Kern River Camping

relaxing at kern

Kern River California

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)

Snowy Springs

 

Popular Kern Recreation – backpacking, camping, fishing, hiking, river rafting, kayaking, rock climbing, mountain biking, off-roading & floating (inner tubing).

Kern Tube Ready

Kern River can be divided into 5 different & distinct regions:

kern gorge

Granite gorge, Kern River, South of Whitney

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.

fencedmeadow

Upper Kern Plateau

Southern Fork of the Kern River
Golden Trout Wilderness
Monache Meadows
Troy Meadows
Kennedy Meadows
Horse Meadow Campground
Big Meadow
Long Valley Campground
Chimney Creek Campground
Chimney Peak Backcountry Byway

johnsondale bridge @ KERN

Forks of the Kern

(areas north of Johnsondale)

Johnsondale Bridge
backpackers & fishing trailheads
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.
Shermans Pass Road turn-off
paved route that connects Kern River to Mojave desert.

Johnsondale Cabins: R Ranch

Sequoia #22S82 – Forks of the Kern Road

Boy Scout Camp Whitsett
Lloyds Meadow
Kern River Gorge
Lower Peppermint Campground
Primitive camps – Camp 1, Camp 2, Camp 3, Camp 4, Camp 5
Jerky Meadows Trailhead to Golden Trout Wilderness

kern flat camping

Upper Kern River

Kern River north of Kernville, CANFS

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.

kern fishing

Lake Isabella

Huge recreational reservoir in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains. California State Route 178 (Hwy 178), which connects Mojave desert w/ Bako.

Isabella Lake

Lower Kern River

(river access / camping, southwest of Lake Isabella)

Historic Kern – Keyesville OHV
Off-Road Camping

Kern Canyon Road

Minimal to modest campsites in the lower canyon. Most seclusion for overnight spots, can be found along thhobo campinge empty stretches of 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.

Kern River Hot Tub

Horse Canyon

Horse Canyon Mojave

Horse Canyon California

Southern Sierra / Mojave Road SC 65

Mojave Desert meets the Sierra Nevada Mountains
North Highway 14

North of Mojave, CA
North of Red Rock State Park
North of Jawbone Canyon

South of south of US Hwy 395, south of jct Hwy 178

backroads BLM camping desert roads hiking PCT mountain bike jeep roads primitive camp

elevation: 3000′-7000′

Horse Canyon is a dirt road up a high desert canyon, with joshua trees and wash outs. 7000′ elevation pinyon pine ridges above w/ PCT.

Most would say the see a whole-lotta-nothingness out here in these deserts…. when they zoom by at 70 mph on the blacktop highway.

at Total Escape, we beg to differ.

Solo Driver SUV

Intersection on Hwy 14 @ SC 65, dirt route will travel west into the mountains. Initial desert road follows Little Dixie Wash, but veers north up to Horse Canyon and the higher forested ridges.

Horse Cyn is a scenic, desert, dirt road that becomes a rugged 4×4 trail the higher it climbs in the canyon. The route traverses a ridge line and dead ends at the old cabin; No through route, no loop. The PCT continues on to the Walker Pass @ the 178.

The lower Horse Canyon is area quite accessible by standard truck or SUV. High clearance is recommended out on these kinda roads. Vegetation is quite sparse at first, but improves with the miles traveled. Wildflowers can be awesome, usually April-June. Picnic spots everywhere; primitive camping sites can be found out here, off the main dirt road. Please reuse existing camp sites when possible.

wheelin pals

Passenger cars may attempt this, but should watch for unexpected deep dips and rocks, washed out in the road. (No tow service in the middle of nowhere). Road conditions do change with the seasons out in the boonies. Cell phone reception could be spotty back in the deepest of canyons.

PCT
PCT trail access: Pacific Crest Trail follows this ridge road for miles. They call this range the SCODIE Mountains; Old cabin at the end of the road.

cabin mcivers

Sage Canyon and Cow Heaven Canyon are both to the north, along with Freeman Canyon (CA SR 178). Bird Spring and Dove Spring Canyons are both to the south, along with the most popular regions of Red Rock State Park and the Jawbone OHV area.

nearby towns:

INYOKERN, CA
LAKE ISABELLA, CA
MOJAVE, CA
RANDSBURG, CA
RIDGECREST, CA

joshuacanyons

Chimney Creek Campground

campmap

Chimney Creek Campground
BLM Kern / Mojave

High mountain desert camp is mislabeled on some maps as “Chimney Peak Campground” or “Chimney Rock Campground”. Pinyon pine forest on Chimney Creek, near hiking trailheads, wildflowers and Chimney Peak Wilderness. Southern Sierra ridge near Mojave Desert and California SR 178.

peakpinyons

Canebrake Road is a graded dirt road that makes up part of Chimney Peak Back Country Byway. This rural route is a major graded dirt road located north of Highway 178 – which connects Canebrake to Long Valley up near Kennedy Meadows. Pacific Crest Trail passes next to this campground in the Southern Sierra mountains. The campground turn off is way east of Lake Isabella Hwy 178 is (near Walker Pass & PCT) and follow dirt road north to Kennedy Meadows in the far eastern reaches of Sequoia National Forest

Chimney Peak BLM
• Elevation: 5,700′
• Number of Sites: 32
• Camping Reservations: No
• Sites Available: First come, First serve
• Vehicle Accessibility: RV limit 28′ max
• Length of Stay: 14 Days
• Water: Piped (April – Sept)
• Toilet: Vault
• Season: Open all year
• Fee: No
• Operated By: BLM
• Closest Town: Lake Isabella, CA

