Rapid transit on the Kern River


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Week of May 16-22, 1996
Adventure-of-a-lifetime trips
Rapid transit on the Kern River
Trekking in India
Dinosaur National Monument
Puerto Rico’s El Yunque rainforest
Red Rock west–of Vegas, that is

Rapid transit on the Kern River
Question: I would like to know how the water levels are on the Kern River in California. Also, will there be Class V worth doing in mid-July?

Mike C.
Las Vegas, NV

The Lower Kern (above) is decidedly more laid-back than the Class IV-V Forks of the Kern

Adventure Adviser: It depends entirely on which section of the Kern you’re planning to run. If you’re a crack paddler and have your hopes set on the ultra-challenging Forks of the Kern–considered one of North America’s toughest runs (and just three hours by car from Los Angeles)–you’ll be cutting it close if you wait until mid-July.

Best run from early May to late June, the Class IV and V whitewater is still doable in early July, but the water’s not as high or fast and there’s considerably more technical rock-dodging to be done. Whitewater Voyages (800-488-7238) offers two- and three-day trips on the Forks through the second week of July for $475-$590 per person. To be eligible, paddlers must have
previous Class IV experience, pass a pre-trip paddling test, and be willing to trek three miles down a steep switchback trail to the put-in.

If you’re considering rearranging your schedule to get there while the river’s still high, be aware that there’s usually a one- to two-week high-water period in late May and early June when the Forks are unrunnable. The decidedly more laid-back Lower Kern–mostly Class III and IV rapids–is raft-friendly from mid-May through early September. Whitewater Voyages’ two-day trip
will set you back between $228 and $283 per person. The Class III-IV Upper Kern also makes a great half- or full-day trip ($58-$120 per person) if you’re strapped for time.

Another local outfitter that runs an array of one- to three-day trips on the Kern and other rivers is Outdoor Adventures (800-323-4234). Or, visit their Web site at

If you want to go on your own, Mike, you’ll have to wait until next year. Solo paddlers need to secure private boater permits, which are awarded in an annual drawing on April 15.

For additional information, call the Cannell Ranger District at 619-376-3781 and check out our Forks of the Kern update in “Riding the Big Foamy” in the Destinations section of our March 1996 issue.

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