Last year, due to the pandemic, Kern River permits were not issued and therefore were not required. This included sections such as the Forks of the Kern which is a lottery-based permit system (however, walk-ins are far more common).
The Forest Service recently announced that this will continue for the 2021 rafting season and permits will not be issued nor required. What has changed for the Forks, however, is that the trails and roads to it are currently closed due to the SQF Complex fire that burned through the area from August through December and they do not have a re-opening date as of 3/4/21.
Please note that Lake Isabella boat permits have been and still are required and that this is being enforced.
Lower Kern: No permit required for 2021.
Upper Kern: No permit required for 2021.
Forks of the Kern: No permit required for 2021. But access is currently closed.
Lake Isabella: Lake permit required for 2021.