The Kern River Valley | High Sierra Topix  

The Kern River Valley

Grab your bear can or camp chair, kick your feet up and chew the fat about anything Sierra Nevada related that doesn't quite fit in any of the other forums. Within reason, (and the HST rules and guidelines) this is also an anything goes forum. Tell stories, discuss wilderness issues, music, or whatever else the High Sierra stirs up in your mind.
User avatar

The Kern River Valley

Postby mountaincat » Sun May 27, 2007 7:16 am

If you've ever driven Hwy 178 from Bakersfield to the desert, that little valley you pass through once you get to Lk. Isabella is what the locals call "The Kern River Valley". It's an area with a half a dozen small towns, and the entire valley has a population of 20,000, or thereabouts.

Both forks of the Kern River flow through the area and join at the Lake (reservoir). The South Fork of the Kern has very low water flow, and drains the high country up on the Kern Plateau. By summer, that fork pretty much dries up as a few ranches have water rights and take the small bit of remaining water once it gets into the Kern River Valley (KRV). The main fork of the Kern River has a nice flow of water, and is very popular with rafters during peak flow, then when the water slows down, kayaks take over.

The town of Kernville is very touristy during the summer, and there are a few rafting companies in the area. Lake Isabella is a small reservoir, very popular with boaters and fishing folk, and people "camp" (park rvs) on it's shoreline, all summer. Surrounding the lake are numerous USFS campgrounds (run by concessioners), although for some reason, the USFS allows people to pretty much park anywhere on the shore of the lake and set up camp.
Kernville is a quaint little town, the only "pretty" town in this valley, with nice stores, and a true downtown, and lots of shops, restaurants and lodging. The town of Isabella has a big supermarket and all sorts of businesses, banks, auto repair shops, even fast food.

North of Kernville, a road follows the river for about 20 miles (then continues to wind all over the mountains) and there are numerous campgrounds right along the river, shaded by riparian trees and shrubs, and some pines. These campgrounds are much nicer than those around the lake. This stretch of the Kern River is "wild and scenic" and is quite pretty, especially when the water runs deep during spring melt. Much of the rock on the canyon walls along this stretch of river is metamorphic, with shades of red. Plant life is riparian along the river, with sagebrush, gray pines and yellow pines once you get away from the river. The mountains above, depending on exposure, have an open type vegetation, with scattered pines, oaks, and in places, chaparral plants such as manzanita, and mountain mahogany. This area does not get a lot of rain, and is not heavily forested.

Summer temps in the area hover around 100, with some days hotter. We are very close to the desert, and Walker Pass (Hwy 178 goes over this pass) is only 5,000 ft. above sea level, making it so desert heat influences this area in a major way.

From Kernville, heading up river, you can be in mixed conifer forest in one hour. You can drive up onto the Kern Plateau, which has all sorts of meadows, but no lakes, and no high peaks. There are hundreds of granite domes up there, and Domeland Wilderness is a rather fascinating place to explore.

An hour north of Kernville you can also reach the southernmost giant sequoia groves, and Giant Sequoia National Monument. There are numerous small campgrounds up that way, and being USFS land, camping where ever is also allowed, depending on fire restrictions (fire permits are required if you camp out of the developed campgrounds).

I've lived in this part of the sierra for 6 years now, and have yet to explore all of it. The Kern Valley has numerous peaks surrounding it on all sides, so the view changes constantly as you move around the valley. It's dry here, typical precipitation is 12" a year, although this year we received about half that amount.



Image
Kern River in fall
Image
Typical dryness of the area
Image
You can see Lake Isabella on the valley floor, the peaks in the distance are on the Kern Plateau. View is looking North/east from Hwy 155, Evans Rd.
Nature beckons, and I must answer

http://sierra-nevada-ramblings.blogspot.com/



User avatar
mountaincat
Topix Novice
 
Posts: 19
Joined: Sat May 26, 2007 7:10 am
Location: southern Sierra
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Postby Shawn » Sun May 27, 2007 12:17 pm

Thank you for the nice description (and photos too).

I used to buzz across 178 regularly and always had a curious eye for the surrounding peaks, especially those east of Lake Isabella. No doubt they all have names and regular visits, but I haven't taken the time to even look 'em up on a map. Would you happen to know if there are a few choice locations favored by the locals?

