Paddle sports in the Kern River Valley Kayak & Raft & S.U.P.


Facebook Twitter Instagram

The Kern River

The Kern River - Cable Rapid - from Whiskey Flat Trail
The Cable Rapid just a few miles north of Kernville.

The Kern River isn't just Southern California's most popular river and an ever changing liquid repository of action-packed fun:

It's a wild trail of sparkling whitewater that divides the most rugged half of the High Sierra into East and West.

Above the Cataracts
Braving the Lower Kern rapids

The pristine headwaters of the Wild & Scenic Kern River emanate from the glaciers of Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental Unites States of America.

After travelling over a hundred miles through the hidden heart of the high sierra, the first hint of civilization that the Kern River sees is Kernville, the whitewater headquarters of the Sierra.

SUP Kernville Riverpark Paddlers on the upper Kern River
Surfing waves at the Kernville Riverpark. Kayakers paddling the Class 3 Fairview Run.

Dry Meadow Creek

Kayakers running the sculpted Teacups of Dry Meadow Creek, just before it plunges into the Kern River.


Here, you’ll find every level of whitewater from Class 5 to mellower Class 2 and flatwater on Lake Isabella. Kayakers, rafters, stand up paddleboarders, riverboarders, and fly fisherman come from all over the world to paddle the Kern River, especially during the peak flows in Spring and early Summer.

Whitewater Kayaking and Rafting

Olympic silver medalist and local, Rebecca Giddens, demonstrating her perfected paddling skills at the Kern River Festival.

[See the links below for specific run descriptions.]

The legendary whitewater of the Kern River starts at the headwaters at Mount Whitney, and a few elite crews of expedition kayakers have paddled the headwaters to Kernville.

An epic 18 mile wilderness run that is commercially rafted is known as "The Forks of the Kern," a class 5 rated run. Western Whitewater calls it "one of the finest expert runs in the West," while California Whitewater: A Guide to the Rivers says its "one of the finest stretches of expert whitewater on earth."

Bull Run Waterfall
Expedition kayaker, Kevin Smith, observing the power of a raging Bull Run Creek in Kernville.

Below the Johnsondale Bridge, the Kern offers a variety of class II-V runs, each with its own unique character.

A series of named runs all lead into Isabella Lake; Limestone, Fairview, Chamise Gorge, Ant Canyon, Thunder, Cables, Powerhouse/Lickity, and Cemetery Run. Some of these runs can be kayaked year round.

Lake Isabella is an excellent training spot for improving kayaking, rolling, or stand-up paddle (SUP) skills. Don't worry if it happens to be too windy; just click here.

Brush Creek
The Triple Drops on Brush Creek.

Below Lake Isabella, the class III-V+ Lower Kern usually has great flows all summer long. Stretches of river, such as the Jungle Run and the Big 5 are commercially rafted for much of the year.

As amazing as the Kern River is, many of its tributaries add another level of awe-inspiring adventure. Brush Creek, Bull Run Creek, South Creek, and Dry Meadow Creek....

Commercial Rafting Companies:

Stand Up Paddleboarding

Stand Up Paddleboarding
Accomplished paddler, Corran Addison, surfing SUP on Slippery Rock/Dam Run.

SUP, or Stand Up Paddleboarding, is quickly becoming a standard sport in the Kern River Valley.

Complete newbies can learn on Lake Isabella, while others may want to try some of the class 2+ rapids on the cemetary run.

At higher flows, the Lickity Run, Kernville Riverside Park, Cemetery Run, and the Dam Run are great options for class 2-3 whitewater.



River Flow Information

Click here for Upper and Lower Kern River Flows courtesy of Dreamflows using US Army Corp of Engineer data.

Southern California Edison flow diversions: SCE diverts up to 600 cfs of water from the Fairview to the KR3 Powerhouse above the Lickity Run. Water is also diverted from the Lake Isabella Dam to the Borel Powerhouse on the Lower Kern, and at the Democrat Dam.

Call 877-537-6356 for the current SCE river flow and diversion information; especially if you need a good laugh at the vocally-challenged C3PO droid voices with blaring 1970's Atari sound clips in the background.

Videos of Bull Run Creek & Kern River class 4/5 during peak flows, 2011:


Lake Isabella

North Fork of the Kern River (Upper)

Cemetery Run to Lake
Riverside Park
Lickity Run
Powerhouse Run
Cable Run
Thunder Run
Ant Canyon
Chamise Gorge
Fairview Run
Limestone Run

Forks of the Kern Wilderness Run

Kern River (Lower)

Slippery Rock/Dam Run
Jungle Run
The Lower
Big 5
Richbar Run
The Cataracts

The Creeks

Brush Creek
Dry Meadow Creek
Bull Run Creek
South Creek

South Fork of the Kern River

Lake Section
Chimney Peak Wilderness

Other Nearby Rivers

Kaweah Drainage
Tule Drainage

Dont Get Lost!
Kernville Adventure Map

The Kern River Runs, Put-In/Launches, and Whitewater Rapids are depicted on the 6th Edition Kern River Sierra Map.

Buy Locally

Map Details

Now Available: Get the Digital Version of the Map on the Avenza App!

Get this map on Avenza Maps!

Or click here for the full Extremeline Map Store on Avenza.