Sherman’s Pass Road: J41 Mojave to Kern River, Sequoia Forest Rd# 22S05
Sequoia National Forest
This paved Southern Sierra highway (aka J41, off US 395) is a paved route thru the eastern portion of the Sequoia National Forest. A curvy mountain corridor which crosses over the South Fork of the Kern River, and skirts the Domeland Wilderness & the South Sierra Wilderness. East side of Sequoia National Forest, the Kern Plateau meets the Mojave desert w/ BLM Camping & Inyo National Forest.
The Sherman route connects the Kern River, near Fairview to Kennedy Meadows & closes for snow in winter months. There are plenty seasonal creeks, meadows & forests in this region. Elevations range from 4000′ near the Kern River to 8000′ at Black Rock Station.
Kern River is a top recreation destination for the lower half of the state, since it is the only big Sierra river within easy reach of Southern California.
Lower mountain elevations 2000-4000′ means camping all year is possible on the Kern. With only a few inches of rainfall, plus an average high temperature of 60 degrees in December & January, Kernville has become a year-round recreation destination for the Southern Sierra Nevada mountains. Kern Canyon and most surrounding mountains are managed by USDA: Sequoia National Forest, which extends south to the Tehachapi range!
Sierra Nevada ROAD CLOSURES during winter restricts that Kern Canyon is only accessible via the Hwy 178 route. Both the Western Divide Highway (to the north) and Sherman’s Pass Road (to the east) close for many months, due to snow. (typically, NOV-APRIL closure)
Popular Kern Recreation – backpacking, camping, fishing, hiking, river rafting, kayaking, rock climbing, mountain biking, off-roading & floating (inner tubing).
Kern River can be divided into 5 different & distinct regions:
Kern River High Country
headwaters of the Kern River.
High Sierra, Golden Trout Wilderness, Kern Hot Springs, Mount Whitney snowmelt, Kern Gorge. foot access only, wilderness backcountry. fishing, day hikes, backpacking, rock climbing, mountaineering, horse packs.
backpackers & fishing trailheads
Big parking lot at the bridge. trails travel rivers edge into a tight canyon, impressive rock gorge continues up to the tallest mountain peaks in the High Sierra.
RINCON CAMP – The Rincon Fault (an earthquake faut line) runs in a north-south direction, on the east side of Kern River. Popular and rugged RINCON, a dirt bike and mountain bike trail runs this ridge as well. An overgrown hunters camp (which has been almost destroyed) is located up hill from Brush Creek falls; but accessible via unmaintained dirt road – unsigned pull out, just off Shermans’ Pass Road. High clearance vehicle is needed to reach this spot.
This part of the river sees much of the action, with kayakers, river rafters, fishermen, RVs, motorcycles, mountain bikers, backpackers and campers, seeking easy river access, hiking trailheads or just a good picnic spot.
Numerous small lodges between Kernville & Johnsondale
Brush Creek: awesome waterfalls & pools on Brush Creek, only accessible by hiking trail.
Rincon Trail runs above the river on the east side, via the Rincon earthquake fault. This is right where Brush Creek comes down the steep mountain. RINCON is favorite mountain biking trail, that is also open to dirt bikes (OHV) & equestrian, so share the trail and play nice. Rincon Camp is rugged, may be overgrown and unmaintained. Long dirt road might require high clearance vehicle or possible 4×4, if weather is wet.
Huge recreational reservoir in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains. Dry and high desert terrain. Canyons have more vegetation. East part of lake is a wildlife refuge w/ abundant cottonwood trees, which turn golden yellow in Autumn.
The earthen dam is on the south westside. California State Route 178 (Hwy 178), which connects Mojave desert w/ Bako. This major east-west Sierra route is a four-laner (freeway) cutting thru the valley. EXIT# intersects w/ CA 155 to reach Alta Sierra, Wofford Heights, Kernville and all place north of there.
Minimal to modest campsites in the lower canyon. Most seclusion for overnight spots, can be found along the empty stretches of the Old Kern Canyon Road. Many curvy mountain miles, one lane, paved, several flat spots for easy road-side camping. Caution for cattle in roadway. Speed limit is generally under 40 mph for this historic route which parallels the 178, in between Lake Isabella and Bako.
Free Campgrounds in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California
no charge camp, no fee camping, free campgrounds
No fee camping: Bare bones. California Sierra Campgrounds without the fee.
Developed BLM or NFS campgrounds, where you can still have a campfire. Vault toilets, panic tables and fire rings. Use bear boxes when provided for proper food storage.
