The Kern River is a perfect spot to go camping this summer in Central California. Nestled at the start of the Sierra Nevada mountains and next to the Sequoia National Forest, Kern River does not skimp on the scenery. Also, it’s only 3 hours from LA! Keep reading to plan your summer Kern River camping road trip.
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Kern River Camping Trip Overview
- PTO/Vacation Days Needed: 0-1
- Nights: 2
- Cost: $
SEE ALSO: The Best Sequoia National Park Itinerary
How to Get to Kern River
The closest town to the Kern River is Kernville. Kernville is about a 3-hour drive from Los Angeles, or a 5.5-hour drive from San Francisco. If you don’t live local, the closest airport to fly into is LAX, and you’ll definitely need to rent a car!
Best Time for a Kern River Camping Trip
The best time to go camping at Kern River is the summer time – June – September. If there was a lot of snowfall that year, be careful of the high/rushing water levels of the Kern River in early June. They don’t call it the “Killer Kern” for nothing! That said, I went camping at Kern River in June of 2021. Because of low snowfall, and because we picked a chill swimming hole, we did not have any issues (besides being in a heatwave the weekend we were there).
Best Spots for Camping at Kern River
There are several campgrounds to choose from that are located along the Kern River (See below map). There are both designated campgrounds as well as dispersed camping areas (BLM land). The campgrounds on the map below that black triangle/tent icon are the official campgrounds. You can book a site at the campgrounds on Recreation.gov. If you aren’t able to find a site for your preferred dates, you can try getting a spot at one of the dispersed camping areas, which are first-come-first-serve.
I did a lot of research before our Kern River camping trip on which campground was the best option, and landed on Limestone Campground. We stayed here one night, and stayed at Goldledge Campground the next night.
Limestone Campground should definitely be first on your list of campground choices at Kern River! It’s a small campground so it’s fairly private, and the best part is that it’s located on an awesome swimming hole with a little beach. The swimming hole is home to “Alligator Rock” – a big rock that resembles an Alligator head (and someone painted red eyes on it to look like an Alligator) that is fun to jump off of into the water! This swimming area is also a great spot for fly fishing and floating on your tube and soaking in the view.
Goldledge Campground is bigger and not as private as Limestone, however it is closer to the town of Kernville. I found Goldledge Campground to be more crowded and noisy than Limestone. There is a huge, fun rock to jump off of at this campground’s swimming hole, though! It’s taller than the jump off of Alligator Rock.
Campsites at these campgrounds (and at most campgrounds in California) book up months in advance for weekend dates. However, if you have the time, stalk the site for cancellations and you might get lucky and snag one – which is what I did!
If you want to camp but also want the comforts of home, renting a campervan is a great option! My favorite campervan company is Travellers Autobarn. Their vans have a stove, microwave, fridge and sink, and can sleep 3 people inside of it. Also, they have unlimited miles which is something that most campervan companies don’t offer! You can pick up the van at their location in Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Las Vegas.
Check out the Kuga Van from Travellers Autobarn to rent from their LA location for this trip!
Lodging at Kern River
If you want to experience Kern River but do not want to camp, there are a few options in the town of Kernville for lodging:
There are quite a few awesome Airbnbs/VRBOs in the area, like this 2-bedroom house that sits right on the river. It would be SO nice to chill on that private river-front patio!
There are a few hotels in Kernville to choose from. One of the best ones is Sequoia Lodge – located in a great spot close to the river and to town!
Kern River Camping Trip Packing List
Don’t leave home without these items!
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- REI Joule Sleeping Bag (this is the one that I have and I love it)
- Inflatable Sleeping Pad (this is the one that I use)
- Portable Rocking Chair (This thing is AWESOME!)
- REI Flexlite Chair – low profile camping chair that’s a big space-saver
- The COLDEST Water Bottle (seriously – stays colder than Hydroflask or Yeti!)
- Decathlon 2-Second Tent (I love this one – it’s super easy to setup and you can sleep longer because of the blackout material)
- Hiking Boots (These are my favorite!)
- Camping String Lights (these are the ones I have and I love them!)
- Travel Towel
- Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket (I bring this on EVERY camping trip. It packs up small and keeps you warm!)
- Sunski Polarized Glasses
- Camping Cooler
- Portable phone charger
- Cliff Bar Energy Chews (love these things for a boost of energy!)
