Kern River (Rio Bravo) near Bakersfield


Stretch: Rancheria Road to Hart Memorial Park
Difficulty: Class II (one III-), with brush hazards at high flows
Distance: 9 miles, 1 day
Flows: rafts and kayaks 1000 - 3000, IK minimum 600
Gauge: slightly less than release from Isabella dam (ISB)
Gradient: 10 fpm average
Put-in: Rancheria Road bridge near Rio Bravo ranch, 540'
Take-out: West end of Hart Memorial Park near Oildale, 450'
Shuttle: 12 miles (15 minutes) one-way
Maps: Delorme Southern California, AAA Sequoia
Season: almost year round, from dam release below hydropower diversion
Agency: BLM, private
Notes: © 1998, 2008 Bill Tuthill, CreeksYahoo

This is a good beginner run for southern Californians, but not worth the drive from northern California. The river corridor, with surrounding orange groves, seems like an oasis in the hot desert valley. Many inner tubers ply the river, but in the cold river water, they seldom make it as far as 10 miles.

Historically, the lower Kern flowed into Kern Lake, Buena Vista Lake, and Goose Lake Slough, a fresh-water complex fed by many other streams. During high flow years, the Kern flooded this complex north into Tulare Lake, formerly the largest fresh-water lake west of the Mississippi. Now these are all salt basins created by agricultural diversions.

Put in on the left bank below Rancheria Road bridge.
No Name, class III-
The run starts out with a bang, giving you little time to warm up. At low flows, only a few left/right turns are necessary. At higher flows, this rapid is a long train of high waves.
Kern River group picnic area near Lake Ming, where many inner tubers put in. The gradient eases a bit, with only class I-II rapids the rest of the way.
Take out at on river left at the lowest point of Hart Memorial Park, which is the west end of the park. Shortly downstream is a dangerous diversion dam just above the China Grade Loop bridge that crosses the river near Oildale.
Upstream of Rancheria Road, there used to be a fine class III-IV run, now dewatered by hydropower diversion. This upper Rio Bravo run can still be boated when the release from Isabella dam exceeds 2200 cfs. It starts with Hydro, a class III-IV boulder garden almost a mile long. At mile 1.1 comes Scout Camp, a class IV- with big hole at the bottom. At mile 1.5 is an unnamed class III-IV rapid with many rocks. At mile 1.7 is a mandatory portage (on the left) of brush-choked Helicopter Rapid. Flows increase at mile 2.2 where water from the new powerhouse empties in, and relatively easy class II-III rapids continue to Rancheria Road bridge.


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