The Upper Kern River is one of the logistically easiest runs in California. Highway 199 runs along most of the Upper Kern making shuttles sometimes shorter than the run itself and giving boaters multiple options for put-ins and take-outs. The Lower Kern flows away from the highway, but the shuttles are still very short, the roads are paved, and parking is convenient. There is even a park-and-play course in Kernville with a slalom course, play holes, and a nice 1/4 mile trail back up to the beginning so you can do it all over again. On this page you will find just about everything you need to know about shuttles, camping, and permits.


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

Overnight Trips

Camping is easy on the Upper Kern River. There is no need to bring your overnight gear along with you on the river because car camping is plentiful. You may want to make a reservation at one of the many campsites in advance to secure your spot and avoid driving around. Kernville and nearby Lake Isabella have plenty of options for hotels if you’d rather go that route.


There are no specific shuttle services on the Kern River, however it is incredibly easy to shuttle your own vehicle, especially on the Upper Kern.

Insider Tip

If you are an advanced boater, you can combine several sections of the Upper Kern River to make a longer run and spend less time shuttling back and forth.


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. The various sections of the Upper Kern are located north east of Kernville along the Kern River highway (County Road M99. The Upper Kern is really just one long run with a few breaks such as the Fairview Dam. Since it is so easy to put-in and take-out on this stretch (Highway 199 runs alongside most of the way) it is typically divided up by level of difficulty. Therefore, the take-out for one run is the put-in for the next.

  • Limestone Put-in: Johnsondale Bridge
  • Limestone Take-out: Above Fairview Dam
  • Fairview Put-in: Below Fairview Dam and Bomb’s Away Rapid (Class V)
  • Fairview Take-out (Chamise Put-in): Calkin’s Flat Campground
  • Chamise Take-out: Above Salmon Falls Rapid (Class VI)
  • Gold Ledge Put-in: Below Salmon Falls Rapid (Class VI)
  • Gold Ledge Take-out (Camp 3 Put-in): Camp 3 Campground. You can also run through Camp 3 and Powerhouse. There are no mandatory portages from this section down to the play park in Kernville.
  • Camp 3 Take-out (Powerhouse Put-in): Above Powerhouse Rapid
  • Powerhouse Take-out: River Park
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