Kernville is basically the hole-in-the-wall restaurant of Southern California. While you probably didn’t even know it existed (and might even be a bit skeptical to go at first), you will end up loving your stay and planning your next trip back ASAP. And it just so happens that it's only a short 3-hour drive from LA.
The tiny riverside town consists of approximately 1,400 people, but that number nearly doubles every summer. Overall, Kernville is made for the outdoorsy adventure seekers that want a fun-filled weekend away from home. Tourists come to flood the Kernville campgrounds and motels to go white water rafting down the Kern River, hike the famous Whiskey Flat trail, visit the town’s historical landmarks, and have a drink at the local breweries after lounging in the sun.
Rent a Boat at Lake Isabella
Nothing beats a day out on the water of Lake Isabella. Just a short 10-minute from town, you can find several boating docks and boat rental options here. The French Gulch Marina offers everything from WaveRunners and fishing boats to pontoons and kayaks, so you’re sure to find a watercraft to your liking. You can choose to rent your water vehicle for a full day, a half-day, or by the hour.
Lake Isabella spans nearly 18 square miles, meaning that there are plenty of other activities to choose form. There are many beaches to stop and lounge on for a picnic and a swim, as well as boulders to climb on and wildlife to appreciate.
Go White Water Rafting
White water rafting down the Kern River is the epitome of an ideal summer day. With several rafting and outdoor excursion companies in town (including Kern River Outfitters and SoCal Rafting), you can find a wide range of tours differing in both duration and difficulty level; everyone from adventurous children to expert rafters can join in the fun.
Most rafting tours will bus you and other rafters to a launching port up the river, where you will get a thorough breakdown of instructions and safety precautions. From there, you’re off to row down the Kern with your assigned captain. Some tours will even stop at 20-foot jump rocks along the way or let you jump out for a swim in more settled sections of the water.
Hike the Whiskey Flat Trail
If you’re looking to get some steps in while taking in Kernville's scenic views, you need to walk the Whiskey Flat Trail. The dirt trail stretches for 12.4 miles along the river, but you can make your hike as long or as short as you please. You’ll walk through stretches of rocky terrain and unique plant life, cross over a few streams where you can stop to dip your feet in the water, and gaze out at the wide-open sights of the towering mountains surrounding Kernville.
Travel tip: Make sure to bring lots of water, sunscreen, and comfortable walking shoes as you’ll be hiking for a long period of time in the heat.
Prepare to be shocked (in a good way) by Mother Nature's version of skyscrapers in the Sequoia National Forest. Just a 45-minute drive up the winding mountain backroads stands the Trail of 100 Giants, which consists of massive trees that date back thousands of years. A stroll through the trail will lead you past giant log bridges from fallen trees, large ancient roots that now rest above ground, and trunks so big they’ll make you look the size of a small squirrel in pictures.
Not only is this historical trail beautiful, but it’s also educational. The walkways are lined with informational signs about the many different tree breeds and animals that can be spotted in just a few short miles.
Go on a Local Brewery Crawl
Beer connoisseurs are sure to love the local bar scene in Kernville. The Kern River Brewing Company is a must on your bar crawl through town. Here, you will be immersed in a vibrant scene with locals and tourists chatting it up over a diverse menu of thoughtfully-named cold ones. Your next stop? The Kernville Saloon. In the heart of the most lively area of town, you’ll have the ultimate dive bar experience, with live music, locally-brewed IPAs, and Western-inspired décor. If you’re looking to catch a game or two, head to The Hut. It features multiple TVs, classic bar games like pool and shuffleboard, and occasionally live music.
Dive Into Kernville's Mining History
Although Kernville has a slow-paced, small-town feel, its history is more interesting and dynamic than you’d think. Originally a town called Whiskey Flat, Kernville was eventually flooded to build a dam; several buildings, however, were rescued and preserved in a museum that tourists can still visit today. The Silver City Ghost Town features more than 20 historical buildings from mining camps of Whiskey Flat and other neighboring towns.
If you’re looking for something within walking distance, head to the Kern Valley Museum and Historical Society. It has a wide variety of exhibits that showcase tools used by Native Americans and gold miners, props from old Western movie sets, and even a display of minerals and gems. With several interactive exhibits, this is the perfect place to bring children for a fun afternoon activity and a quick history lesson.
Attend the Whiskey Flat Days Festival
If you find yourself in Kernville in February, then you’ll be present for the famous Whiskey Flat Days, a four-day festival dedicated to celebrating Kernville’s past—chaps and cowboy hats included. The festival, held every President’s Day weekend, features parades, a rodeo, carnival rides, delicious food booths, live bluegrass and country-Western music, line dancing, and more.
Cast Your Rod at the Kern River
As Kernville is located next to a running river, it inevitably makes for a great fishing destination. Whether you’re looking for a leisurely afternoon outdoors or are on the hunt for a fresh campfire dinner, there are endless fishing spots to cast your rod. For those looking for a little more adventure, check out Kern River Fly Fishing, which offers guided fly fishing classes and instructional services.