Sign Up for Our Daily Newsletter
We called ourselves the river rats. Spread across two campsites at Fairview Campground along California’s Upper Kern River, we ran wild, with dirty feet, tangled hair, sandy skin and sunburned scalps. The hot summer sun and brisk water had taken us captive: We belonged to the river now.
Inner tubes in hand, we descended the small hill from our campsite directly to the river, grabbing large branches along the way to use as walking sticks and paddles. We entered the river carefully, then were swept gently downstream by the current. We spun and jostled through mild rapids, sometimes getting stuck on rocks or caught in eddies, until we were spit out into calm water under a wooden bridge, where we lazed on rocks in the sun to gather our strength. Then: Rinse, and repeat.
The Kern River, fed by snowmelt from Mount Whitney, runs 165 miles down through Sequoia National Park and the Sequoia National Forest — it’s the only major river in the Sierra Nevada mountain range that drains in a southerly direction. Because of its swift flow at a low elevation, the Kern is a hot spot for rafting, kayaking, boating and more; during summer, the water level is usually lower and the river more calm — perfect conditions for tubing.
Fairview Campground, a little under 200 miles from Los Angeles and 13 miles north of Kernville, Calif., is a prime spot for vacationers and locals alike. With 48 sites (about $28 per night), picnic areas, vault toilets and drinking water, it offers the basics that car campers need; plus, it has multiple campsites with direct river access. It’s also a good base for day trips to trails and sites within Sequoia National Park; the Trail of 100 Giants; and nearby hiking and mountain biking trails.
But true river rats come for the tubing, which we did with unadulterated fervor, as if to demonstrate to the river gods our faithful devotion.
Know Before You Go: Well-known for its strong currents, the river is often called the “Killer Kern.” Since 1968, nearly 300 people have died on the river. In fact, because of the drought in California, last year was one of the deadliest in Kern River history, with 14 recorded deaths. So, enjoy the river with a generous dose of caution. Heed posted signs; don’t go in alone; never enter while under the influence of drugs or alcohol; make sure you’ve sufficiently scouted your route; and wear a life jacket. Better yet, go on an adventure with one of the area’s many professional outfitters.
The DetailsFairview Campgroundwww.recreation.gov