Common Questions & Helpful Tips


On this page you’ll find answers to the most frequent questions we get from folks about our Kern River rafting trips. Our office staff will be happy to answer any others you might have.

When is the best time of the year to take a Kern River rafting trip?

The best time to book your trip depends on the stretch of river you’re interested in. Most years, the Kern River flows from late April through September. The Lower Kern, our most popular trip, usually runs from mid-May through August. The Forks of the Kern, the Upper Kern River, and the Thunder Run stretches are early to mid season trips dependent on the spring snow melt. The best time to run these stretches of river are from late April until mid July.

What’s the difference in the stretches of the Kern you run?

The Kern River offers over 60 miles of runnable water. It is divided into three stretches:

1. The Lower Kern River is our premier two-day Class III-IV trip that offers something for everyone. Originating from Lake Isabella reservoir, this 20 mile stretch of river has some of the most enviable qualities of any river in the country, warm water and plenty of great whitewater to boot. Halfway through the trip, we stop and spend the evening at our private campsite where you’re lavished with sumptuous meals, thick sleeping pads, redwood sleeping decks, and an outdoor experience that you’ll remember for a lifetime. The Lower Kern is perfect for a family outing and is enjoyed by experienced as well as novice rafters. The Lower Kern is primarily a two day trip, but for those looking for a shorter trip, several one day offerings are available. This stretch is Southern California’s most popular overnight rafting trip.

2. The Upper Kern one day trip offers 20 miles of Class Three/ Four whitewater to choose from and is our primary early season trip offering. The Thunder Run is a one day Class Five trip that runs through a section of the Upper Kern with a steeper gradient and a higher class of rapids than the rest of the Upper. It offers those looking for a bigger challenge the opportunity to test their skills on one of the wilder sections of the river. The Thunder Run, like the Forks of the Kern, is for experienced rafters that are fit and ready for adventure.

3. The Forks of the Kern is a two or three-day, 20 mile stretch of Class IV and V whitewater that runs through one of the most beautiful canyons in the country. This trip is usually not for first time rafters, but offers an unparalleled opportunity to experience one of the most remote and exhilarating rafting trips anywhere.

How old do I need to be to go rafting?

The minimum age on our Kernville Rapid Run is 5. The minimum age on our Lower Kern and Upper Kern trips is 12. Class Five trips on the Forks of the Kern and the Thunder Run require a minimum age of 14.

How do I make a reservation?

Bookings can be made online here, or you can give our office a call at 1-760-376-3370.  A good thing to keep in mind is the earlier you can make your reservation or inquiry, the greater the likelihood the time frame you’re looking at will be available. We are limited in the number of guests we can accommodate, and trips often fill quickly. You can also request a reservation or ask for more information by submitting our Reservation Form.

What is your payment and cancellation policy?

Full payment is due at the time of your reservation.

Our cancellation policy is one of the most liberal in the industry, however 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 and, in the event of late cancellations cannot recover costs, nor can we make refunds. If you must cancel at the last minute, try to find a friend to take your place. Written cancellation notice received by our office more than 30 days prior to the trip will result in a refund in fees paid less $50 for our one day trips. For two day trips, a refund in fees paid less than $100. There are no refunds for cancellations made within 30 days of your trip launch.

How is the weather in the Kern River Valley?

The Kern River is tucked away in the Southern Sierra and blessed with ideal weather for rafting. Early season trips (late April through May) can sometimes present cooler days, but the majority of the season offers temperatures from the low 80’s to the mid 90’s.

Are there mosquitoes or other bugs that bite?

During big water years, when there is an overflow of water, you might experience an occasional mosquito but, for the most part, biting insects are not a problem on the river. One exception is the yellow jacket which can occasionally be a nuisance on late season Lower Kern trips.

What’s the difference between an oar boat and a paddle boat?

An oar boat is maneuvered by a guide sitting in the center of the raft and wielding a set of oars. These boats are primarily used as gear and safety boats, but occasionally they accommodate a couple of paddlers in the front compartment. A paddleboat is a raft navigated by 4 to 7 paddlers and a guide. This is the most common configuration we use on the river. A “hind end frame” is an oar frame strapped to the rear of paddle boat. This hybrid raft is sometimes used during high water conditions and allows the highest degree of steering coupled with the acceleration of a paddle crew.

How many people fit in a raft?

Most of the time rafts have 5-7 paddlers and a guide.

How many folks can we book on a trip?

Upper Kern trips have a limit of 25 guests. On occasion, when taking certain groups, we are allowed to raise the limit to 30. Thunder Run trips are limited to 25 guests. Forks of the Kern trips are limited to 15 guests. Lower Kern rafting trips are limited to 30 guests.

Are there discounts for groups?

Yes, we offer discounts for groups. Our discount information can be found here.

Who are your guides?

Our guides are a fantastic group of outdoor professionals that have a passion for the Kern River and love sharing the experience of a whitewater trip with our guests. Some of them have moved on to other professions but still continue to guide part time. Among our ranks are doctors, lawyers, engineers, business owners, teachers, musicians, and students. Our guides are expertly trained boaters and hold certifications in First Aid and swiftwater rescue. Many have advanced Wilderness First Aid and swiftwater training. All of them are helpful, pleasant, knowledgeable and are a joy to spend time with.

