Not many Sierra towns can claim historic status after only 40-odd years, but Kernville can. That's because the town...in it's entirety...was relocated to its present site when the old town was inundated by the waters of adjacent Lake Isabella.
Most people come here to drop their boat or jetski in the lake, to run the mighty Kern River, or to catch that tasty Rainbow Trout lurking in the cool waters of the Kern.
Don't get me wrong, we like all that too, but this trip we came to see what's OFF the beaten path in Kernville.
Kerville occupies a little niche at the extreme southern end of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, separated from the nearby Tehachapi mountains, the desert, and the Central Valley by Lake Isabella. To get there from L.A., you need to either go through Bakersfield or Mojave to get there. Either route will take about 3 hours.
From L.A., take I-5 to CA 99 to CA 178 (in Bakersfield). Go east on CA 178 to Lake Isabella. Or take I-5 to CA 14 to CA 178 and go west on CA 178 to Lake Isabella. We prefer the CA 14 route. Kernville lies at the north end of the lake.
Accomodations range from budget motels to bed & breakfasts. Many of the smaller motels in town are true classics of roadside Americana with the tidy little gardens and pine-knot paneling in the rooms. Wherever you stay, the Kern River or the lake will be close at hand.
We start off our little adventure (this is an overnight excursion from L.A.) by wandering through the riverfront park in town. Our feet are hot and tired. Taking off our shoes, we dip our feet in the very refreshing water of the river. Many others are splashing in the water and a few are jumping into inflatable boats for a homemade rafting trip down to Lake Isabella.
A Conestoga Wagon catches our eye in the corner of the park. We head over to see what's up. A local actor's group is putting on a play about pioneers interspersed with some songs. We watch for awhile, but our interest doesn't keep up and we're soon looking for something else to do.
We decide to head upriver and see some sequoias. Heading up Sierra Way, we drive up the Kern River Canyon. The canyon is hot and dry for the most part. The river makes for some quick cool down spots along the way. Many rafters are in the water today. This looks like fun.
At the top of the canyon, there's a turn up to the mountains. We pass the former logging town of Johnsondale (now a time share campground called R Ranch) and it's a quick, steep climb up to the crest of the Sierras.
Once up there, it's not a long drive to get to Long Meadow, home of the giants.
We park in the Long Meadow picnic area lot. After a picnic lunch, it's across the street to the fabulous Trail of 100 Giants. This 1 mile trail winds through an ancient grove of giant sequoias. Many of these trees have holes that have burned into them from years of forest fires that allow you to actually walk into the tree.
It's cool and shady here. A couple of creeks meander through the grove and a carpet of ferns covers the ground. I don't know what the actual count is but 100 is not a stretch for this grove of big trees.
After our hike through the trees, we head back down to Kernville. By now, it's dinner time. Kernville has many places, much along the lines of burger or barbecue joints but we come here for one very special restaurant, That's Italian.
Here, in this little out of the way river town, is one of the best Italian restaurants ever. Forget the corny name, the food here is extraordinary. We had the canneloni perfectly prepared with a cream sauce, the lasagna, bow-tie pasta with shrimp, and desserts that just can't be passed up like white chocolate rasberry cheesecake, an incredibly flaky napoleon, and more. Ever see the movie "Big Night"? That's the kind of Italian dishes they serve here. Call (760) 376-6020 for reservations.
After a splendid dinner on the balcony overlooking the town square, we take a little walk around the postage stamp sized downtown. There's a few shops here but not much that really peaked our interest.
We head back to our motel and turn in for the night. The next day we check out, have breakfast, and head over to the dam that holds back Lake Isabella. Here are a few remnants of a ghost town and many mine shafts to explore (tread carefully here, many mine claims are still worked and protected as such).
Nearby, you can see some of the wildest whitewater around where the Kern River exits the dam for it's journey on down to Bakersfield. Many outfitters here can put you in the water starting at less than $20. We checked with a few and decided we'll do the rafting on a future trip.
The last thing we want to do on our trip is to have a nice picnic before heading home. We pack up a lunch from the Vons in Lake Isabella and head south through the old mining town of Bodfish. Beyond this is a beautiful stretch of country called the Lorraine loop, because of it's resemblance of the Alsace-Lorraine region of France, that begs you to pull off and enjoy the scenery.
The only sign of civilization here, besides a few houses, is the general store located in the old school house. There is a particularly scenic spot to have a picnic next door.
After a little snooze on the blanket laying in the warm sun, we continue through the loop until we reach the village of Agua Caliente, so named because of some nearby hot springs. We jump back on Highway 58 which heads over to Tehachapi, Mojave, and home.
One last sight to see is the famous Tehachapi Loop, an engineering feat enabling the trains to climb this steep pass by looping over themselves.