10 Best Rapids on the Kern River

March 23, 2020

river and sun icon Sierra South Mountain Sports Kern River California

10. White Maidens
Gusto, Lower Kern
Class IV

This rapid changes a great deal as the water goes up and down. Lucky for us, its fun and challenging characteristics never diminish. It is long, powerful, technical, extremely wet, and not a bad place to swim if you do fall out!

9. The Wall 
Cables, Upper Kern
Class IV

Guests choosing a full, or half day Upper Kern Rafting trip may encounter the Wall as the first serious rapid. The rapid accelerates quickly into a wall (hence the name) and makes a sharp left hand turn. After making the power move to avoid the wall, dig those paddles in to smash two consecutive waves that will drench the boat and baptize you to rafting on the Kern River. 

8. Ewings 
Lickety, Upper Kern
Class III

You can be assured that if one of the major attractions in Kernville is to have a drink at Ewings Restaurant and watch rafts navigate this rapid, it has to be a pretty great rapid! At certain flows the wave at Ewings rapid is one of the best on the river. Family friendly and unforgettable, we love Ewings. 

7. The Flume
Thunder Run, Upper Kern
Class V

This rapid makes our list based on its unique, roller coaster-like characteristics. After several tight maneuvers above the rapid your eyes will naturally be drawn towards the definition of a horizon line; a view of the river dropping off into the unknown. As you approach the edge you will need to trust your guide, we know the line! Paddle hard and enjoy that momentary weightless feeling as your raft enters the steepest rapid on the Upper Kern!

6. Black Bottom Falls
Chamise Gorge, Upper Kern
Class IV

Chamise is one of the most breath taking sections on the Upper Kern River. When the water levels are right, both full day Upper Kern Class IV and Class V trips will experience these unique rapids. Black Bottom is simply the best of Chamise. A technical and powerful series of moves with a massive hydraulic at the bottom. Paddle hard, embrace the challenge, and keep a good hold on the raft.

5. Sock-’em Dog
Thunder Run, Upper Kern
Class V

If this class V rapid isn’t the most difficult rapid on the Thunder Run, then it’s a close second. Massive offset holes in the center of the river provide a narrow window for a raft to navigate through. Sock-’em Dog combines the best aspects of the Upper Kern; a mix of steep technical rafting and big water power. I smile just thinking about this gem.

4. Powerhouse
Lickety, Upper Kern
Class III

There is no way we could leave Powerhouse Rapid off our Top Ten list. The intense smiles we see at the bottom of this quarter mile class III rapid is proof enough. Thousands of families have come rafting with us on the Lickety Section of the Upper Kern and this rapid, along with Ewings, gives people exactly what they want; speed, splashes, and plenty of chances to paddle hard!

3. Hari-kari
Big Five – Lower Kern
Class IV

Regardless of the flow, this Lower Kern Big Five rapid is always on point. In classic drop-pool style, your raft goes from zero to breakneck speed in a matter of moments. Add a hairpin turn, and two massive waves at the bottom to make one of the best rapids on the Kern.

2. Carson Falls
Forks of the Kern, Upper Kern
Class V

There are 100+ rapids on the Forks of the Kern. Not an easy task to choose our favorite and if you join us on the Forks of the Kern you can experience them all! For this list, we will go with the Climactic Carson Falls. This is the steepest rapid on the section and will put to the test all the skill and teamwork you’ve developed in the previous 17 miles. There is a not a better way to finish an epic two day wilderness trip through the High Sierra.

going through rapids in a raft Sierra South Mountain Sports Kern River California

1. Fender Bender 
Thunder Run, Upper Kern
Class V

The climax of the Upper Kern Class V Thunder Run is also our choice for the top rapid on the Kern River! A challenging entrance leads your raft into a steep, technical, thrilling descent of one of the hardest rapids on the river.