Kern River Rafting is a Hidden Gem

By Andrew Salmi
Reprinted by permission of The Daily Independent

Whitewater rafting on the Kern River is one great way to beat the heat this summer. PHOTO COURTESY KERN RIVER OUTFITTERS/WWW.KERNRIVEROUTFITTERS.COM


The sound of water calmly flowing downstream is one of the more peaceful things we as humans can enjoy as a way to help escape from our chaotic daily lives.

However, there are also some of us who enjoy that chaos of the rough current that is brought with whitewater rafting down the Kern River.

Living in the High Desert in the summer can be daunting for anyone, bringing the all-important question: How do we all beat the heat?

One way lurks a bit more than an hour to the west of Ridgecrest and the 395, as in the Sierras resides a hidden gem: whitewater rafting along the Kern River.

Now, as someone who has gone river rafting plenty of times before up near Lake Tahoe down the Truckee River, I was able to simply able to pump up my own inner tube and coast down that river peacefully with a cold beer in hand.

As for the Kern River, being able to relax while the rapid current carries me down stream was hardly an option for a vast majority of this day.

Upon getting to the Kern River Outfitters building by Lake Isabella to meet up with my rafting instructors and group, I equipped myself with a personal floatation device, a helmet, and sprayed on as much sunblock as I could before jumping on the bus to the launch site. I was pumped but definitely had some butterflies, as well.

Following a safety lecture by our great group of rafting instructors, it was finally time to split into our four rafts and get into the water. The Kern River current was moving pretty fast right from the get go, but it still wasn’t anything compared to what was up ahead.

While going down some of the more mellow rapids at the beginning of the route, I took notice of the towering rock structures along the edges of the Kern River. On the rocks, there were lines marked on the rocks indicating that the water level used to be considerably higher in previous years compared to present day. This was confirmed to me by my rafting instructor, Matt Volpert, who was an absolute pleasure to be around and taught me all sorts of interesting factoids about the river.


On the patches of whitewater rapids, it was of utmost importance that my raft group was in-sync with our paddling routine when our instructor gave out the rowing commands. This was a great workout down the Kern River, to say the least.

To be honest, I was pretty impressed that I wasn’t knocked out of the raft once because of the intense rapids, but I got absolutely soaked more times than I can count on my hands.

The more wet I got that day, the merrier. This was one of the best ways to beat the heat that I could possibly think of, and I was having a blast battling the rapids all day with a single paddle.

However, it certainly wasn’t all rough. In a few spots of the river’s route where the water was deep and the current was calm, many of my fellow rafters and I took full advantage to jump in and float with our feet downstream and heads tilted backwards.

That was truly heavenly, as the water was the perfect temperature and it put a huge smile on my face because I felt like Baloo the bear in “The Jungle Book” during the scene of the movie when he lazily floats down the river on his back.

Another thing that I really loved was my ability to simply leave all of my electronics in my car and enjoy nature for hours on a Sunday. Being able to leave the electronics in the car was a type of freedom not many people get to experience very often.

Afterward, I was very sore all over my body and in places I didn’t know could even become sore, and had plenty of water in my ears. But would I do it all over as soon as possible and jump in a raft again on those class four rapids, though?

Without a doubt! And with plenty of hot days ahead this summer, this is certainly an adventurous way to cool off.