“I will come back here soon”… that thought was on my mind about 3 months ago when I first visited the Kern River Valley. I was on my drive back from the Five Fingers in Indian Wells Canyon, when I decided to make a “short” detour over Walker Pass into the Kern River Valley. I stayed only shortly at Lake Isabella but it nevertheless left a desire to return soon. The next several weeks were busy with work and other weekend trips but the urge to explore the Kern River Valley grew steadily. I started to make plans not too long after I returned from my Five Fingers trip. After many thoughts and some suggestions from my friends I picked Kernville as the place to stay. At that point I have to say that I am blessed to have a partner who supports my ideas of the outdoors and agrees with most of the plans. Finally, the day came and we packed our stuff after finishing work early. We learned from previous trips that it is not a good idea to leave Los Angeles on a Friday afternoon. If you do, the weekend really starts on a very bad note being stuck in traffic wherever you go. Friday at around noon is much better. Already getting busy, one can get out of the city in very reasonable time without getting impatient. We drove on the 14 freeway towards Mojave and the Lake Isabella junction (Highway 178), over Walker Pass into the Kern Valley. Lush, green pastures with grazing cattle and horses greeted us as soon as we neared the South Fork Valley. We skirted the northeast side of Lake Isabella and arrived in Kernville at about 4pm. We checked in at the Whispering Pines Lodge, a wonderfully cozy and perfectly managed Bed and Breakfast. Over the next couple of days we had the chance to talk to the manager/owner of the lodge and really felt their appreciation for this place and warmth towards their guests. We felt extremely comfortable there and won’t hesitate one second to go back there at some time. Our cabin had a nice balcony with a gorgeous view through the pines to the North Fork Kern River and at Split Mountain beyond in the Greenhorn Mountains. After a short walk into the town and the local store we soundly fell asleep quickly that night amidst the soothing sound of quaking frogs outside.
North Fork Kern River
Kern River Canyon
The next morning we awoke from the chirping birds and warming sun. After a hearty breakfast in the lodge we got ready to hike along the North Fork Kern River. There were many hiking options I had in mind but many were impossible due to the still closed Sherman Pass road, which would have given us access to the Kern Plateau and high meadows. Still, there were plenty of options along the Kern Valley. We really wanted to get a first-hand, close look at the river and its supposedly impressive whitewater rapids. Having that in mind, we picked the River Trail, which leads north along the east bank of the North Fork Kern River. The River Trail is about 4.2 miles one-way and eventually connects with the Rincon Trail. We did not have strict plans of how long we wanted to hike. We just wanted to enjoy the scenery and see how far it will take us. The trailhead of the River Trail is about 19 miles north of Kernville along the gorgeous Mtn 99 road (which I learned stands for “maintained” and not “mountain”). Shortly north of Kernville you enter the Sequoia National Forest and pass numerous inviting campgrounds along the riverbank. Even from the car, the river looked absolutely breathtaking with formidable water-flow (at least in my eyes). The trailhead parking is just over the Johnsondale Bridge on the west side past the Sherman Pass road. We got there around 9am and there were only a few cars parked at that time. We crossed the bridge and climbed down the stairs to the trail on the eastern riverbank. As soon as we started a big bus arrived at the parking lot and unloaded a guided group of rafters, who put their vessels in at the bridge. Although I knew we won’t have time to do some rafting this weekend, it looked like a lot of fun and certainly something I would like to try someday.
The trail skirts the east bank of the North Fork Kern River, sometimes at the same level as the river, sometimes higher up. The views towards the raging water were spectacular and understandably we made very slow progress. But that was ok. There were many gorgeous and colorful wildflowers along the way as well, which invited for many more stops. We made many stops along the trail for soaking in the scenery. After a stressful week in the city that seemed to be exactly what we both needed.
Dry Meadow Creek
The first miles are very well maintained, just the last half a mile (approximately) the walking becomes more of a boulder hopping, which I actually liked very much. We hiked up to the point where the River Trail turns east away from the river to eventually connect with the Rincon Trail; about 4.2 miles to that point. Although the scenery was constantly spectacular I particularly enjoyed the area where the Dry Meadow Creek plunges into the North Fork. The whitewater kayaking ride down the teacups in Dry Meadow Creek must be nothing short of being amazing. At some spot we were invited to scramble the slabs on the eastern canyon wall, where water trickled down from high up the Kern Plateau. Sitting on some of these slabs and ledges looking down at the roaring Kern River, my mind was totally free and at peace. We returned to our car at about 4pm. Back at the lodge we cooked some good dinner and enjoyed a warm and pleasant evening sitting on the balcony overlooking the river.
Salmon Creek Falls
North Fork Kern River
After a good sleep and breakfast we checked out from the lodge and were looking for something short and easy before our planned drive home later in the afternoon. I was reading about the Salmon Creek Falls hike a few miles north of Kernville, which offers beautiful views of the falls. We decided on that although the temperatures were climbing rather quickly that morning. Arriving at the dirt road leading to the trailhead we parked our car a little bit further north at the Highway and started a steep shortcut east to reach the dirt road. At the turn-off there is a sign “Salmon Creek Falls Viewpoint”. When we arrived at the dirt road we followed it for a little bit until we decided to “do something else closer to the river” because it really got very warm. We took some nice pictures from our slightly elevated viewpoint over the Kern River Valley and the Salmon Creek Falls in the distance to the east before we returned to the car. On the way back to Kernville, we stopped at the Gold Ledge Campground, one of many campgrounds next to the river, and cooled down a little sitting next to the water under the trees. We saw some rafters navigating through the rapids close to us. After about one hour we drove back to Kernville and decided to walk around a little around the town’s center next to the Kern River Bridge. There are many rafting companies offering all kind of rafting trips of different levels. We had some snacks and coffee and enjoyed a few more hours sitting in the park next to the river. Re-energized we sadly realized that we needed to drive back to Los Angeles at some point. We left Kernville at around 3pm, drove around the western side of Lake Isabella to Highway 178, and followed the same roads we came. We arrived at the Westside Los Angeles at around 7pm. Although we did not hike very much, we felt that we spent a lot of time in a gorgeous place amidst nature.
Sometimes, just being away from the city with all its hectic and fast-paced lifestyle is all we need to find inner peace, strength, and energy. At least it works for the both of us.