Below is a good long list of some favorite free developed campgrounds in the Sierras. Many will require dirt road driving, as most are located well of the highway. Perhaps the 12 mile rough road will thin out the crowds. Free overnight stay!
Pack in your drinking water and pack out your trash. Campfire permits are not required at developed campgrounds; but a bringing a water bucket and shovel is necessary for tending your campfire. Piped water is not always available, or perhaps, not in working order at these primitive style camps. Be prepared to rough it a little.
Mountain biking has become a popular sport especially in California. We’ve got so much great terrain, so close to home (the urban sprawl), that this outdoor hobby is bound to get you back in shape, fast. Start slow to avoid burnout and injury. The weather is awesome, just go. Plan a camping weekend & bring your bike!
Obvious (but humorous) information on bike riding or mountain biking in Sequoia NP. Upon doing research for this page, noticed a heck of a lotta folks typing in the phrase
Sequoia National Park Bike
I laugh…. but plenty people are searching for bike trails near Sequoia trees, inside the most protected of lands, the National Parks.
Firstly, most National Parks in California do not allow bikes on hiking trails. The Sierra Nevada has NO National Parks that allow mountain biking on their trails. (official words are: Biking is allowed on the main roads in the parks but is prohibited on park trails.)
Yuk. Who wants to ride on asphalt in the wild?
Yosemite & Lake Almanor both have nice paved bike paths. But you may want dirt trails for biking. Be it mellow mountain biking on forest roads, or the hard core Downie-droppers.
California Wilderness Areas are the same rules, but even tighter. So that brings us to Sequoia National Forest. Yes, indeed California National Forests allow mountain bikes on most trails, in most cases. The popular trails might even get small brown signs showing bikes that are allowed.
Second, there are no bike rentals inside Sequoia National Park (or Kings), so you must bring yours in, or better yet ride in. I dare you. Although you cannot take said bike on a dirt trail, so you’ll need to stick to pavement only. The main highway (Hwy 198) has got to be one of the curviest, narrow, fern lined ridge routes of the region. You would be a fool to ride this area, as a senior citizen w/ a 40 foot motorhome or a speeding SUV may take you out on a curve. Seriously! You better be in great shape if you plan to descend into Kings Cyn. That route is just as dangerous if not more so. These 2 National Parks – Sequoia & kings, both get a lotta traffic. Year round.
Thirdly – here is the biggest tip of the whole topic. In between Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks is a slice of Sequoia National Forest land. (Meaning you can ride bikes or mountain bikes here) Most call it Big Meadows Road # 14S11 & there is plenty camping all down this road – 12 miles with spur roads in every direction. A nice chunk of forest with rocks, meadows, camps & dirt roads. Granite & great scenery. What more could you ask for? More forest roads than single track trails tho and please watch for equestrian traffic. The dead end of this road leads out to 2 Wilderness areas, so be prepared to navigate with a good map in hand. No bikes are allowed in the Wilderness, remember?
Located north of the small community of Riverkern and south of the Johnsondale Bridge, numerous flat camp spots adjacent to the rivers edge can be found.
Ant Canyon Dispersed Area Brush Creek Campground Calkins Flat Dispersed Area Chamise Flat Dispersed Area Chico Flat Campground Corral Creek Campground Springhill Dispersed Area
Kern River Road
Sierra Way in Kernville travels north along the Upper Kern River & becomes Mountain Hwy 99 – which eventually connects with the Western Divide Highway in Giant Sequoia National Monument.
Dispersed Camping Areas along the Kern River
Open Year Round! These FREE camp areas are called dispersed camping sites. No pavement, no picnic tables, no bathrooms, no piped water. Portable toilets & trash bins may be available in the busier summer months. Campfire permits are required for all campfires, BBQs, and camp stoves. Fire restrictions are common in extreme dry conditions. 14 day limit on camping.
Camp sites listed on this page are dispersed camping areas around the Kern River Area. Not all camp spots are listed, cuz many are unnamed. Bring your GPS to mark your favorite camp sites and you can arrive in the dark, late at night, anytime, (avoiding city traffic after work).
Several spots known as “dirt flats” are easy accessible right off the pavement of Sierra Way. Primitive river camping, fishing spots and raft launch areas north of town. Vault toilets might be available during busy summer months, but you’re on your own the remainder of the year. Bring a shovel and take a hike, away from the water flow. And if that sounds like too much work for a potty break, maybe you are not cut out for the primitive kinda camping style. No garbage service either: pack it in, pack it out.