Next time I pass thru I will certainly take the detour to Kernville. Looks like a nice place to visit.
User avatar
Shawn
Topix Expert
 
Posts: 795
Joined: Sat Nov 12, 2005 9:56 pm
Location: Paso Robles, Ca
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

User avatar

Postby hikerduane » Sun May 27, 2007 12:36 pm

Thanks for the description of the area. Really like that second photo with the scraggly pine.
Piece of cake.
User avatar
hikerduane
Founding Member
 
Posts: 1194
Joined: Sun Nov 06, 2005 9:58 am
Location: Meadow Valley, CA, Carson City, NV
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Postby mountaincat » Sun May 27, 2007 6:59 pm

It's pretty hot this time of year to do much exploring, unless you drive up into the higher areas. If you do zip through, and want a short little jaunt, a nice little nature preserve is right along hwy 178, The Kern Valley Audubon Preserve. It's got a tiny little nature center, and has a nice riparian habitat with a trail/old road you can walk along. It's east of Isabella, almost to Weldon, and if you pass the elementary school, you went a mile too far. (There's a sign along the highway but it's easy to miss). This preserve also has additional lands closer to the river (south fork kern) but access is a tad more complicated: about 2 miles west of the above mentioned preserve is a back road to Kernville, labeled Sierra Way I think (there's a big sign saying KERNVILLE 12 MILES). When the road crosses the river on a bridge (about 2 miles from the turn) park in the very next turn out and wander through the turn style onto the preserve property. There's a little trail here. The preserve protects a good chunk of the largest stand of cottonwood forest left in California.
http://kern.audubon.org/

If you pop into Kernville, there is a nice little natural history museum to check out and in there you can find all sorts of interesting things including a little room with movie info and photos of famous actors who did films in this area. Hundreds of movies were filmed here, some very famous ones. Take a drive up along the Kern River (go to Kernville, then turn north on Sierra Way and you'll follow the river). About 15 miles up the river is an incredible steak house called McNallys. I think they are only open Thurs - Sundays, not sure on that.

One quarter mile past McNallys is a trail head to a dry cave, Packsaddle Cave. It's about 3 miles up to the cave and that's sort of fun to explore. But, the hike is hot and dry this time of year.

If you have a day to stop over and want to go see some sequoia trees, follow the river up canyon. In about 20 miles there's a fork in the road: stay to the left and head towards Johnsondale. About half a mile or so past Johnsondale is an intersection. If you turn right and head toward Lylle Meadow, in an hour (and 20 miles) you'll come to Freeman Grove. This road is just above the main fork of the Kern River (the same fork you find way up in Sequoia NP). This road has some nice, primitive, USFS campgrounds, tiny little ones amidst mixed conifer forest. Scenery out this road is spectacular. Some areas were burned during the McNally Fire 5 years ago, but other areas are lush and green. The vistas are fantastic. There are some incredible views across the chasm of the Kern, and some gnarly drop offs here and there...You also will get some great view of THE NEEDLES, some precipitous granite domes. There's a fire lookout perched way up on one of those domes. This is a decent mountain road, a tad windy, any car can drive it. (you need a topo map to figure out exactly where the sequoia grove is. There is a trail, but the Forest Service does not mark it very well).

There are all sorts of other sequoia groves within an hour of here, too, the rest you find by NOT turning on that Lylle Meadow road, and instead staying on the main road a few more miles, then turning right. A couple more miles and the main road goes right through the middle of Long Meadow Grove. There's a very nice developed, paved trail that loops through that grove.

In Kernville there is a USFS office where you can find out details on how to get places, and pick up a topo map (highly recommended).

Much of this area is nicer for hiking during the winter when the rest of the Sierra is all snowed in.

Hope these suggestions inspire a bit of exploration!
Nature beckons, and I must answer

http://sierra-nevada-ramblings.blogspot.com/
User avatar
mountaincat
Topix Novice
 
Posts: 19
Joined: Sat May 26, 2007 7:10 am
Location: southern Sierra
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Postby SierraVisions » Sun May 27, 2007 11:24 pm

Thanks mountaincat. I enjoyed reading that. I also really like your site. Looks like it's full of all kinds of interesting Sierra stuff.
Steven
User avatar
SierraVisions
Founding Member
 
Posts: 72
Joined: Sat Nov 12, 2005 10:44 pm
Location: Bishop, Ca
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Postby SteveB » Sun May 27, 2007 11:25 pm

Before I moved away from the Central Coast I loved taking a long weekend through the Kern River area. Being a geology nut, I love driving any backroad I could in the area, enjoying the quiet, and especiallly exploring the DomeLand area! Man, I love that area, but haven't been back in a few years.
User avatar
SteveB
Founding Member
 
Posts: 228
Joined: Sat Oct 29, 2005 10:08 pm
Location: Reno, NV
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Postby mountaincat » Mon May 28, 2007 5:29 am

It's nice to know some of you have stopped and explored this area, or at least driven through! (my favorite camping hangouts are near the very towns some of you hail from: Mammoth, Morro Bay, and King's Canyon!)

I have yet to do much of anything except drive by the Domeland area. There's an interesting "easy" way to get up that way, via the Chimney Peak road, off 178, just past the "town" of Canebreak (maybe 8 miles west of Walker Pass). That road is dirt/gravel, and you need a vehicle with power, and decent clearance as the road is steep. It climbs up and lands you near Kennedy Meadows. (for those of you living on the east side, there's a paved road up that way, south of Coso Jct. a bit, maybe 10 miles north of Inyo Kern. Can't recall the name, but there's a sign that says Chimney Peak or Kennedy Meadows. Very steep grade.

