For over four decades, our company has always recommended going on a rafting trip when asked what to do in Kernville. It was a genuine answer – the Kern River’s whitewater can be thrilling, refreshing, and showcases the area’s beauty. Admittedly, we had an incentive to suggest it as we are a rafting company based on the Kern River. However, we are changing our tune. Not because the whitewater experience has declined or that the Kern River is no longer worth visiting. It’s because Kernville has a more precious resource that may not be available next time you visit – the Giant Sequoia trees.
Giant Sequoias are the largest trees on earth. It’s challenging to put into words what it’s like to see one – they’re simply enormous. As you gaze up at the tree, you’ll soon realize you’re having trouble seeing its top. As you get closer, you’ll notice it’s not just tall; it’s wide – wider than your outstretched arms, wider than your car, wider than any tree you’ve ever seen.
Sadly, there aren’t many Giant Sequoias, and we are losing them to wildfires. In the past two years alone, an estimated 20% of our entire Giant Sequoia population has perished, despite the fire agencies’ heroic efforts. Last year, they saved the Trail of 100 Giants, but it was a close call.
The 2020 Sequoia Complex fire destroyed my favorite Giant Sequoia tree. It was a tradition for every Kern rafting company and many private boaters to stop at this tree on the way to the Forks of the Kern. We would touch it, look up, and if there were enough people, we would hold hands and try to make a ring around it. It wasn’t an organized tradition, just something we did – similar to seeing the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time. You pull over, stare at it for a while, then move on. Almost nine months after the fire, Sequoia National Forest did a site tour with the public, and I joined. We stopped at this tree. I didn’t expect to feel anything, but I did. The multi-thousand-year-old tree was dead, completely toasted. It was a terrible sight.
So, if you only have 24 hours in Kernville, what should you do? Visit the Giant Sequoias. Go see the Trail of 100 Giants. These trees are incredible, and while we hope they’ll be around for a long time, it’s not worth the risk of waiting. Visit them first, and if you have some time left over, then go rafting.