Forks of the Kern Rafting

Mile for mile, no stretch of whitewater in North America compares to the Forks of the Kern. This 22 mile rafting trip features huge Class V drops and continuous Class IV whitewater framed by some of the most spectacular canyon scenery in the west. Space is limited and trips fill early. We expect to run Forks of the Kern trips in May this year.

Trip Length: 2 or 3 day.

Minimum Age: 16 years old.

Trip Packet: Click here to download the Forks of the Kern trip packet.

Schedule and Rates: Starts at $749.

Reservations: Please call us for reservations, 1-760-376-3370.

The Forks of the Kern originates near Mt. Whitney in the Golden Trout Wilderness. It is much more strenuous than other river trips and guests should be in good shape. We require that all guests have good stamina and take an evaluation swim. The canyon is steep and remote. We utilize horses and mules to carry our rafts to the river. Guides and guests hike the 2.5 miles to put-in carrying their own gear.

“The serious heart in throat moments come mid-run at the back-to-back Class V Vortex/Gauntlet doubleheader: a ten-foot slide followed by unscoutable drops that roll on for a seeming eternity.”
Outside Magazine

Kern River Outfitters has established the standard in running this incredible Class V river. Our Forks of the Kern trips have been featured in numerous publications, including Outside Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, and National Geographic Traveler.

“These 22 miles of nonstop Class IV and V rapids make the Forks of the Kern, only 150 miles from Los Angeles, one of the country’s premier whitewater runs. But it’s also a brilliant escape. After the 2.5-mile hike in, there are no other people, no roads, no Starbucks, and no distractions from the beauty of the remote granite canyon.”
National Geographic recommends Kern River Outfitters.

Trips are limited to 15 guests. A full trip typically has two paddle rafts and four oar/paddle set-ups. Although most of our trips are 3 days long, charter groups of eight or more can arrange two-day trips. Our trip fares includes the use of wetsuits, paddling jackets and waterproof bags for personal gear. Most of our Forks guests spend the evening before their trip in the Kern Valley at one of the many motels in the area. Our office will be happy to assist with your pre and/or post trip lodging plans.


One aspect that makes the Forks so special, is it begins at the Golden Trout Wilderness. This area, designated by Congress in 1978, puts in place important restrictions to keep this 303,000 acre area pristine. Our small group sizes, and few launches ensure that each trip has a genuine sense of solitude, and seclusion.

Three-day trips are the favorite of guests and guides alike. The Forks of the Kern has some of the world’s most famous whitewater – but the trip is more than just rapids. The canyon that we travel through offers beautiful side-hikes to towering waterfalls, amazing views of the “Needles”, and spectacular camping spots along the bank of the river. If you have the time, the three-day trip is certainly the best way to experience the Forks of the Kern. Although most of our trips are 3 days long, charter groups consisting of eight or more can arrange two-day trips.

“…Forks trips are particularly adventurous as we have to hike into the put-in and there are a number of Class V rapids along the run. The guides scout the difficult rapids and prep the guests thoroughly before running them. The feeling of anticipation and excitement at the top of these rapids and then the amazing feeling of satisfaction after a right side up run is the best!”

TripAdvisor review

Please call before making reservations, due to the nature of the trip, all guests are phone screened prior to bookings being accepted.

In the Background: The day before your trip

The guides, excluding the trip leader, load all the equipment into the rig and meet the packers at the trailhead to the river. Boats are carefully loaded onto the mules, as well as coolers, and other gear.

mules forks of the kern

Mules carry the coolers, rafts and other equipment down to the river.

Guides hike their personal bags, throw bags, oars and other loose ends down the trail.

Guide with oars, forks of the kern

The day before your trip, guides pack the equipment into the canyon.

After the 3-mile hike, they’re at the island – the confluence of Little Kern and the main Kern. This is the trips launching point. They help the packers unload the mules, and begin rigging the trip.

Meanwhile, back in Kernville, CA

Guests arrive in Kernville, and check into their hotel room. At 8:30PM they meet their Trip Leader and they go over the Pre-Trip Meeting. Waterproof bags are handed out and the guests pack their personal trip items into this bag, which they will later hike down to the river.

