Western Divide in the Golden Trout Wilderness. It joins at the Forks of the Kern near Jerky Meadow.
The whole Kern Canyon region is part of Sequoia National Forest and always under a wildfire threat in the latter part of the year. Kern River is very popular with city dwellers seeking big Sierra water that is close to SoCal.
Wildflowers are incredible in Kern County overall, and the Kern Canyon is no exception. Lower Kern blooms earlier than Upper Kern. Old Kern Canyon Road is a scenic drive that parallels the highway where you can find flora blooming March – May. Above Kernville the wildflower showing may be short, but sweet. Large river Lupine can be found at almost every campground, while Golden Poppies and Owls Clover line meadows near the main highway.
A variety of terrain in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains will have you puzzled where to start. From cedar forests to Sequoia groves, mountain peaks to fishing creeks, granite domes to granite gorges, wildflowers to waterfalls, hot springs to hot summers, Kern County has it.
Winter backpacking is quite popular here, as snow levels do not drop as drastically as in other mountain locations. Elevations from 1000′ – 4000′ are often ideal for winter hiking trips. Summer is usually best in the higher elevations, above 5000′
Wilderness permits are required for backcountry overnight stays.
Free camping, boondocking and primitive camping options are found near small streams and along the backroads of the neighboring Sequoia National Forest areas. Most secluded camps can be found 25+ miles north of Kernville, well away from the Kern River on the feeder creeks that flow into the big river. Dirt road driving may be required to find the most secluded camp spot. See more on Sequoia dispersed camping on back roads.
Campfire Permits are required for back roads primitive camping in this tinder-box region. More often than not, fire restrictions prohibit campfires during dry conditions. Hot summers, even lasting well into autumn. Obtain a free fire permit online or from the local rangers and be sure to find out if any restrictions are currently in place. USFS Ranger stations are located in downtown Kernville and at Lake Isabella.