Best Things to do in Kernville, CA
Kernville has the goods. This small, beautiful, and largely accessible town begins where the Sierra Nevada Mountains begin. The town itself is well equipped to host people with a variety of interests. Abundant camping and easy access to the Wild and Scenic Kern River is the biggest draw for visitors, but the town is much more than that. An award-winning brewery, scenic drives, incredible day and multi-day hiking, groves of Giant Sequoia Trees, Mountain Biking, and the best rafting in California. Kernville certainly has the goods.
1. Whitewater Rafting on the Kern River
The Wild and Scenic Kern River is home to the best whitewater rafting in California. Cascading from the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Kern River provides 60 miles of raft-able whitewater. This includes fun, splashy Class II-III sections in town, class IV-V one-day rafting on the upper and lower Kern, and several two day Class IV and Class V options as well. Rafting on one or many of the abundant sections of whitewater in the scenic mountain town of Kernville is one of the great adventures in California.
2. The Needles; Hiking and Climbing
Driving north out of Kernville into Sequoia National Forest opens up the pristine world of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The fame of Yosemite Valley is well deserved, but you can find comparable experiences with a fraction of the people in Kernville. The Needles are a wondrous rock formation 40 miles north of Kernville. Four granite spires rise out of a lush forest on the edge of the upper Kern River Valley. You will first notice the Needles to the left as the winding Great Western Divide Highway penetrates deeper in the Sierras. Climbers, hikers, photographers, and sightseers are all drawn in by the unique formation. There are well-labeled pull-offs on the right for the Needles Lookout Trailhead. This moderate trail is just over 4 miles out and back and will bring you up onto one of the needles via a metal staircase. Climbers may prefer an alternate route up the needles. The 360° view is breathtaking and on a clear day, you can easily see Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the lower 48.
3. Trail of 100 Giants
Another magical aspect of the Sierra Nevada Mountains north of Kernville is the Trail of 100 Giants. This particular grove contains 125 Giant Sequoias that are more than 10ft in diameter, the largest tree is 20ft in diameter and 225 feet tall. The Sequoia National Forest manages this site and charges a 5$ parking fee to fund the grove. Paid camping is also available. The easily accessible, paved walkway will give you an intimate view of some of the oldest and largest trees on the planet. Giant Sequoias carry with them the scars of dozens of fires and often have gaps in the trunk that allow you to walk underneath the trees! Put this on your list of things you absolutely must do when visiting Kernville.
4. Drive to Sherman Pass
Sherman Pass is a remarkable, paved mountain road that climbs to 9,200ft, providing stunning views of Mount Whitney and the surrounding Sierra Mountains. The high elevation does limit its accessibility to May/June to September depending on snowpack. The turn off for Sherman Pass is 30 miles north of Kernville, just before the Johnsondale Bridge. From there it is another 75 miles to Highway 395 if you elect to drive the entire road.
5. Mountain Biking the Just Outstanding Trail and Cannell Trail
Mountain Biking is one of the hidden gems of Kernville. Just Outstanding and the Cannell Trail are two of the best options close to town. Just Outstanding is a fun downhill single-track ride through the trees. It offers some nice corners, semi-technical areas as well as some spots where you can really fly if you dare. The Cannell Trail is a big alpine cross-country ride that ends with a bonus: the 8-mile long -5,000 foot downhill called “The Plunge.”
6. Fishing for Golden Trout and the Golden Trout Wilderness
The extremely rare, remarkably beautiful state fish of California is only found in the upper reaches of the Wild and Scenic Kern River. Any fishing upstream of the Johnsondale Bridge requires a license and is catch and release. The Golden Trout Wilderness was established to protect this fish and the remote ecosystem where it lives. Boasting 117 miles of streams, this wilderness is a true Golden Trout haven. It spans both sides of the Sierra crest, encompassing a vast diversity of terrain and numerous ecosystems. All the best fishing locations will require a hike to get there but are worth the extra effort.
7. Hike to the Seven Tea Cups and Dry Meadow
Seven Tea Cups is a series of waterfalls that descend from pool to pool on the way into the Kern River. There are two ways to access this unique and picturesque portion of the Kern Valley. A trailhead exists past the Johnsondale Bridge on the right as you drive the switchbacks up the side of the valley. The other trail is located by driving past camp 4 on Mountain Road 22S82 and then turning right onto Mountain Road 22S53.
8. Have a Beer at the Kern River Brewing Company
The award-winning KRBC has become a staple of Kernville culture. Owned by two former Olympic kayakers, the Brewery has an abundant selection of high-quality beer and food. At the 2019 Great American Beer Festival, KRBC was voted the best small brewery in the country. All of the names of beers are kayak slang or local references, be sure to ask your server for some background!
9. The Deck at Ewings Restaurant
Ewings is a great choice for dining and a drink any time of day. The deck at Ewings is a great place to view the valley and an entertaining rapid on the Kern River. The section below Ewings is the most commonly run section of the Kern, with over 100 rafts floating by on a busy day. Ewings Wave, at certain levels, is can flip rafts and cause swimmers, making it an entertaining place to post up and watch the excitement!
10. Windsurfing & Kiteboarding on Lake Isabella
Windsurfing is another lesser-known outdoor activities in Kernville. Outdoor activity is maybe not the best description. Lake Isabella is known for being one of the more full-on windsurfing destinations in California and should only be attempted by people are have some solid confidence and experience. If that’s not you, keep a lookout for the colorful sails twisting about in the wind as you drive by.