Wild Wild West

Kern and Arkansas Rivers

Jul 1, 2005
Outside Magazine

At the southern edge of the Sierra, the Kern runs through Sequoia National Forest, east of Bakersfield, California. The three main sections of the Kern—the Upper, Lower, and renowned Forks of the Kern—offer a variety of runs for both beginners and experts, from Class II to Class V. The Lower Kern, located below the Isabella Dam, is an excellent beginner run. This year's record snowpack will make the entire 17-mile middle section of the Upper Kern runnable, meaning trips can be tailored toward the skills of rafters and the weather. The Forks of the Kern, normally a Class V classic, should run well into mid-August this year. The Forks is 18 miles long, dropping 60 feet per mile amongst huge granite canyon walls and plunging waterfalls, and encompassing great rapids, including the double waterfall Carson Falls and the technically challenging Westwall.

Whitewater Voyages (1-800-400-7238, www.whitewatervoyages.com)
El Sobrante, California-based Whitewater Voyages has taken almost 500,000 people rafting since 1975. Kern River trips begin in Kernville, three and a half hours north of Los Angeles (one and a half hours from Bakersfield). One- or two-day trips, from Class III to IV, are available on the Lower Kern. Trips range from the $129 Class III Jungle Run to the two-day Southern Sierra Escape, starting at $289. On the Upper Kern, four shorter half-day and day trips are offered through mid-September; half-day trips start at $89; full-day trips start at $139. Two "Wilderness Juggernaut" trips, either two or three days, are offered on the Class V Forks, from $599 to $729.

The Arkansas River begins as snowmelt on Colorado's highest peaks, and runs almost 1,500 miles across the southern United States until joining the Mississippi in its namesake state, Arkansas. As with most things, though, the place to start is at the beginning—Colorado—where heavy snowfall will keep this river running late, perhaps until the end of August. "The Arkansas has about the best you're going to find in Colorado," says Mark Hammer, owner of Buena Vista-based The Adventure Company. "It's the true Colorado experience. One of the things that makes the Arkansas great as a commercial river is the variety of good, accessible runs from the Class II Milk Run to Class V Pine Creek, but it's not so accessible that it has a highway following the river." Located in alpine desert, the scenery is Pike's Peak granite mixed in with desert plants and pines and fir trees.

The Adventure Company (1-800-497-RAFT, www.theadventurecompany.com)
In business since 1987, The Adventure Company is located in Buena Vista, Colorado, two hours southwest of Denver. They run a variety of half- and full-day trips appropriate for small children (Class II to III "Milk Run" for $39) and experienced adults (Class V "Pine Creek" for $99). Multi-day and full-moon trips are The Adventure Company's specialty. Multi-day trips travel through Class III Browns Canyon, which, in a year like this, is a good thing, since it can be run in the height of a flood or the pit of a drought; two-day trips start at $269 and you should call for dates. Full-moon trips meet at 7 p.m. for the Ultimate Fajita Buffet, and then once the sun sets, the group heads down the river to Browns Canyon for a unique float; this year's trips are July 18 and 19, and August 17 and 18, $98 per person, dinner and gear included.

Filed To: Rafting, California