Kennedy Meadows is a dry place, there are folks who live up there year-round. It's very dry and the pines are all stunted and wind blown. That area is accessible year round, it gets very little snow. For those who like to fish, the South Fork Kern goes through there and you'll find some nice trout up that way. The scenery is pretty too. You can see the land and all the domes as the dryness means the forests don't hide the terrain.
For those who like to climb rocks, Domeland Wilderness is worth checking out.

West of Kennedy Meadows, up on the Kern Plateau, you'll find a few forested USFS campgrounds, some are nice. There are all sorts of old logging roads that get you off the main road and out into the middle of nowhere. The Plateau has many, many meadows, with little streams that meander through them, lots of trout, and a few private inholdings with cabins here and there. The area has trails, but you need topo maps to figure things out. There's another fire lookout up that way too. Hikes to fire lookouts make interesting day hikes, and the views from lookouts are always fantastic.

Back down in Kernville, a very nice trail follows the west side of the river for 15 miles or so (it goes all the way up to McNally's and there's a bridge over the river at that point). Access this trail in Kernville by turning off the main road onto Burlando Dr. and going to the very end of the road where there's a dirt parking lot. You'll be in and out of forest, you'll see cactus next to pine trees, cross a few streams, and be in the gorge of the Kern River. This trail is popular with locals and they often jog it.
Nature beckons, and I must answer

http://sierra-nevada-ramblings.blogspot.com/
User avatar
mountaincat
Topix Novice
 
Posts: 19
Joined: Sat May 26, 2007 7:10 am
Location: southern Sierra
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Postby mountaincat » Mon May 28, 2007 5:41 am

Image
The road to Lylle Meadow and Freeman Grove passes below "The Needles". Another road in the mountains goes above these domes, and access via a trail is from above. The view is nice. There's a lookout on top of one of the spires (can't recall which).

Image
Look for the Freeman Creek sign. There's a dirt road just beyond where you can park. The grove is up hill from the road, and fills much of the drainage. The George Bush tree is in this particular grove. There is a series of trails, and one trail is actually in good shape. The rest are overgrown. Follow the creek and you'll find the trail.
Image
This sequoia grove is very overgrown with understory trees, definately not a place to be during a fire. Lots of lush growth along Freeman Creek.

Image
Above Freeman Grove, still in the Kern River drainage, you'll find Long Meadow Grove and Trail of 100 Giants. This trail is the only developed trail I know of in this part of Seq NF. It's pretty nice, takes about an hour to get to from Kernville, or Springville.
Image
Nature beckons, and I must answer

http://sierra-nevada-ramblings.blogspot.com/
User avatar
mountaincat
Topix Novice
 
Posts: 19
Joined: Sat May 26, 2007 7:10 am
Location: southern Sierra
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Postby hikerduane » Mon May 28, 2007 5:51 am

I was up to the Needles Lookout a couple years ago with 3 others. We checked out one of the groves while in the area also. Found the one a friend was looking for.
Piece of cake.
User avatar
hikerduane
Founding Member
 
Posts: 1194
Joined: Sun Nov 06, 2005 9:58 am
Location: Meadow Valley, CA, Carson City, NV
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Postby mountaincat » Mon May 28, 2007 10:30 am

Cool. The road just recently opened up that way, and I may take a drive in the next couple days. Have to decide if we'll hike to the Needles, which I have yet to do, or go exploring another Sequoia grove, which is also on my to-do list! Finding sequoia groves is fun, wandering off trail through them, interesting. If you ever get to Cunningham Grove, there's a good sized tree which has had the bark shredded off it. No trails through that grove, but this one shredded tree is worth the trip. (I'm pretty sure a bear did the shredding).
Image
Nature beckons, and I must answer

http://sierra-nevada-ramblings.blogspot.com/
User avatar
mountaincat
Topix Novice
 
Posts: 19
Joined: Sat May 26, 2007 7:10 am
Location: southern Sierra
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Postby hikerduane » Mon May 28, 2007 11:25 am

I know a young lady who works in Springville for the USFS. I don't know if she still gets out as much as she used to, but she enjoyed bagging groves all the time. While down there, she took us to Grants Grove? where the visitor center is and the largest tree is, can't remember a thing. Those are some big trees.
Piece of cake.
User avatar
hikerduane
Founding Member
 
Posts: 1194
Joined: Sun Nov 06, 2005 9:58 am
Location: Meadow Valley, CA, Carson City, NV
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Postby MountainMinstrel » Mon May 28, 2007 4:59 pm

Until I was 4 I lived in the little white and green house behind (above/next to)James store in Kernville. The fact that the national forest was our backyard could explain the fact that now 45 years later, my brother, sister, and myself have all taken up backpacking. One of my earliest memories is hiking to some caves upstream on the Kern with my family.

ken
Just an old musician who loves the Mountains.
User avatar
MountainMinstrel
Topix Regular
 
Posts: 312
Joined: Wed Jul 19, 2006 7:09 pm
Location: Sonora
Experience: N/A

Next

Return to The Campfire



Who is online

Users browsing this forum: davidsheridan and 4 guests