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Lower Kern - Kern Below Democrat (Cataracts) - Kern Below Rio Bravo

HAZARD: IMPORTANT NOTE - CLICK HERE! February 1, 2017. High flows are expected on the Upper Kern, Brush Creek and Lower Kern. The increasing flow and high-water levels will increase the amount of debris in the river, and the likelihood of logs, strainers and other hazards. Rapids and eddies can change dramatically. They can become easier or more difficult. New rapids can form. Self rescue can become more difficult with the speed of the current and lack of eddy lines. The location of such hazards may change at any time. Extra care should be taken on or near the river. When in doubt, get out and scout!

Lower Kern

Please Note!

Dam Run - "The Lower"

The Dam Run - Slippery Rock BLM Launch below Isabella Dam to Hobo Campground.

The Dam Run, also known as the BLM Run, or the "first day of the Lower," is one of a limited number of moderate class III whitewater runs on the Kern River.

The run is characterized by scenic low walled granite gorges, and swirly water. There are several places where boaters must be very wary of trees and brush in and along the river. This growth is due in part to the diversion of water from Lake Isabella in the Borel Canal to the Borel Powerplant. The flow on this run is normally about 600 cfs less than the total release from Lake Isabella.

Although the run is rated class III, it is not a good run for novice boaters unless they are accompanied by more experienced boaters. Two of the rapids on this run are rated class III+, but as many boaters may flip in the swirly water, as in the rapids.

Some of the more difficult rapids include:

  • Wallow Rock - The river runs into a mid-stream jumble of rocks. Scout or portage on the left.
  • Dilly - A long rapid with a large hole on river left, near the end of the rapid. Most boater stay right, using a series of river right eddies to work their way down the rapid.
  • Oscar's Nightmare - A convoluted rapid that can be run several ways. Watch out for the large hole just below the entrance. The large island of rock in the rapid has a potentially dangerous sieve. There is private property on the left just before the rapid.

The Lower - Miracle Hot Springs to Democrat take-out. (Alternate take-out or put-in at Delonegha Boat Launch.)

When Upper Kern flows drop below 1000 cfs many boaters shift their attention to "The Lower." This excellent 11 mile run has much to offer. With the exception of Royal Flush (V-VI), which is normally portaged, the major rapids are straightfoward, but exhilarating class IV. Kayaking playspots can be found throughout the run. Hobo Campground is just upstream of Miracle Hot Springs, and Sandy Flat Camground is about a mile upstream. There is a $5.00 day use fee for parking at Miracle or Sandy Flat. There is no day use parking at Hobo.

The Delonegha Boat Launch and River Access has been completed and provides an alternate take-out or put-in just downstream of the Delonegha bridge, and upstream of Surprise Rapid. The access point is approximately 7 miles downstream of the Hobo Rapid put-in and 4 miles upstream of the Democrat takeout. The day use area is accessible from both the east and west sides of Highway 178.

Some of the more difficult rapids include:

  • White Maiden's - Many boaters just shoot this one down the middle, but move left or right near the end to avoid a huge house rock in the center of the channel. Depending on the flow. and your level of expertise, there are many other variations. There is a significant ledge about 2/3 of the way down the rapid. Usually scouted or portaged on the left.
  • Sundown Falls - This is a tricky rapid; in part because the outflow at the bottom of the drop kicks hard to the right, and also because the sloping rock that borders the main flow on the right is undercut and swimming paddlers have been recirculated in the hole. Can be scouted from the right or left.
  • Powerful Possum - Move right behind a rock at the top of the rapid to avoid a hole on the left. If you get too close to the rock, you'll get eddied out, or spun. At the bottom, move left to avoid the headwall on the runout at the bottom right. Scout, or carry, on the right.
  • Royal Flush (Portage) - This rapid has many hidden hazards. There is an easy portage on river right. If you're considering running it, read the Royal Flush near drowning story by Rocky Contos. Others have been trapped in this same spot. Some additional hazards include a spike of rock in the main ledge, and a nasty slot bordering an undercut boulder on river irght, just below the main ledge. Also note that the large square boulder at the end of the portage bridge sits atop other rocks and is a hidden sieve.
  • Surprise - Like the guidebook says, " a rock hides in the last of a series of standing waves."
  • Hari-Kari - The water pushes you left, and you want to go right. Awkward scout on the right or left.
  • Horseshoe Falls - One of the best rapids on the run because of the number of "moves" that are possible. At higher flows the hole in the middle of the rapid becomes sizable. Difficult scout because of brush and trees.
  • Pin Ball - Fun boulder garden for kayaks, sometimes causes problems for rafts.

Kern Below Democrat (Cataracts of the Kern)

Please Note!

Cadillacs - Richbar - Cataracts - KR1

The Forest Service "discouraged" boating on the Kern Below Democrat Dam until 1995. Even so, the run now known as the Richbar Run was done from time to time by local boaters and visiting dignitaries such as Lars Holbeck.

