The trailhead (3,820’) is located at the Johnsondale Bridge on the opposite side (east) of the parking space. Cross the North Fork Kern River on the footbridge and climb down stairs to the riverbank. This trail follows the North Fork of the Kern River, proceeding north from the bridge amid chips of metamorphic rock. Rising in elevation only 500 feet from its start at the Johnsondale bridge, the trail winds up the Kern River, then climbs to some riverside bluffs, and down again to the riverside terraces.
Along the River Trail
Along the River Trail
A full spectrum of plants will be found, with digger pine, live oak, incense cedar and manzanita, as well as other species of pine growing along the walkway. For campers, an area of high boulders gives the illusion of camping in mountain caves. This is also one of the few local trails that is occasionally submerged, especially in the spring runoff period. At the beginning there are patches of poison oak along the trail. At around 2 miles from the bridge, Dry Meadow Creek plunges into the Kern River from the west. This creek is famous for its “teacups” and very difficult whitewater kayaking.
Dry Meadow Creek
North Fork Kern River
The trail then passes a huge boulder cave and proceeds on wide terraces. On the opposite side of the river one can see columnar jointed lava, remnants of the 3.5 million years old Little Kern Basalt Flow, similar to the Devils Postpile near Mammoth Lakes. The trail is well maintained for the most part, only the last about 0.5 miles are more boulder-hopping over poorly-defined trail. After about 4.2 miles (4,040’) the trail leaves the river and heads east to connect with the Rincon Trail (33E32). The North Fork Kern River in this area along the River Trail is very popular for experienced whitewater rafters and belongs to the “Forks of the Kern” run. You will pass awe-inspiring class IV and V rapids, including “Carson Falls”, “Respect”, “Confusion”, “Basalt”, “Metamorphosis”, and “Rincon”.
Trail suitable for day hikes or overnight backpack trips and is considered easy to moderate in difficulty. During spring the trail is lined with a colorful array of gorgeous wildflowers.
The trailhead is located on the west side of the Johnsondale Bridge, about 19 miles north of Kernville via State Mtn. 99 (“Mtn” stands for “maintained” and not “mountain”). You can reach Kernville from the east (Mojave Desert) via Highway 178 over Walker Pass towards Lake Isabella. Leave Highway 178 on the eastern end of the lake and go north along the northeastern lakeshore towards Kernville. You can also reach Kernville from the west (Bakersfield) via Highway 178 and Highway 155. In addition, the Johnsondale Bridge can be accessed after the winter from the east via the Sherman Pass Road (coming from Kennedy Meadows) or from the west (Johnsondale).