imgp0620Commercial vs. Private

The Forks of the Kern River is one of the more logistically challenging runs in California. With that being said, the whitewater, scenery, and remoteness make it well worth the extra effort. Some kayakers choose to push the limits of daylight and run it in one day in lieu of brining rafts and camping gear. As far as raft trips go, going a commercial outfitter will make your life much simpler since they take care of all the logistics. Otherwise, you will definitely want to think about hiring porters for the long hike in to the river.


A Forest Service Permit is required to run The Forks of the Kern River. The Forest Service office is located in Kernville on Whitney Road. There are several other Sequoia National Forest offices as well: http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/sequoia/contactus/. You will also need to obtain a fire permit from them if you are running and overnight trip on the Forks. Permits are $10 (only on the Forks).

Overnight Trips

If you are running an overnight Forks of the Kern River trip, you will need to bring your overnight gear along with you. Kayakers may want to find someone to be their raft support (although rafts can slow down a trip significantly), or else pack light and eat jerky for every meal.

Logistics Tip

Make sure to check with the Forest Service for rules about fire pans and groovers (portable toilets). Groovers or some form of “wag bag” are required on all overnight trips. Fire restrictions vary from year to year.


There are no specific shuttle services on the Kern River, but the shuttle isn’t exactly heinous. Leave one car at the put-in and the other at the Johnsondale Bridge take-out. The drive back to the Forks put-in shouldn’t take too long.


If you have decided on a private Forks of the Kern trip, you can hire porters to carry your gear in for you. Golden Trout Pack Trains are affordable and reliable.


To get to the Kern River, you will need to get to Bakersfield (if you traveling either from northern or southern California). Take 178 East towards Lake Isabella. Take 155 N out of Lake Isabella toward Kernville. From Kernville, turn Left (north) onto county road M99 towards Johsondale.

  • Put-in: Trailhead from Lloyds Meadow. Drive east on county road M99 from Kernville towards Johnsondale. After the bridge over the Kern River (this is your take-out) continue past the town of Johnsonale. 1/2 mile past the town turn right onto paved road (2S82) toward Lloyds Meadow and follow it for 15 miles. When you see a sign to “Forks of the Kern”, turn right onto this dirt road (20S67) and follow it for 3 miles until you see the trailhead.
  • Take-out: Johnsondale Bridge. About 1 mile east of Limestone Campground.