Wildflowers are abundant in the Kern Canyon nearly every Spring season (April & May), which is a popular time to enjoy this region. Autumn brings minimal fall colors to this dry, desert mountainous landscape, but the fishing is decent at that time of year.
CAMPING OUTSIDE OF CAMPGROUND means you must obtain a free fire permit from the local rangers. Sometimes these dispersed spots are fire-safe areas, and you are allowed to have camp fires. Other times campfire restrictions are in place w/ wildfire dangers too extreme and no fires are allowed, anywhere. (Not even inside a developed campground!)
WILDERNESS NOTE: The USDA National Forests web site states that “Camping and campfires within 25 feet of the water’s edge is prohibited due to the Wild and Scenic Designation”, but that doesn’t seem to stop some from setting up right on the fragile rivers edge. Doubtful that this rule is being enforced by the rangers, but consider yourself warned unless they start to get serious about this restriction. Many believe that the free camping along the Kern river is destroying it, so don’t be surprised if these areas get closed or barriers placed at the flats.
Caulkins FLAT has some new boulder barriers put in place which prevent cars from reaching certain ideal camp spots (right at the waters edge). Tough luck. Now we have to hike more.
Upper Kern River North of Kernville, CA
all camps below listed from south to north
ALL CAPS = developed campgrounds managed by US Forest Service, w/ links to Kern River Campgrounds.
Just north of Goldledge Campground, along the Upper Kern River.
South of Salmon Creek; Hike to Salmon Creek Falls.
12 miles north of Kernville, CA
This camping bluff could be the most forested of all the ‘kern flat’ camping areas, but river is a short hike down a very steep cliff. Fishing is excellent in this stretch.
15 miles north of Kernville, along the Upper Kern River. Just south of Fairview (McNalley’s). Sign at the location reads a different spelling of “Caulkins Flat”. Kayak and rafting put-in spot. One of the best sites for large groups. Area is also known as simply “Lower Campground” on GoogleMap.
Just south of Sherman’s Pass Road turnoff. This place also serves as a Day Use Area, where Brush Creek meets the Kern. Kayaking put in spot. Popular fishing area. Large open dirt parking lot with a vault toilet.
Lower Kern River Southwest of Kernville, CA
Lake Isabella has some shoreline camping with wide open access to the lake. Paradise Cove perhaps?
Historic Keyesville – “off-roaders camping paradise” along the river, but no swimming is allowed due to the extremely dangerous section of river. OHV trails lead (west) down river for many miles. Dirt bikes love the rugged boulder-scapes and steep hills. FREE camping; BLM Kern.
SANDY FLAT CAMPGROUND (NFS) – Open all year long! Terraced & paved hillside with numerous camp sites and plenty of room to spread out. RV campers like this location, due to the proximity to Hwy 178. elev 2300
Remington Hot Springs can be a zoo at times w/ the amount of people who love to stop here. A busy dirt parking lot, right across from the Remington trailhead sign. Many vehicles park here daily for day hikes, hot springs, fishing – and people also like to camp out, although camp sites are on slopes (not ideal), only a few and they fill up fast (before sunset).
Total Escape TIP: The very best camps at Remington are actually the ones you hafta hike down to. Less than a half mile down to the rivers edge to find a private mini beach. Pack light and arrive prepared to walk several miles (back & forth, several times).
Old Kern Canyon Road parallels Sierra Highway 178 and sits well above the river, so any flat spots you find will have great views w/ minimal river access.
Open Camping in Sequoia National Forest – Forest Road Camping
Seeking secluded campsites? This is one of the best areas to camp in pine forest w/ privacy, relatively close to Southern California. Plenty of primitive car camping on the dirt roads throughout this whole Sequoia & Kern River area.
No facilities. No picnic tables, no toilet, no fees. Just a rock campfire ring & a clearing. Previously used sites have already been established usually near streams. Try to use these first, if at all possible. It takes a bit of exploring but you will find the perfect spot. Don’t even attempt to try to find these kinds of camp spots at night. They are often buried deep in the forest with no visible markers what-so-ever. But in trade, you will be lulled to sleep by your own private mini waterfall & no RV generators. Many of these back roads are closed & gated during winter months due to snow & rock slides.
No amenities are available in this neck of the woods, but plenty of seclusion & wilderness. Check official Wilderness rules for proper knowledge of the area restrictions. You must get a free camp fire permit from the ranger station in order to build a fire outside of a developed campground. A large shovel, plus bucket w/ water are a bare minimum for the privilege of camping like this. Certain dry seasons (summers into autumn) have very strict camp fire restrictions. Check with the ranger to see the latest on building campfires on the back roads.