Bureau of Land Management
BLM Bakersfield Ranger Station
661-391-6000

Lamont Peak

Lamont Peak – elev 7510′

nearby destinations –
Camp Kern Backroads

Chimney Peak Wilderness
Lamont Peak
Long Valley Campground
Dome Land Wilderness
Owens Peak Wilderness
Jawbone Canyon
Sequoia National Forest
Sacatar Trail Wilderness
Kiavah Wilderness
Kennedy Meadows
Lake Isabella
Kern River
Monache Meadows


View Chimney Creek Campground in a larger map

Cuyama Valley

Cuyama River Valley, California

Ventucopa WineriesNorth of Ojai, Highway 33 meets Highway 166: Ozena, Ventucopa, & New Cuyama make up the 3 small communities inside the Cuyama River Valley, located in south of the San Joaquin (California’s Central) Valley.

On the outter edge of Santa Barbara County, where Kern, San Luis Obispo & Ventura counties all meet, you can find great solitude, a large red dirt, high desert wash & plenty rural trails. Off-roading, backcountry camping, hiking, mountain biking all over this region.

Ozena Ranger Station sits at the south end of Cuyama, at the intersection of Lockwood Valley Rd & Hwy 33. Ozena Campground with 10 spots @ 3660′ elevation, is to the east off Lockwood.

Nettle Springs Campground (8 spots @ 4400′ elevation) can be accessed via Apache Canyon, a 10 mile long dirt road# 8N06, off Hwy 33

2 smaller campgrounds – Tinta and Ranch Nuevo are on the west side of Hwy 33 & may require a high clearance vehicle to reach. Trails out of these campgrounds lead to the Dick Smith Wilderness.

Chumash Wilderness is just east of Ventucopa, as Los Padres National Forest surround this agricultural valley. Quatal Canyon and Quatal Wash reach from the upper elevations of pinyon pines near Mount Able to Cuyama river bed below, as Cerro Noroeste Road skirts the northern rim of the impressive red rock canyon. Toad Spring Campground is at the top. Apache Saddle and Pine Mountain Club are just east of Quatal Cyn.

Cuyama riverbed follows Highway 33 and then turns west, following Highway 166, past the ranch lands, the volcano hills and notorious Rock Front Ranch.

All the pavement around Cuyama is very popular amongst motorcyclists. Scenic touring kinda roads. A very nice 100 mile loop trip is from Pine Mountain Club – W on Mil Potrero Hwy, W on Cerro Noroeste Rd, W on Hwy 166, S on Hwy 33, East on Lockwood Valley Road – back to Frazier Park & I-5 Lebec.

Mahutasan, the indian sweat lodge and the extremely rustic Sage Brush Annies Restaurant w/ winery are the highlights of this rural agriculture valley called Ventucopa CA. Cuyama Peak and fire lookout tower overlooks the whole Cuayama Valley & can be accessed via Santa Barbara Canyon Rd. 4×4 may be required in certain spots. This lovely oak and manzanita lined canyon was scorched by the Zaca Wildfire in mid 2007.

  • Cuyama Wineries
  • Pistacio Orchards
  • Quatal Canyon
  • Ballinger OHV Park

helpful maps of the region –

towns in the valley –

towns close by –


View Larger Map

Hwy 166 Wildflowers, School House Canyon

Hwy 166 Wildflowers, School House Canyon

Kelbaker Road

Kelbaker Road, Mojave NP

Kelbaker Road is one of the well-traveled back roads in the Mojave Desert connecting two major Eastern California routes of Interstate system. The I-40 to the south and the I-15 to the north, spanning 50 miles from one to the other.

Kelbaker Rd continues south to T up w/ old Route 66 near Amboy, CA. Gasoline is very iffy in Amboy, so remember gas up in Barstow.

A super scenic portion of  Kelbaker Road cuts thru the western edge of Mojave National Preserve. The Kelbaker pavement reaches to an elevation of 4024′ at Granite Pass, about 6 miles north of the exit @ interstate 40. Boulder outcroppings, bare mountain peaks, secluded cove camp sites w/ dirt roads, and old mines all over. Joshua tree forest and pinyon pine forest encircle the Mid Hills region.

There are private property ranches, active railroad tracks & BLM lands along the Kelbaker route. Some of the boundaries of NPS have recently been expended. Free camping is abundant in this desert region, but it’s all primitive w/ no facilities and all are on dirt roads when your turn off Kelbaker. The best camping area are 4000 feet above sea level, so serious wind and even snow is quite possible in winter months, so go prepared w/ plenty firewood.

Historic Mojave Trail (aka Mojave Road) is out this way. Dirt bikes, off roaders love this trail that connect the Colorado River to Afton Canyon near Barstow.

Kelso, CA

This small historic ares is centered around the old train depot, which has been restored and has become the new visitors center and is totally worth a 2 hour stop and stretch break. The road heads north from Kelso and the name changes to Kelbaker-Cima Road.

Cima, CA

Cima store, 20 miles to the north is one of the few businesses in this region. Cima Road connects to I-15 in approx 15 miles. Kelbaker Road splits again and it heads up to I-15 @ Baker, CA

See more in the area —

Kelbaker Rd

Kelbaker Road and Railroad Tracks

Hole in the Rock

Hole in the Rock, Mojave NP

Mojave Scenery

Mojave Mid Hills boulder peaks