What kind of gear will I need to bring?

A list of recommended gear specific to your trip is outlined in trip notes provided to you when you make your reservation.

Can you accommodate special needs?

We are happy to accommodate our guests’ special dietary needs and are able to take medication that needs to be refrigerated. There is an area on your Participation Agreement where you may list any special needs. This information will be relayed to your Trip Manager and arrangements will be made to accommodate your requests.

Should I purchase trip insurance?

It is not a bad idea to purchase trip insurance when you make your reservation. Although cancellations are rare, our cancellation policy is firm and trip insurance may protect you from a loss of fees paid in the event of an unexpected cancellation. Trip insurance information is available from our office.

Should I bring valuables on the trip?

We suggest that you leave your valuables at home when rafting with us. Expensive jewelry, watches, and cameras that are not waterproof add little to your trip experience and can cause heartache if they are lost or damaged.

What kind of rafts do you use?

We pride ourselves in running only top of the line rafts and equipment. Our rafts are constructed from a high quality hypalon composite that offer a durability and comfort that is unmatched in the industry.

Can I bring a musical instrument?

You might want to leave your baby grand at home, but a guitar or harmonica might be a nice choice for an overnight trip on the Lower Kern. The Forks of the Kern poses a little more complicated logistics however, and anything larger than a harmonica might be best left at home.

What about gratuities?

Guests often inquire whether it is acceptable to leave a gratuity for their guide at the conclusion of their trip. If you felt your guide was exceptional, you should feel free to give him or her a token of your appreciation. A typical gratuity is between 10% and 15% of the trip fare, but guides are appreciative of any gesture. In the spirit of teamwork, our guides typically pool their gratuities at the conclusion of the trip.

If I arrive a day or two early, are there good camping sites nearby?

The area has plenty of campgrounds along the Upper Kern as well as the lake. For information on campgrounds along the banks of the Upper take a look at: For information on campsites around the lake: Note: Tillie Creek Campground is only about 1/2 mile from our Rafting Center. Kern camping PDF is provides additional camping information.

What about lodging?

In addition to a host of camping options, the Kern Valley offers many motels. Our Lodging PDF is a printable list of places to stay in the area.

How long is the drive time to the Kern River from southern California?

You can reach the Kern River in about 3 1/2 hours from Los Angeles, 5 hours from San Diego, 6 hours from the Bay Area, and 5 1/2 hours from Las Vegas.

Are there airports nearby?

Meadows Field in Bakersfield is about an hour from our Rafting Center and has just opened a new terminal. America West Express, Continental, Delta, and United Express service this airport and offer nonstop flights to and from many parts of the country. If you happen to be a private pilot, the Kern Valley Airport is only minutes away from our headquarters. We’d be happy to arrange a shuttle for you upon your arrival.

Are there other fun things that we can do in conjunction with a rafting trip with Kern River Outfitters?

Although nothing beats a whitewater trip on the Kern, many of our guests have inquired how they can extend their visit with another outing in the Valley. We’ve compiled a list of area attractions to help you out. These range from fun family outings to a round of golf at the Kern Valley Golf Course. Our local office staff has all the inside information as well. Feel free to give them a call if you’d like more suggestions or ideas.

Taking a Kern River trip with your family is a lot of fun and, for many, the best part of summer. Our minimum age on the Lower and Upper Kern is 9, although, early in the season, when we have high water conditions, it is 12.

The trip families enjoy the most is our overnight run on the Lower Kern. Marketing folks tell us that most family vacation plans are made by Moms. With that in mind, below are questions Moms most often ask us. Give us a call if you have any others.

What are the age requirements?

Our minimum age on the Lower and Upper Kern is 12

What about lifevests and safety?

We use lifevests that are especially designed for whitewater rafting. Everyone, including our staff, must wear their vests while on the river. They are snug, clean and comfortable.

Safety encompasses other aspects of our trips as well. Whether it is food handling, walking near the river, cooking, or just spending time at camp, safety will always be our first priority.

What are the meals like?

All meals are fresh and hearty and the guides will prepare them for you. Lunches are deli style and feature a variety of meats cheeses, fruit and vegetables for snacking. Dinner is a camp BBQ with steak, chicken, pasta and a big, fresh salad. Our mouth watering desserts are famous for being the best on the Kern River. With advance notice we can accommodate special diet requests.

What is the camp like?

Our campsite is right along the river in a magnificent, canyon setting. For guests use, we have comfortable sleeping platforms with pads set up around the site. Although remote, the camp is accessible by a dirt road and we bring your personal gear in by truck. The camp is set-up with transportable toilets with hand wash facilities nearby.

Do your guides often work with kids?

Many of our guides are teachers, naturalists or studying education. Part of our training program focuses on making our trips a special experience for kids and our staff enjoys having youngsters along. The most important element to a family trip is sharing an exciting, memorable experience together.

Our office staff will be happy to direct you to a date where other families have signed up. We’re looking forward to having you join us.

What other rivers are family favorites?

The Rogue River in Southern Oregon is a terrific four-day trip suitable for families with youngsters. Another great choice would be Idaho’s Salmon River.