Johnsondale Bridge River Trail

Hiking Johnsondale Bridge Trail In Sequoia National Forest

Johnsondale Bridge Trail (also called the River Trail) is a beautiful hike that follows along the Kern River in Sequoia National Forest.

The Johnsondale Bridge River Trail is a popular spot for fly fishing and there are multiple river access points throughout the hike. Johnsondale Bridge is also the starting point for local whitewater adventures.

If you plan to hike the Johnsondale Bridge River Trail, our guide covers essential tips you should know before heading out there. Let’s dive in!

Quick Trail Info

Before we dive into details, here is a quick overview of the Johnsondale Bridge River Trail:

  • Length: 5.2 miles out and back
  • Trail Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation Gain: Around 550 feet
  • Dogs Allowed? Yes
The starting point of the Johnsondale Bridge River Trail

Trail Location & Parking

The Johnsondle Bridge River Trail starts at the Johnsondale Bridge off Mountain Highway 99. There is a large lot where visitors can park their cars for the hike. On Google Maps you can find the parking lot listed as Seven Teacups Entrance.

It is free for visitors and hikers to park here but the lot can fill up quickly, especially on the weekends. Many people come to this part of the Kern River to fish, camp, relax with their families, and hang out by the river. The trail itself is not very busy but the parking area can be.

Map of the Johnsondale Bridge Trailhead:

After parking walk across the footpath to the other side of Johnsondale Bridge. There will be a sign that says “River Trail” and stairs that lead down to the river. This is the starting point of the Johnsondale Bridge River Trail.

Once you walk across the bridge, take wooden stairs down towards the river.

Address: Johnsondale Bridge, Camp Nelson, CA 93208

About Johnsondale Bridge Trail

Johnsondale Bridge Trail is a 5.2-mile long out-and-back trail that is rated as moderate due to its length and terrain. The hike starts with a slight climb but then for the most part it flattens out. If you want to shorten the hike, you can hike out as far as you wish and then turn around at any point.

View of Johnsondale Bridge from the trail

The Johnsondale Bridge River Trail travels next to the Kern River for the entire time with a mix of river views and shaded forest parts. This trail offers incredible scenery but it’s not the easiest of trails to do for inexperienced hikers.

Hiking along the River Trail

Dogs are also welcome to use the River Trail but it can be a difficult hike for dogs due to sharp surfaces.

We brought our dog but many sections of the trail were eroded with steep drop-offs below and other parts traveled across giant boulders that were hard for our dog to cross. It was also very hot when we hiked this trail in June and we had to make our way down to the water several times for our dog to cool off.

Kern River

The Johnsondale Bridge is also a launch site for whitewater boating. If you’re interested in rafting down the Kern River, the approved companies for rafting here are:

Hiking Tips:

  • The best time to hike the Johnsondale Bridge River Trail is in the spring, early summer, or fall. If you plan to hike Johnsondale Bridge Trail in the hotter summer months, keep in mind that it can get extremely hot in this part of the Sequoia National Forest so check the weather before going and plan accordingly. Get an early head start so you don’t get stranded on the trail in the harsh mid-day sun.
  • Bring plenty of water for the hike. We brought a couple of water bottles per person and went through them pretty quickly. For longer day hikes near rivers and lakes, we also bring our Sawyer Water Filter System.
  • There is no reception along this trail so mark the trailhead on Google Maps and download an offline hiking route on the AllTrails hiking app ahead of time.
  • There are restrooms near the trailhead if you need to use them before or after the hike.
Primitive restrooms at the trailhead

Overnight Camping

If you plan to camp at Sequoia National Forest overnight before or after your hike, there are several campgrounds to choose from.

The Johnsondale Bridge River Trail has a couple of primitive campsites that work on a first-come-first-serve basis. There is a hand-drawn map at the trailhead that shows the rough location of these campsites along the River Trail. Keep in mind that you will need to backpack in and carry all of your gear to stay at these campsites.

If you are looking for a drive-up campground, the Brush Creek Campground is just a 5-minute drive from the trailhead.

