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Camping on the River

California's Kern River


tubing down the Kern River KERN RIVER CAMPING

There is nothing like camping right on a rushing river. The Kern River is the perfect choice for your first camping trip and just may become a wonderful spot for you and your family to return to year after year, generation after generation. Every single family we met had been coming to the Kern River for years, most of them since they were kids, themselves! You can enjoy the cool, refreshing water as you fish and swim, enjoy the nature that gravitates to the water or go rafting or tubing as water levels permit. (I love to listen to the rushing water as it often drowns out the sounds of bugs etc. in the night!) People drown on the Kern River every year so it is important to respect the river and its dangerous currents. Watch the kids every minute and do not even think of getting in the river if you don't swim without wearing a life jacket! Note: if you have an only child like we do- take a friend along. It will make all the difference in the world!!!


Take the I 14 North to the 158 to Kernville. An interesting stop along the way is Red Rocks. They have a bathroom at the Visitor's Center (and by that I mean an outhouse) but it is good to get out and stretch for a few minutes and take some spectacular pictures. We took the 158 through Onyx to Isabella (around the lake to the left) and then took the 155 to Whiskey Flats and Kernville and State Mountain 99 left to the river - on the way. And…we took the shortcut around the other side of the lake taking State Mountain 99 as it turns into Sierra Way back to the 158 coming home. We actually took a small side trip on the way home - taking the 14 North again for 3 miles to the 178 and went to China Lake Naval Air Weapons Museum. They quickly cleared us for entry to the base and the boys really enjoyed seeing the planes, bombs and missals. We came back to the 395 and took that home. Not a great choice and I would NOT recommend that route as an alternate.
I 14 red rock canyon red rocks rest stop red rocks caution cattle onyx store

Kern River - There is really no better place for So Cal residents to go river camping than the Kern River. It is located a couple of hours from home, has water year round but it is HOT in the summer! If you like the heat - you will love camping on the Kern! The Kern is a great STAYCATION opportunity for anyone looking for cheap vacation for the family. We used less than a ½ tank of gas each way and another ¾ for all of our travels up and down the river while we were there. Gas prices were about the same as at home!
cattle ranch welcome to kernville lake isabella vista kernville kern river in kernville riverside park kernville

We made reservations through ReserveAmerica at the Fairview Campground and had a site right on the river ($15.00 per night). The campground has outhouses and potable water and each site has a picnic table and fire pit, but very few trees - so little, if any shade. The problem was that most sites (ours included) did not have enough room for a big tent. We pitched ours on the parking space (which was long enough for an RV) and it all worked out fine! McNally's is ¼ mile away so you can get ice etc….and they even have a hamburger stand and steak restaurant if you don't feel like cooking! Some other campground options along the river include Headquarters, Camp 3, Hospital Flat and Gold ledge. We did most of our shopping at the RiverKern General Store about half way between Fairview Campground and Kernville. The people are so nice and they let us use their compressor to fill up our inner tubes. they have a great selection of fishing gear and cook up a delicious breakfast for $4.99!!
fairview campground campsite camping on kern river sunrise fairview on kern mcnallys kern river sun bathing river walking

The mornings and evenings are just wonderful with cool breezes - you almost need a hoody if you get up early or stay up late. The kids fished, boulder hopped, found frogs and water snakes and built a fort which they later destroyed with a rock barrage. speckled river frog kern river frog kern river water snake river snake kern river fortress boulder hopping kern river

kern river fishing fishing kern river Fishing on the Kern River is supposed to be excellent - but we never got a bite! We copied everything our neighbors (who were catching fish) did and still….NO LUCK! JJ says, "it just takes too long!" We HEARD that you should use red eggs or spinners and that it was really easy to limit out. My grandson always reminds me it is called "fishing" not "catching" for a reason!


s'mores at campfire The nights are fabulous - with amazing stars, s'mores around the fire (try making them with chocolate chip cookies instead of graham crackers!) and lots of laughs as you try to fall asleep IN A TENT with a bunch of people who have not showered - in DAYS!


