Forks of the Kern 2017-12-27T21:34:51+00:00

Forks of the Kern

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, so please call or email to inquire about dates.

Dropping in on Carson Falls, Forks of the Kern
Carson Falls paddle boat, Forks of the Kern

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.

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 3 miles to put-in carrying their own gear.

Trips are limited to 15 guests. A full trip typically has two paddle rafts and four oar/paddle set-ups. 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.

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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 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.
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

Guests meet at the Kern River Outfitters Rafting Center at 7:00AM, 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.


After the break we hit more class IV and V rapids, and then we stop for our 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.

Day Two

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: Vortex, The Gauntlet, The Maze, Four Mile, Rincon, Metamorphis, Basalt, are all demanding class IV+, V and V+ rapids.


Lunch is served in-between the action, and moments of solitude in the secluded river canyon break up the day. 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.


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.


Do you offer group discounts?
No. We do not offer discounts on our Forks of the Kern trips.

How many people are in each raft?
Depending on group size and which boats we use, we fit between 2 and 6 guests in each raft. As often as we can, we try to keep groups together in the same boat too.

Can you accommodate dietary requests?
Yes. With adequate advance notice, we can accommodate special diet requests.

How far in advance should I make my reservation?
Our trips are limited in size, and we have very few launches per year. Because of this, we highly encourage you to make reservations early.

What’s the minimum age for this trip?
At normal water flows, the minimum age is 16 years old.

Can I bring a GoPro or other camera on this trip?
Yes, absolutely.

What is your cancellation policy?
Our cancellation and refund policy can be found here.

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.