Updated for 2023!
When the water is low and the sun is out, tubing down the Lickety Split section of the Kern River is a highlight and for many, a rite of passage. Not to be confused with a lazy river float, Kern River tubing is a full-on adventure, as you’ll tackle a handful of rapids as you make your way down the 1.73 mile run. There are important considerations to pay attention to though, and this post will go into those items to help ensure you have a memorable and safe experience.
While we don’t offer tube rentals, you can buy a tube online using Amazon. This is a popular and affordable option.
I originally made this post in 2020. Over time we have collected quite a few comments on it, which, unfortunately, aren’t timestamped so please keep in mind that comments and my response are likely referring to previous seasons, in which we’ve seen drastically different river levels. Today, as I write this in February 2023 we are currently looking at a large snowpack. This means that the Kern river tubing season likely won’t be at the correct flows until late in the summer, probably the end of August in fact. So keep that in mind as you look at the river gauges and start planning your Kern trip.
Wear a life jacket
Whether you call it a PFD or a life jacket, it is critically important that you wear one while tubing on the Kern River. Even though wearing a life jacket while tubing might seem like overkill, keep in mind that a tube can easily deflate, or if you accidentally flip over, separate from you entirely. A PFD on the other hand, won’t pop, can’t separate from you, and is Coast Guard approved.
The vast majority of serious river incidents involve someone not wearing a life jacket. Just wear one and don’t become a statistic.
Only go during low water
Kern River tubing is a low water activity. You shouldn’t go during medium or high river flows. The rule of thumb for the Lickety Split section of the Kern River is when the water is between 200 – 500 CFS. Nothing higher. Below 200 CFS it can still be fun, but be prepared to get stuck quite a bit. Below is a river gauge showing you the flow.
Where to go
Lickety Split section – shuttling required
The tried and true Kern River tubing run is the Lickety Split section of the Upper Kern river. At any water flow, you should avoid the Lower Kern. It’s just not set up well for a tubing run and the numerous trees present a real strainer hazard. Sections besides the Lickety Split of the Upper Kern should be avoided as well. The best part of the Lickety is it’s easy to arrange a shuttle and there are usually many others out there with you.
Click here for a Google Map of the Lickety Split shuttle.
Riverside Park – no shuttling required
If you don’t want to deal with a shuttle, or want a more leisurely tubing experience, then an option is to go to Riverside Park in Kernville and simply walk up to the bridge, float down and then finish at the bottom of this Class II rapid. Want to ride again? Simply walk up the path and hop in. Obviously, this is a much shorter ride of just a minute or two, but this can be a good option if you don’t want to commit to a long Lickety Split tubing run, or if you don’t want to set your own shuttle.
Click here for the Google Map of Riverside Park.
Which tubes to buy
You can buy tubes for less than a tube rental offered by local companies. The ones below are very popular.
- Kern River tubing is not a solo activity. Always take a buddy with you (or more.) Safety in numbers is a real thing and should be followed here.
- Alcohol and rivers don’t mix. Don’t drink alcohol before or while tubing.
- It can’t be said enough: Wear a life jacket. It could save your life.
- Use a decent tube. Leave the old leaky tube at home. We’ve had good luck with these tubes here.
- Download the Kern River guidebook onto your phone. This will show you where the rapids are on the Lickety Split section of the Kern.
What is the minimum CFS you would recommend to float Lickety near the end of the season?? We usually have a great time at 450-500 but have not done anything below that level.
Hi Mark, good question. I spoke to our guides and they believe 200 CFS to be the basement flow. I somewhat disagree with them as I had fun recently at flows below that, but I was getting stuck quite a bit.
Thank you for the response Matt. I was thinking about 200 as well and you confirmed for me. We will still go this weekend and I expect flows may drop to about 140 by then. ☹️🥺
Just what I wanted to know.
Hi, can you paddle all the way down to Isabella Lake?
You could paddle it on a kayak or raft, but I wouldn’t want to tube it. It’s too far and flat. Whenever I paddle that far I usually end up taking out at the cemetery. Here is a link that will get you directions there: https://gorafting.com/united-states/california/upper-kern/#lickety
Keep in mind if you enter the lake then you are required to have a lake permit.
Hi, we are staying at camp James his weekend, Is there a shuttle to take us to a good spot to have a tubing adventure?
Hi Michele, unfortunately, the main tubing company went out of business. From Camp James, you can tube right from there to the park. The only item you would need to arrange is your own shuttle.
What is the general summer period to tube up here? When is the earliest you’d recommend coming specifically to tube?
We were thinking of visiting on a trip in late May but would the CFS be too high from the snow melt at that point?
Hi Matt, Good questions. It’s currently too early to make any guesses on water flow. It might be high, medium or low during that time. Based on median flow information, I would bet the water would be too high and cold then. Regarding the summer period, the Kern gets busy starting around Memorial weekend, with weekends seeing more tourism than weekdays. This is typically through August.
Hi I’m planning to go out tomorrow to camp at Sandy flats I would like to do some tubing perhaps down to the Remington Hot Springs.. Can definitely some pointers as I want to stay as safe as possible I will have a buddy with me bringing Intertubes from home . Thank you
Hi Natalie, thank you for writing. I would re-consider tubing that section as I never recommend tubing anywhere on the Lower Kern. The section you’re asking about has multiple tree hazards and significant rapids – many of which are challenging even in large 12 foot rafts. I would only tube the Lickety Split section of the Upper Kern.
Hello! Thanks for all this useful information. I have been trying to figure out where to staty our float, now I know.
We are camping this weekend and hoping the water is flowing well enough (and deep enough) to float and not hit the rocks on the way down. Last year we weren’t able to float because it was so low. Will keep an eye on the flow rates once we get there.
We have the rafts you suggested, super happy about that.
Hi Janette, happy to hear you found this post helpful and I hope you had a fun and safe weekend up here.
I have a group campjng at Headquarters mid August. Considering lickety split if the water levels are appropriate. Also, do you know if it’s possible to go north of Headquarters campground and float back to the campsite?
Thanks in advance.
Hi Mike, sorry for my delay in getting back to you, I didn’t see your comment come through. Water flows will be too low at Headquarters to float at by mid-August as well as for the Lickety Split section. Your best bet is to just loop the Riverside Park rapid, located at Riverside Park in Kernville. The exception to this is if there is a monsoon storm, that will bring the water flows up enough for the Lickety Split, which is what we just experienced. The odds of that are low though.
Great information! Thanks
Since we’ve had record rainfall (and snow) this winter 22/23 do you think early June will be too high and fast to do a tube float on the Kern (specifically through Big Daddy etc). Thanks!
Howdy, yes early June this year will be too high for tubing. In fact, I don’t think we’ll have safe tubing levels until sometime in August this year.