Brush Creek Dispersed Camping

Brush Creek is a wonderful wild dispersed campground that also works on a first-come basis. We stayed at the Brush Creek Campground in our campervan the night before our hike and saw many people camp in tents throughout the parking lot and down by the creek.

This campground is free, has vault bathrooms and trash bins. I recommend camping here if you don’t have a reservation at an established campground and need a last-minute place to stay for the night.

Limestone Campground is an established campground just a short drive from the Johnsondale Bridge Trail that is open from April to October. Limestone Campground offers 22 campsites and the current fee is $26 per night. For Limestone Campground reservations see more here!

Fishing Along Johnsondale Bridge River Trail

Many people hike the Johnsondale Bridge River Trail to access fly fishing spots. If you plan to fish along the River Trail, there are a couple of regulations to keep in mind:

  • Fishing licenses are required for all people fishing above the age of 16
  • Only artificial lures can be used with barbless hooks (baits are not permitted)
  • The trout limit is 2
  • Trout has to be 14” minimum in size
  • From November 16th to the last Saturday in April the fish limit is zero (catch & release only)

Hiking The Johnsondale Bridge Trail

The trailhead for the River Trail starts next to the Johnsondale Bridge. Despite coming on a Sunday morning, we were able to find a parking spot at the designated visitor parking lot somewhat easily. By the time we returned in the afternoon all the spots were taken by people picnicking and fishing along the Kern River.

After parking cross the wide footpath
When you see a sign for the River Trail, go to the left where you will see stairs

After descending the steep stairs, the trail starts directly to the right of the river. This is the only trail here so it’s easy to spot.

The starting point of the Johnsondale Bridge River Trail

We started the hike at 9 a.m. in early June, but I wish we had arrived a couple of hours earlier. Due to extremely hot weather, we didn’t get to finish the entire trail and decided to turn around before we reached the end to avoid heat exhaustion. It’s not often that I make the call to end the hike early, but it’s always best to play it safe.

The first section of the trail goes along a very narrow, rocky terrain that is partially shaded. You will be hiking away from the Johnsondale bridge so don’t forget to glance back for some great views of the bridge from the trail.

Kern River

The trail travels next to the river so for the most part, you will see the beautiful Kern River throughout your hike. The trail goes along a cliff but if you wish to go down to the river itself, there are plenty of options to do so. Just be careful where you step because the side trails going down are very steep and slippery.

This trail can get very hot in the summer

We went down to the river to cool off a couple of times during the hike. But keep in mind that Kern River is very dangerous and has a strong, swift current that is known to be very deadly.

Cooling down by the Kern River

The trail is approximately 2.6 miles long to the end, but a couple of miles in the weather was getting very hot and we reached a section with giant boulders that seemed a little too difficult for our dog to navigate.

At this point, we decided to turn around but I hope to return another time and complete the entire trail.

Beautiful views along the Johnsondale Bridge River Trail

What To Bring For Your Hike

Here are a couple of things that I recommend to bring for your hike:

  • The Johnsondale Bridge River Trail travels across sharp rocks and steep cliffs so good hiking shoes are a must.
  • The first part of this trail is open to the direct sun so be sure to bring plenty of water, a hat, sunscreen, polarized sunglasses, and lip balm.
  • I always carry a headlamp and a first aid kit for emergencies.
  • Portable phone charger in case your phone runs out of battery.
  • If you plan to hike with your dog, it can be helpful to get outdoor dog boots to protect their paws from getting cut on sharp rocks. We have the RUFFWEAR dog boots that we put on his paws when hiking. They also work great in the city when the ground gets hot in the summer.
  • For this trail, I recommend keeping your dog on a leash because there are many sudden drop-offs. I use the 2 Hounds No Pull Harness which comes with multiple clip-on points providing more comfort for our dog and extra control for us when walking and hiking.
  • A light day pack. I have the REI Co-op Flash 22 Pack which fits everything I need for a day hike and comes with a breathable back & mesh straps.
Views of Kern River along the trail

Looking for more things to do in the area? Here are a few other wonderful day hikes to explore nearby:

This post is written by Laura. Hi, I’m a California local and the founder of the California Wanderland travel blog. I currently live in Ventura County and help 30,000 readers a month discover things to do in Central California! Read more about me here.

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