Kern River Trail
Central Valley

Kern River Trail In Sequoia National Forest

Kern River Trail is a great out-and-back trail that’s located in the Sequoia National Forest between Bakersfield and Lake Isabella.

This trail is only 6 miles long and is a great beginner hike within Kern County. It’s best visited in early spring when the trail is covered in beautiful wildflowers and temperatures are still moderate.

Kern River Trail Location

Kern River Trail is located within the Kern River Canyon just 40 minutes east of Bakersfield and 15 minutes west of Lake Isabella.

Note that there is another trail in Bakersfield with a similar name called Kern River Parkway Trail that might come up in Google Maps. This trail is a bike path that runs through the city and is different from the Kern River wilderness trail that we will cover in this post.

Kern River Trail starts right off Highway 178. This highway runs through Kern Canyon and connects Bakersfield to Lake Isabella.

To hike the Kern River Trail we parked at a pull out next to Highway 178 across from the trailhead. Coming from Bakersfield this pull out will be to your right just past the Delonegha day use area.

Delonegha day use area is located near the trail but during our visit, it was closed.

After parking at the pull out, we crossed Highway 178 to get to the trail starting point. Cars were coming from both sides so we had to be extra careful and watch out for traffic.

There used to be an option to cross the highway under a bridge.

However during our visit the path leading to the bridge was completely overgrown and we couldn’t get through.

Kern River Trailhead Location: CA-178, Bakersfield, CA 93306

Kern River Trail Overview:

  • Kern River Trail is 6 miles long (3 miles each way)
  • It gains around 1000 feet in elevation
  • Kern River Trail is relatively easy
  • It’s dog friendly but it’s often overgrown with foxtails
  • It follows along Highway 178 and Kern River
  • It’s best in early spring or fall. Summer temperatures can be too hot to hike this trail during the day.

Our Experience Hiking Kern River Trail

We had planned to hike Kern River Trail on a weekend so we left Bakersfield relatively early because we expected the parking area on a weekend to be full of cars. When we got there by 9 am to our surprise we were some of the first people to arrive so finding a parking spot wasn’t a problem.

After we parked and crossed Highway 178 we found a small trail next to the bridge.

We climbed through a fence after which we spotted some trail signs to our right.

Two trails start from the same trailhead here. We hiked the Kern River Trail that forks off to the left towards China Gardens and follows along the Kern River.

The other trail is called Kern Canyon Trail and leads to the right.

After finding the right trailhead we set out on the hike. Kern River trail was very narrow, dry, and overgrown but it was not very difficult.

Once you’re on the Kern River trail it’s pretty straight forward. It follows one way along a small path (out and back). You can take this trail up to 3 miles each way at which point you can turn around and head back.

We made it to around mile 1.5 when we decided to turn around. While usually, I strive to complete the entire trail, we brought our dog with us and that’s the maximum distance he could do at this point.

Note that while Kern River Trail is dog friendly, it does follow along a narrow path with steep drop-offs. While our pup enjoyed hiking this trail we did have to keep him on a tight leash the whole time.

For hiking with a dog, we prefer going to the Mill Creek Trail that’s just down the street. Mill Creek Trail is much wider and has multiple creek crossings which are great for your pet to cool off in.

Overall Kern River Trail is very scenic and passes through gentle rolling hills that are filled with giant boulders and some trees.

While there is a bit of an incline on this trail it wasn’t too bad which makes it a great beginner trail.

Kern River Trail is best visited in early spring (March to April) when it’s covered in green grass and beautiful wildflowers. We waited too long and by the time we came here in May all the flowers had wilted from the heat and the grass had turned yellow.

The hardest part about the Kern Canyon Trail was dealing with the heat. It was early May and the temperatures in this area were already reaching past 80 degrees.

This trail has very little shade and mostly consists of exposed hills with occasional oak trees that we used to take frequent water breaks under. Make sure to plan accordingly and bring plenty of water along with sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses.

This trail follows the Kern River next to it but access to the river is very limited to the beginning of the trail.

Kern River Trail also goes along Highway 178 so you will see cars and the road in the distance. But it was far away enough that the road noise wasn’t too distracting.

Most of the Kern River Trail is very overgrown with grasses and foxtails which can be a huge pain to deal with especially for pets.

Foxtails can work their way into dog’s fur and skin so every few minutes we took a break and checked his paws for any foxtails that might have gotten stuck on him.

Dry foxtails even got stuck all over our feet so we recommend wearing long hiking socks so the overgrown grasses and bushes don’t scratch your feet or get into your hiking shoes.

Along with foxtails we also had to watch out for cows that reside in this area. We came across a group of cows at the 1.5-mile mark by Tucker Creek that didn’t seem too happy to see us. The entire group left their lounging area and got on the trail right in front of us so we had to slowly trot behind them at their pace.  

Compared to the Mill Creek Trail that we hiked in Sequoia National Forest a few weeks back, Kern River Trail was not very busy and we only ran into one other family on the trail. While the parking lot had about 10 cars by the time we got back, most people were hanging out by the river.

After completing the hike we took a small side trail down to the Kern River to cool off but do note that Kern River is very swift and powerful.

We kept our dog on his leash the whole time and only stayed in the shallow parts.

Although it might look pretty mellow, Kern River is one of the most dangerous rivers so be very careful if you go down to it especially with pets and small kids.

After finishing up the hike we recommend checking out Kern River Brewery in Kernville for refreshing beers and delicious food.


Looking for other great hikes to do in Kern County? Make sure to check out some of our other favorites below:

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