Best Things to Do on a Kern River Camping Trip
1. Float down the river
One of the best and most relaxing things to do on a Kern River camping trip is to float and enjoy the scenery! Some parts of the river can be super rough/swift, so you’ll need to find a good calm swimming area to set up as your home base for the day. The best swimming area in my opinion is the one at Limestone Campground, about 30 minutes past Kernville. This swimming area is very serene and uncrowded, with calm water and Alligator Rock to jump off! You can also take your float tubes and walk up about a half mile and float back down to the swimming hole, which is super fun.
2. Whitewater Rafting
Kern River is known to be one of the best places to go whitewater rafting in the country! There are a few tour operators to choose from, for instance Sierra South, which is one of the most popular. This company has whitewater rafting at $120 for a half-day or $160 for a full-day. Rafting trips run from May-September. They also have overnight rafting trips available!
3. Explore Kernville
Cooking a meal at your campsite is fun but sometimes it’s nice to have the option to go into town for a meal! I highly recommend going to Kern River Brewing Co. They have a nice outdoor patio area, ice cold craft brews on tap, and great food! They also have live music certain nights of the week.
Ewings on the Kern is a great option for dinner with a scenic view. While I didn’t get the chance to try Ewing’s out for myself, I have heard great things about it if you are looking for more of an upscale place for dinner. Eating outside on their patio overlooking the river looks marvelous!
There is also a nice scenic, grassy park overlooking the river right in town. Great spot to chill in the shade and read a book!
4. Go for a Hike
While on your Kern River camping trip – go hiking! There are quite a few great hikes to choose from in the area:
Trail of 100 Giants
This trailhead is about 30 minutes past Limestone Campground and offers an easy look at one of the best groves of giant Sequoia Trees. Some are estimated to be up to 1,500 years old!
- Miles: 1.5
- Elevation Gain: 127 feet
- Type: Loop
This trailhead starts right at the Johnsondale Bridge, just a 2-minute drive from Limestone Campground. This moderate hike is super scenic and take you right along the river! If you don’t want to hike all 5 miles, you could just go as far as you want and turn back when you’re ready.
- Miles: 5.1
- Elevation Gain: 561 feet
- Type: Out & Back
Valhalla Falls via Salmon Creek
This is one of the best waterfall hikes in the area! Check out this post for details on how to get there.
- Miles: 1.6
- Type: Out & Back
5. Jump off a Rock
I’m always looking for the next big rock/cliff to jump off of into the water, and Kern River was no exception. There are a few spots to do this – but the below two are the ones that I did on my trip:
Located at the Limestone Campground swimming hole. You can climb up the side of this rock and jump off near the “head” of the alligator. We also jumped off the rock side next to this big formation too
Goldledge Swimming Hole
The swimming hole at Goldledge campground has an epic rock to jump off of (more thrilling than Alligator Rock). For this one, you swim across the river and use three different sets of ropes to help you climb up to the top of the rock. Super fun!
As always – BE CAREFUL. Make sure you test the depth of the water before jumping off of anything, and NEVER dive head first. Give your feet a few minutes to dry once you get on top of the rocks so you don’t slip while you’re jumping.
6. Hot Springs
There are a few hot springs in the Kernville area that you should stop at on your way in/out of town during your Kern River camping trip! The two most popular at Miracle Hot Springs and Remington Hot Springs.
Miracle Hot Springs is located at the start of Hobo Campground (put Hobo Campground into your GPS) where a short hike will lead you to a few different pools with views of the river.
Remington Hot Springs is the one that I went to on my trip. It’s about a quarter-mile steep hike down to the river’s edge where you’ll find three hot spring pools adjacent to the river. I actually did this hike in a heatwave (not recommended – it was 107 degrees F) so we found a little cold pool to soak in instead that was just as scenic. Either way – this spot is gorgeous!
7. Go Fishing
Kern River is known as a great spot for fly fishing! You can either hire a guide or bring your own gear and head over to the Johnsondale Bridge or Limestone Campground swimming hole and fish there (Two spots that I know of. I’m sure there are more but I am no fishing expert!)
8. Enjoy Camp Life!
Relax by the bonfire* with your friends. Soak in the scenery. Be present and hang out with others without having cell service. Your Kern River camping trip is sure to be a blast!
*If there is a fire ban, get one of these propane fire pits which are allowed to be used and are just as good as a wood-burning fire! We use this all the time on camping trips now.