A Sequoia Forest Service Map is highly advised for this area. There are so many dirt roads for dispersed primitive camping on the back roads. Due to weather & erosion, some roads may require 4×4 or high clearance, so come prepared with a plan B.
Camping Checklist to make sure you’ll have what you need. The drive up from the Los Angeles area averages 3-4 hours and is well worth the trip. Once you’ve found that perfect spot, take detailed note of it, for the next time you visit the area. Then, you will be able to get there easily in the middle of the night, if need be.
Backroad Camping Sequoia: Follow the forest road numbers with your Sequoia map to discover amazing back road camping options. Your own private stream or meadow. Secluded campsites with your own mini waterfall.
Driving north on Sierra Hwy N of Kernville, California; Passing Fairview & the Johnsondale bridge; After the R Ranch @ Johnsondale, take the right fork off the main highway, which goes deep into Kern River Gorge. This narrow & winding paved road skirts the Upper Kern River Gorge & the impressive Rincon Fault. Numerous primitive camp site can be found on dirt roads off this paved route. The pavement dead ends at Jerky Meadow trail head, which accesses the Golden Trout Wilderness & the Great Western Divide. Backpackers can get to the high country Sierra Nevada & Mineral King in Sequoia National Park from these trails.
Boy Scout Camp Whitsett is one of the first places you pass, near Sentinel Peak.
The Western Divide Hwy runs parallel to road 22S82; way up above it @ 7000′ elevation – with destinations like Dome Rock & the Needles (2 very cool granite features) that overlook this Kern Gorge. The small community of Ponderosa, CA is also up there, along with the quaking aspen groves & the Trail of 100 Giants. Forest Rd# 22S02 connects paved route 22S82 to the Giant Sequoia highway above.
There are many primitive camp areas way above Kern River Gorge – all located on the right side of this road 22S82. Look for small signs for CAMP AREA #1-6. Camps 1-3 are great for RV campers with creeks & dense forests. Long Meadow Creek is one of the first of many streams, you will cross as driving this paved, winding, canyon route. Camp areas #4, 5, & 6 are the best bet for seclusion, plus awesome hiking trails to falls, granite pools & the impressive Kern gorge. Swimming holes are plentiful. Fishing can be decent at times. Many waterfalls can be found in this region as the tributary streams fall towards the deep granite gorge in the Sierra Nevada range. All roads off of 22S82 are dirt roads & most are passenger car accessible. Wetter months could be challenging. Some routes back here are considered to be 4×4 routes tho, so know your vehicles limitations. High clearance is needed to reach some camp sites. Summers can be busy.
This area was burnt from recent wildfires in 2002-2005, but the primitive, dispersed campsites near the streams are full of vegetation & making a nice comeback. Alder Creek runs down from the Sequoias, into Dry Meadow Creek nearby.
Lower Peppermint Campground @ 5300′ elevation, on the west side of the road, is the only developed camp ground on this main forest road. Lower Peppermint has 17 spots, piped water, & picnic tables. Peppermint Meadows & Peppermint Creek are adjacent to the camp area.
Lloyd Meadows @ Sequoia Forest Road# 20S67 – is the Forks of the Kern Trailhead & the dirt road that accesses it, is very popular among equestrian campers. Freeman Creek joins Lloyd Meadows Creek near Pyles Camp. There is a small developed campground called “Forks of the Kern”. Steep trail leads down to the granite gorge where Little Kern River meets the main Kern River; Rattlesnake Creek & Ninemile Creek also join the Kern River in this 10 mile stretch. Kern Hot Springs requires a backpacking trip.
Kern River Valley is one of the all time favorite Sierra Nevada destinations for SoCal escapees. First, it is the southern most ‘big river’ action for the Sierra range. The drive up from Los Angeles is easy access; only a coupe of hours. California Highway 178 leads from Bakersfield up the mountain to Lake Isabella (exit at 155 for Kernville destinations). The 178 continues east past the rural communities of Onyx, Canebrake, Weldon, and then on to the Northern Mojave desert & US Highway 395
Second, Kern has an abundance of outdoor recreation, from fishing to boating, river rafting to kayaking, backpacking, mountain biking, rock climbing, horseback riding, hiking, camping, & soaking. Kernville is the “recreation headquarters” for the region, where you can find rafting outfitters, camping supplies and rental equipment.
Third, the mountain scenery is very diverse – with the dry shores of Lake Isabella, the granite lined Kern River, or the ridges with towering cedar forests, plenty sugar pines, plus a few Sequoia groves; Tons of dirt back roads to explore, granite & gorges for the rock climbers, prime wilderness access & several primitive hot springs.