Between about 11:00 am and 5:00 pm is the problem….it is so hot that we would get in the car and go exploring. That allowed us to cool off in the car's air conditioning and see the area! I always pack lunch as I am cleaning up breakfast…..and pop it in the ice chest. Less contact with all the bugs (at the Kern it is yellow jackets) if you prepare two meals instead of three. Some of the places we visited and things we did:

Limestone Campground - is located up the road a few miles past the Fairview Dam. It is a first come - first served campground and many sites are located on a steep cliff way above the river. But…..it has the coolest swimming hole in the area. If you go into the camp ground and turn right and go all the way to the end…..there is a trail that takes you to Crock Rock and the swimming hole. The kids spent at least an hour a day swimming across (watch the very swift current), jumping off the crock's nose and exploring the rocks on the other side.
limestone trail to crock rock crock rock limestone crock rock kern river kern river swimming hole

johnsondale bridge Johnsondale Bridge - is where many Kern river whitewater trips begin (mostly during the spring when the water is at a very high level) and where the golden trout is found. Special fishing rules apply to these magnificent fish so make sure you understand the rules! You can hike up behind the bridge and it is really gorgeous! We had heard there is bungy jumping off the Johnsondale Bridge and I was secretly (until now) extremely happy there was not!


100 Giants - is located about 20 miles or so further up the road. We almost turned back as we drove up the steep, windy road through a decimated forest (fire from several years back) but are so glad we kept going. All of the sudden you are in a fabulous, old growth pine forest filled with fur, pine, redwoods and giant sequoias. There are meadows filled with grazing cattle and wildflowers and sometimes the road is filled with cows too! Past the Johnsondale sign on your left there is an intersection (4 way stop) and you turn right to get to the 100 Giants trailhead. (We missed it and drove quite a long way through the forest before we decided to go back) The trail and the giant sequoias are definitely worth the drive!
sequoia national park cattle grazing in sequoia 100 giants trailhead giant sequoia and kids sequoia trailhead tall sequoia view

Lake Isabella - is a great place to spend some time driving around on a boat and enjoying the cool breeze! We went to the North Fork Marina and the friendly folks "hooked us up" with a boat ($65.00 per hour plus gas) for two hours. It was the perfect amount of time to drive all around the lake and land at the bridge, hike around on the rocks for awhile and enjoy our picnic lunch. We did not fish or get into the lake as it was bright green with some algae growth that everyone there insists is totally safe…..nope! But we had a really great time and would recommend it. The boys LOVED driving the boat!!!
north fork marina lake isabella boating lake isabella lake isabella boating lake isabella picnic spot isabella lake view green wake at lake isabella

kernville Kernville - is a charming town that has not changed a bit since I was a child, visiting there every summer! Riverside Park is covered with green trees but the water is swift so be very careful. We loved the shakes at The Blue Bear and went back the next day for MORE! There are antique shops and wonderful places to book exciting river fun or purchase souvenirs from the area!
kern river in kernville riverside park kernville The market on the hill as you leave town and turn left is where you should pick up anything you forgot before you go camping up river and gas is also available right next door. If you are not into camping there are many places to stay in Kernville with accommodations of all types for just about everyone.

kern river hatchery Fish Hatchery -is located on the road close to Kernville so you just pull off and go see all those beautiful rainbow trout they use to stock the Kern River. There is nothing I love more than to visit a hatchery but JJ absolutely hates it and cannot imagine why I keep dragging him to yet another HATCHERY! Maybe it is because that is the only time I get to see fish on a camping trip with Joe and JJ!!!???

Tubing on the Kern River - is just plain fun! I dropped Joe and the kids off at the spot just below the Fairview Dam and they tubed down to our campground. The river is getting a bit low so there were some places they hit rocks but could stay in the water. This segment took about an hour and they did it several times and had a blast! kern tubing trip kern river tubing tubing on kern river

kernville River Rafting on the Kern River - is available from April to early July and you can choose from numerous river rafting companies offering class I to class V rapids. There is a river rafting experience just right for you on the Kern River.


Packing up to go home -is a lot of work but we pretty much have it down to a science. The secret in a hot place is to get up early, and get out of Dodge. We did just that and had breakfast later in the day with those fabulous Blue Bear shakes to tide us over.
breaking camp xxxxx kern swimming hole lake isabella

China Lake Naval Air Weapons Museum - is located on the 178 as you drive through Ridgecrest about 10 miles from the 395. We decided to go for a visit after the boys saw a F18 buzz river while they were swimming. Just drive right up to the guard gate and after they run a security check on your driver's license(s) you will be issued guest passes and welcomed on base. The boys loved seeing the fighter jets, missals and bombs. They have a very interesting movie constantly looping that features the base and the history of the area.
fighter planes china lake china lake fighter plane china lake naval museum

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