Day 1: First day of the trip

Guests meet at the Kern River Outfitters Rafting Center at 8:00AM, where the Trip Leader hands out additional equipment such as a wetsuit and lifejacket to the guests. They board a bus, and drive to the Kern River, where the Trip Leader reviews safety issues relevant to running a river as challenging as the Forks, and they evaluate the ability of guests in dealing with these situations. This evaluation is our Swim and Run test. After completing the evaluation, we board the bus and drive to the Forks of the Kern trailhead. At the trailhead, we hike 3 miles down to The Island and meet the rest of the guides. Boats are rigged and ready to go. The Trip Leader gives a Safety Talk, and the guides each give their own Paddling Talk.

Trip Launches

We warm up with Walking Tall Rapid and other class III+/IV whitewater. The first real test is Upper and Lower Freeman Creek rapids: Both challenging class-Vs. After, we run more class III/IV whitewater and then break for lunch. Later that day, with time permitting, we pause at a side hike to explore a creek canyon.

Peppermint Falls Forks of the Kern

Peppermint Falls on the Forks of the Kern

After the break we hit more class IV and V rapids, and then we stop for our first nights camp. Guides set up camp and kitchen while guests put together their own camp set ups. Delicious and hearty appetizers and dinner are served before hitting the sleeping bag under the stars.

view camp forks of the Kern

View Camp is appropriately named for the towering granite rocks in the background

Day 2: Deep in the canyon

With breakfast served, and camp broken down, we load into the rafts and push off earlier than yesterday to tackle the whitewater. Today there is a slew of big rapids: Big Bean, Bridgework, Vortex, The Gauntlet, The Maze, Four Mile, Rincon, Metamorphis, Basalt, are all demanding class IV+, V and V+ rapids.

A paddleboat hitting the line at Big Bean rapid.

A paddleboat hitting the line at Big Bean rapid.

Lunch is served in-between the action, and moments of solitude in the secluded river canyon break up the day. With the second day of rafting behind us, setting up camp doesn’t take long, and once again, terrific appetizers and dinner is served by the guides.

Day 3: Final day, and Carson Falls

Feeling invigorated after a restful sleep and delicious breakfast, we climb into the rafts for the final day of the trip. The canyon is spectacular down here, and you realize that outside of your rafting group, you’ve only seen maybe a handful of other rafters or kayakers in the last two days.

confusion rapid forks of the kern

Confusion Rapid

Additional class III, IV and V whitewater is paused with a stop for lunch. Towards the end of the day, the Forks of the Kern ends with a dramatic exit at Carson Falls: A Class-V drop that is closer to a waterfall than a rapid.

carson falls forks of the kern

This crew is dialed in and is in perfect sync as they line up for the drop at Carson Falls

A few miles downstream, you pass Johnsondale Bridge, marking the end of the Forks and the beginning of the Upper Kern section. A handful of class III and IV rapids lead you to takeout.

What kind of shape do I need to be in to be considered for this trip?

You need to be in good shape. Prior to the trip, the guides will conduct a run and swim test to evaluate the ability of our guests to deal with conditions we might encounter. Guests will be asked to take our “Class V Paddler’s Evaluation”. This test will include basic swimming and safety exercises with a focus on stamina.

What’s the minimum age for this trip?

The minimum age is 16 years old.

Do you have lodging or camping recommendations for before or after our trip?

Yes, we have PDFs for both lodging and camping. Click here to download our Lodging Guide. Click here to download our Camping Guide.

Can I bring a GoPro or other camera on this trip?

Yes! Take a look at our blogpost with some camera tips.

What is your cancellation policy?

If you must cancel your reservation, you may be eligible for a partial refund. Our cancellation policy is firm. We operate under stringent federal regulations which restrict the number of guests per trip and the number of trips per season. We incur substantial expenses before each trip departs. In the event of late cancellations, Kern River Outfitters cannot recover costs, nor can we make refunds. Written cancellation notice received more than 30 days prior to departure will result in a refund of trip fees less $250 per person. Cancellations within 30 days of a trip are nonrefundable. If you must cancel at the last minute, and do not have trip insurance, try to find a friend to take your place.

Who do you recommend for trip insurance?

We recommend you supplement personal insurance with travel insurance. Cancellation initiated by you may result in substantial loss of fees paid. Available insurance protects against the loss of deposits/full fare in the event you must cancel because of unforeseen circumstances. If you don’t have a preferred travel insurance company, some options are BHTP and Travel Guard.

Below is a summary map of the Forks of the Kern. All trips begin at The Island and takeout at Willow Point.