Lower Kern

Download the #1 app for rafting the Kern River

Southern California, USA

Kern River Rafting Guide

When the weather warms up the water knob gets turned and the Lower Kern begins to flow. In regular years the season is from May through August. Isabella Lake is relatively shallow, which means that by the time outflow is underway, the water temperature is comfortable and not frigid. Top to bottom this river section is straight forward class II through IV, with one portage around a Class VI, the Royal Flush.

This guide was written by Kern River Outfitters. Kern River Outfitters runs half, full, and two-day trips on the Upper, Lower, and Forks of the Kern. They have more five star reviews than any other rafting company in California. Learn more about them here.

River Info

The Jungle Run is a challenging class II and III run that uses one of the higher upstream put-ins, such as Slippery Rock or Granite, and takes out at Miracle. It is generally done as a half day.

The Miracle Run is the most popular section as it encompasses all of the Class IV whitewater and is of decent length, ending at the final take out at Democrat. It is generally run as a full day.

Finally, the Big Five is a fast trip starting at Delonegha Bridge and taking out at Democrat, with five Class IV rapids. As an added bonus, it starts below the Royal Flush, eliminating a portage. It is generally done in a couple hours.


The Lower Kern is an intermediate to advanced river run. While there are sections that are mellow Class II and III, take into account numerous other challenges such as strainers, and sieves. As a private boater, make sure you join a party that has recent Lower Kern experience.


A Kern River Use Permit is required year round for each craft (kayak, raft, etc). These are free of charge. Learn more here.

Royal Flush

Royal Flush is a Class VI rapid located at mile 12.73. The portage is on river right. There is a small sign alerting you to the portage just upriver of it on the right bank. The portage is fairly easy and doesn’t take much time at all.

Rafting the Lower Kern? Our Kern River guide has you covered: 214 Waypoints | Live, Offline Location | 100 Photos

$9.99 – Powered by FarOut

4.8★★★★★ 23K+ Reviews

Jungle Run – Class II and III

The Jungle Run is a Class II and III run from the higher put-ins such as Slippery Rock or Granite and winds its way through the canyon to either Sandy Flat or Miracle as the takeout.

Mile 0.05 – Slippery Rock Island:

Mile 0.05 – Slippery Rock Island: The river splits around an island immediately below the put-in. Stay to the left.

Mile 0.06 – Above Keyesville Rapid:

Mile 0.06 – Above Keyesville Rapid: Class II. The river pushes into trees on the right side and it can be hard to see where to go here. Stay left and the channel will become more apparent as you approach.

Mile 0.07 – Keyesville Campground:

Mile 0.07 – Keyesville Campground: BLM dispersed camping flanks river left and river right here for the next mile or so.

Mile 0.08 – Keyesville S-Turn:

Mile 0.08 – Keyesville S-Turn: Class II. There is an S-turn that develops here. If you’re not paying attention, you may get pushed into the bank on the right side. Stay left-of-center and all will be well.

Mile 0.60 – BLM Put-In “A”:

Mile 0.60 – BLM Put-In “A”: River Left. Put- in A is a developed put-in on BLM land with a bathroom and a turn around large enough for a bus pulling a trailer. This put-in a good option for busy weekends when Slippery Rock is full. To find the put-in take Grey Pines Cuttoff Road from the 155 just downstream of the bridge where the 155 crosses the Lower Kern River. Follow this dirt road downstream along the river past a series of BLM campsites. The road is paved beginning at about 100 yards before the put-in. Keep in mind, you do not want to use this put-in if flows are below 600 CFS.

Mile 1.47 – Wallow Rock:

Mile 1.47 – Wallow Rock: Class III. At flows above 2,000 CFS, this rapid is pretty insignificant. Below 2,000 there is a huge boulder in the middle of the river with a small channel on either side. There are a couple of guard rocks on both sides that require a precise move to navigate through. Be careful as the middle boulder has been known to flip 14’ paddleboats.

Mile 1.69 – Wasco’s Wash:

Mile 1.69 – Wasco’s Wash: Class III. This is a non-rapid above 1,000 CFS. Below a grand, and you’ll want to pay attention here. Stay to the left of the rock pile and avoid the wall bottom left. It’s possible to flip at both spots.

Mile 2.29 – Tubatulabal Indian Pictographs:

Mile 2.29 – Tubatulabal Indian Pictographs: River Right. Look river right for a glimpse of these pictographs as you float by. The Tubatulabal were the first people to inhabit the Kern and South Fork drainage. To find out more about the first people of the area visit the Nunni Cunni American Intertribal Cultural Center located on Lake Isabella.

Mile 3.60 – Private Property:

River Left. A private beach with a home and barbeque area is located here.