The whole area is encompassed by the Sequoia National Forestwith wilderness areas to the North & East. Giant Sequoia National Monument is located along the Western Divide Hwy in the northern portion of the National Forest.
Whether you’re an RVer wanting a developed campground near town, a fisherman needing a primitive site right on the river, or a backpacker seeking the high country, the Kern has a little bit of everything. High elevations beyond 8000′ ridge lines, or the lush Lower Kern under 2000′ with granite boulders lining, Kern has it. 4 wheelers will love the extensive network of dirt back roads, or maybe the OHV areas of Keysville. Lake Isabella has numerous oak lined campgrounds & boat rentals available too. Summer is not the best time to visit as the temperatures soar to 100 degrees & the city crowds come in full force to the Kern Valley. Springtime, the best season to visit runs from March to May, or Autumn cools for September to December.
Located in the South Sierra Nevada mountains alongside the Southern Sierra Wilderness. Inside the remote rugged peaks of a deep, granite crevasse known as the Upper Kern River with ancient Sequoia forest to the west and to the eats, some of the tallest peaks in the Sierra range. This wild land area is home to the California golden trout and is the main water flow southward from the tallest peak in the lower 48 – Mount Whitney on the Eastern Sierra front.
Roads, campgrounds and trailheads surrounding Golden Trout Wilderness
Eastern Sierra –
Horseshoe Meadows Road (paved) leads up to high elevation meadows from the high deserts of Lone Pine, CA. Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) access; Mount Whitney and John Muir Wilderness are to the north. Equestrian corrals and horse trails. Camping is limited to a one night stay at any of the 3 campgrounds up here.
Fork of the Kern / Loyds Meadow Road #22S82 – This main paved road connects the Kern River (Sierra Hwy Road #99) to the lower elevation, granite slopes of the Western Divide, and the route dead ends at Jerky Meadow parking lot. Camp 1-6 are primitive camp areas located on dirt side roads and 4×4 might be required on some of them. Obtain a campfire permit from rangers in Kernville. Fishing, camping, waterfalls and swimming holes are popular in this region. The big developed camp along this road, is located 10 miles up, in a pine filled valley on Peppermint Creek on the west side of the street and is within the Giant Sequoia National Monument.
Lower Peppermint Campground: elevation 5300′ / 17 camp sites / open year round
Lloyd Meadows @ Sequoia Forest Road# 20S67 – is the Forks of the Kern Trailhead & the dirt road that accesses it, is very popular among equestrian campers.
Western Divide Highway –
Road #20S79 leads from Western Divide Hwy to Lewis trailhead.
Road #20S50 leads from Western Divide Hwy to 2 hiking trailheads.
Sequoia National Park, Three Rivers, CA –
South Fork Road leads up Kaweah River at Southfork trailhead.
Mineral King Road is only open seasonally, access to high country lakes and trailheads.
east side –
Cottonwood Trailhead (near Lone Pine)
Blackrock Trailhead (Monache Mdws)
south side –
Forks of the Kern Trailhead
Lewis Camp Trailhead (Western Divide)
Summit Trailhead (Western Divide)
Clicks Creek Trailhead (Western Divide)
Camp Wishon Trailhead (Western Divide)
west side –
South Fork Trailhead (Three Rivers) Atwell Mill Trailhead (Silver City)
Franklin Pass Trailhead (Mineral King)
MIRACLE HOT SPRINGS on Lower Kern River is now closed!
Hidden well by the dense vegetation, this multi-tub location provides a peaceful setting along the Kern River. Located on the Old Kern Canyon Road, (aka Old Kern Road) that parallels the main 4-laner Highway 178. The broken and dismantled tubs are inside a grouping of granite boulders, overlooking the Lower Kern River. NFS Campground is walking distance away. Week days you can have the place to yourself for picnics, river fishing and hiking. Mountain biking and hiking trails at Remington trailhead.
DanaMite’s Tip: This place has no operating hot pools unless you plan to physically dam up a tub with a few found rocks. Rangers do not like this practice. If you wanna camp at Hobo Campground you can walk over & hike around to check it out. Worth a look.
Camping available next door at Hobo Campground. A few primitive spots are located on the Old Kern Canyon Rd. Free car camping, and some sites big enough for level RV camping. See the rangers at the lake for Sequoia National Forest ranger and fire permit and check fire current restrictions.
Remington Hot Springs is only 2 miles down river, but it does require a short hike and it gets very busy on weekends!