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Low Water Kayaking & Playboating on the Kern River

Low Water Playboating - Paul Armes at Lower BailmoreClick!
Paul Armes at Lower Bailmore

Even late in the season in a low water year there are a number of options for paddling on the Kern. This range from the creeky and technical Forks, to practicing eddy turns and ferries on the moving water at the Lake Ming day use area. All the options are not appropriate for every boater. The information presented here is not a substitute for your own good judgement. You'll need to talk to other boaters, and take into account your skill level, experience and the type of boating you enjoy. Here are some of the options, arranged roughly from upstream to downstream:

  • The Forks - Most folks paddling the Forks at low flows opt for the "Short Forks." Depending on your put-in, this abbreviated version of the Forks run begins near Durwood Creek or Peppermint Creek. You can also hike your boat up from the Johnsondale bridge to the rapid at Dry Meadow Creek, or to Four Mile rapid. At flows of 250-400 cfs the Forks is definitely very creeky. Steep drops, such at the end of the Gauntlet, are generally taller, and boulder choked drops such as Little Bean, more rocky. There are some tight passages through slots, more undercuts are exposed, and there are still some sticky holes. (Class IV-V)
Brett Valle, Joe's Diner
  • Limestone - Except for the Park, this is probably the most popular low water run on the Upper Kern. At 250-400 cfs there are a number of fun playspots. Watch out for a hard to see rock in the trough of a wave on Limestone rapid. As the flow drops, Brush Creek and the "Corner Bakery" of Betty's Bakery become increasingly congested. At the end of Betty's Bakery there is a sticky hole on the right. At 180 cfs and up it's rumored to be a good playspot.
  • Ewings and The Park - Too much fun can be had here, at almost any flow. Locals like Ewing's at 280 cfs and up. Take your playboat and play; your river-running boat and practice eddy turns, peel outs and ferries; your slalom boat and work on moves and attainments! (Class II)
ForPlay at Ewings, 01/08/00Click!
ForPlay at Ewings, 01/08/00
  • The Lake - We offer a number of interesting and fun paddling trips and classes on Lake Isabella. How are your strokes? If you can't do them well on flatwater, you'll never get them right in whitewater. What about your roll? Perfecting your off-side roll, back deck roll or hand roll will increase your confidence on the River.
  • The Lower - Summertime flows on the Miracle to Democrat run range from 2500 cfs or more in wet years to 1200 cfs or less in dry years. There are so many playspots you'll exhaust yourself trying to hit them all. M to D stays pretty good for kayaks down to around 650-700 cfs. As the flow goes down certain rapids become more difficult. Typically, at 350-400 cfs, most of the major rapids should be scouted. The final drop on White Maiden's will try to push you into a congested slot, Sundown Falls has a serious undercut, Powerful Possum has a hard to see rock in one of the wave troughs, and the major rapids below the bridge have shallow, congested entrances. Lower Bailmore (upstream of China Gardens) has a good playspot at 280 cfs and up. At low water M to D is not a good run for novice or intermediate boaters. (Class IV)
Low Water Playboating - Tracy Vietta at Powerful PossumClick!
Tracy Vietta at Powerful Possum
Mike Spradlin at Royal FlushClick!
Mike Spradlin at Royal Flush
  • Moving Water & Cottonwood Rapid- It's "just" moving water, but member's of the US Canoe and Kayak Team have trained here when doing paddling clinics for the KRA. It is located just upstream of the Lake Ming Campground and is normally accessed from the Lake Ming picnic and play area. Watch out for brush, particularly on the river right side. (Class I+)

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