Mile 4.28 – Highway 178 Bridge Crossing:

From Slippery Rock put-in, this is the second bridge crossing of Highway 178. No good access is here but you could scramble to the highway if you need to exit the canyon. The next two miles are Class II and III boogie water.

Mile 5.38 – Suck Nozzle:

Class II. At lower flows, Suck Nozzle becomes more pronounced. Watch for the center boulder forcing the water to go far left against the shore or far right. Take the left option. If you take the right slot your tube may get “suck nozzled”.

Mile 6.27 – Black Gulch Day Use:

River Left. A sandy beach located river left that is open for day use. Accessible by dirt road from Highway 178.

Mile 6.73 – Black Gulch Surf Wave: 

Mile 6.73 – Black Gulch Surf Wave: River Right. On the right-hand side of the river is a small wave that forms at low-medium flows. It isn’t the craziest surf wave, but it can be fun to hit on small crafts.

Mile 6.78 – Highway 178 Bridge.

Just upstream of the Borel Powerhouse, Highway 178 once again passes over the Kern River. There are some fun splashy waves here if you run down the center. Watch for trees on the bottom right.

Mile 7.18 – Sandy Flat Put-In / Take Out:

Mile 7.18 – Sandy Flat Put-In / Take Out: River Left. This access point can occasionally get crowded with people swimming in this popular eddy.

Mile 7.18 – Hobo Fishing Trail:

Mile 7.18 – Hobo Fishing Trail: River Left. The Hobo Fishing Trail is a short path that connects Sandy Flat to Hobo Campground, just downstream. For most of the way, it’s very close to river level.

Mile 7.45 – Jump Rock:

Mile 7.45 – Jump Rock: River Left. Towards the end of this long pool, look river left for a pile of granite boulders. Park your rafts just past these. This jump rock has slower moving current at lower flows.

Miracle Run – Class II, III & IV. Portage Required.

Miracle is the most popular private trip on the Lower Kern as it tackles all the Class IV whitewater available and can be done in a single day. A portage is required at The Royal Flush. Keep in mind that technically this run is all the way to Democrat, however there is an option to takeout upstream at Delonegha Bridge, which is the Big Five Put-In.

Mile 8.45 – KRT Rapid:

Mile 8.45 – KRT Rapid: Class III. The river bends to the left, with numerous small, splashy waves. Enter right-of-center and work left to avoid a large wave/hole that becomes massive as the water comes up.

Mile 8.75 – KRT Loop Wave:

Mile 8.75 – KRT Loop Wave: This surf wave is open from 1,150 – 1750 CFS.

Mile 10.9 – Silver Surfer (Raft Surf Wave):

At low to medium flows a surf wave opens up on river right at the end of Silver Staircase rapid. Look for a slight pour over river right as the canyon constricts slightly. Paddle through the drop, catch the eddy on river right and from there it’s not much work to get into the pour over. The ideal flow for this surf wave is 1,000 CFS. Below this, it becomes more mellow, and eventually not retentive. Above this, there is an increasing chance of flipping or swimming.

Mile 11.85 – Turkey Hole:

Mile 11.85 – Turkey Hole: Class II. Above 3,000 CFS, there is a hydraulic in the middle / right of center of the river that makes for a steep (flippy) surf hole. Easily avoided on river left. Below 3,000 CFS it begins to mellow out and eventually the rock creating the hydraulic emerges.

Mile 14.84 – Delonegha Rapid:

Mile 14.84 – Delonegha Rapid: Class III. Read and run rapid with fun punchable holes and a gentle right hand turn.

Big Five – Class II, III & IV

The Big Five is the final portion of the Miracle Run. Many boaters that are looking to catch an afternoon lap prefer to put-in here and run the Class IV below as there is no portage required and it is a relatively fast trip.

Mile 15.76 – Surprise Rapid Surf Wave:

Mile 15.76 – Surprise Rapid Surf Wave: At lower flows, ~1,000 CFS, there is a surf wave in the Surprise Rapid wave train. Exit the rapid river left and use the large eddy to get into position to catch it. Enjoy.

Mile 18.20 – Turtle Pond:

This is a calm pool of water that is approximately a third of a mile long. If the water is below 2,500 CFS, Turtle Pond is a good place to have a final swim before Pinball Rapid and takeout.

Mile 18.36 – Private Property:

River Left. There is an abandoned building here and various sheds. The road connects with the China Garden pullout at the top of the canyon. As you float by, look river right and you’ll see a grove of eucalyptus trees, which aren’t found anywhere else on the Lower Kern.

Mile 18.93 – Pinball Island:

Mile 18.93 – Pinball Island: There is a small island immediately below Pinball Rapid. At all flows, the left side is open. At higher flows, the right side becomes accessible as well.

Mile 19.05 – Democrat Island:

Mile 19.05 – Democrat Island: Go left of the island or you may miss takeout. This is a different island than the one that is at the bottom of Pinball Rapid.