Keith Beck, with boating partners Phil Martin and Glen Troness, began probing the Kern below Democrat in the early eighties, and around 1984 had done most of the Kern below Democrat, including the stretch below the KR1 powerhouse. Keith reports,

"None of us ran Quadruple Whatever. I used a Sabre (!!!!) for some of it, and a Rotobat (Pyranha) for some parts, and a glass CKS Needle for some."

Keith also noted that communication was poor among boaters (no Internet!) and that others, including Mark Richey and Kevin Mokracek, were running some sections of the Kern below Democrat at about the same time.

Southern California Edison normally diverts 400+ cfs at Democrat Dam, usually reducing the flow on the Cadillacs, Richbar and Cataracts sections of the river. (Note: According to SCE, there will be no diversion at Democrat for several months, while maintenance is done at the KR1 powerhouse. This work is scheduled to be completed May 1, 2006.) In the Fall of 1995, as a result the FERC relicensing of the KR1 powerhouse, the AWA initiated a whitewater flow study by WRC Environmental. In part the study was to evaluate desirable flow levels and to access the recreational potential of the stretch of river below Democrat. At the time of this study, the Forest Service reversed their position and said that as long as the usual Kern River boating permit is obtained, it is not illegal to boat on the Cataracts.

The WRC flow study concluded the following regarding flow levels on the stretch below Democrat Dam and upstream of the KR1 powerhouse. The figures specified are for actual flow, i.e. the release to the Lower less 400 cfs. The "Flow below Democrat Dam" can usually be obtained from the SCE Kern River flow phone at 1-877-537-6356.

  • Low boatable (a minority of paddlers would be satisfied: 500-700 cfs
  • Low Minimum (majority would be satisfied): 700-950 cfs.
  • Optimum (essentially all satisfied): 950-1750 cfs
  • High Minimum (majority satisfied): 1750-2350 cfs
  • High Boatable (minority satisfied): 2350-3000 cfs

Coincident with the flow study and rediscovery of this "new" whitewater resource, kayaker Rocky Contos ran most of the rapids from Democrat Dam to the mouth of Kern Canyon. Rocky's accounts of running the Cataracts thrilled everyone reading his newsgroup postings. Some of the more exciting stories were included in an article about the Cataracts in the March-April, 1996, AWA Journal, written by Richard Penny, with Rocky Contos and Keith Beck. Following is a link to an archived PDF of Rocky's descriptions (47K) from 1995. These were originally published in the Kern River section of the "The River Pages Project" on the old American Whitewater Online web site.

Much has changed in kayaking since 1995, but the Kern Below Democrat remains a somewhat enigmatic and inscrutable section of river. The long boating season of 2004-2005 renewed interest in the Cataracts and in the Fall of 2005 Brett Valle ( got together with Eric Giddens (Olympic kayaker) and JD Batove (Bakersfield class V boater) and did a few runs on the KBD. You can read Brett's impressions in his calrios blog, and Eric's in his Kern Cadillacs and Cataracts Trip Report (PDF, 1.4Mb).

Cadillacs - Democrat Dam to Toilet Bowl Rapid

This section was deemed the "Cadillacs" because of the number of wrecked cars that have plunged into the streambed from the notorious curves of highway 178. The run starts below Democrat Dam and ends at Toilet Bowl rapid, a chilling class V+ rapid that looks particularly awesome to tired boaters headed home on highway 178.

Richbar Run - Toilet Bowl to Nude Beach

In general the rapids on this reach are more demanding than similarly rated rapids on the Lower, upstream of Democrat Dam. More maneuvering is required and the lines are somewhat more technical, with more serious consequences for botched moves. There are more rocks in the flow. A good roll is a must. Some boaters put-in at a convenient turnout below Toilet Bowl, others bypass the most difficult whitewater by putting in below Lucas Creek Falls.

Several rapids should be scouted. The first major rapid, the Fin, is often carried. The second, Island Falls, is generally considered to be class IV on the far left and class V on the far right.There is a portage at Lucas Creek Falls. Watch out for cars!!

The Cataracts - Nude Beach to Powerhouse KR1


This stretch is class V nirvana. If you're a solid class V boater looking for some good late season boating, here it is! Most boaters just look at these rapids and have to run to the bushes. Triple Falls (aka Quadruple Whatever, Triple Drop, Triple Threat, Another Roadside Attraction) is particularly impressive.

KR1 - Powerhouse KR1 to Mouth of the Canyon

More difficult class V's and some carries -- rarely done.

Kern Below Rio Bravo

Please Note!

Rio Bravo Run - Rancheria Road Run - Ming Lake to Oildale

Rio Bravo Run - Mouth of the Canyon to Rancheria Road

This run has been essentially destroyed by the construction of Rio Bravo dam.

Rancheria Road - Rancheria Road to Ming Lake

Class II except for one class III. At one point the river splits around an island. Watch out for brush and trees.

Ming Lake - Ming Lake to Oildale


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