Learn More About The Kern River

Also known by its original names, Rio de San Felipe and La Porciuncula, the Kern River is located in California. The river extends over 160 miles, drains into a location in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

As the river is abundantly fed by the snowmelt that is close to Mount Whitney, it goes past stunning mountain canyons. The river has also become a travel water destination for kayaking and whitewater rafting enthusiasts.

The Kern River is situated in the main river system that is in the Sierra Nevada region, and it is the only main river in that region that drains south.

Previously, the river drained into the Kern Lake and the Buena Vista Lake by way of the Connecting Slough. When the Buena Vista Lake was overflowing, it first drained into the Kern Lake. Once it began to rise, it began to drain into the Tulare Lake by way of the Buena Vista Slough.

All of these lakes were once part of the Endorheic Basin that would often flow over into the San Joaquin River.

Since the later part of the 19th century, the river has been diverted in an effort to assist with irrigation. However, there is some of the water from the river that drains into Lake Evans and Lake Webb. These are two of the smaller lakes that are part of the now-empty Buena Vista Lakebed. These two smaller lakes were formed in the early 1970s to be used for recreational purposes.

The History Of The Kern River

The river received its name from John C. Fremont in 1815 as an honor to Edward M. Kern. The story behind the honor is that Kern almost drowned in the rough and turbulent river waters.

At the time, Kern served as a topographer during the third expedition of Fremont’s travels in the American West. As mentioned above, before this name change, the river was known as Rio de San Felipe. It was given this name in honor of a Spanish missionary explorer by the name of Fr. Francisco Garces while he was exploring the area now known as Bakersfield in 1776.

The river was also known as La Porciuncula in honor of the day for the Porciuncula Indulgence. Locally, the river was called Po-sun-co-la until it was renamed, Kern.

The area was also rich in gold, and the first gold discovery was made around the upper part of the river in 1853. The snowmelt that helped to keep the river flowing caused frequent torrential flooding in the town of Bakersfield until the Isabella Dam was built in the 1950s.

The Geology Of The Kern River

The upper region of the Kern River Canyon was formed because of tectonic force. It was often thought that this part of the canyon was caused only by river erosion.

There is an active fault that runs along the canyon’s length, called the Kern Canyon Fault. This fault begins at the river’s headwaters and extends down into the Walker Basin. This basin is located almost 10 miles on the southern side of Lake Isabella.

The course of the river has been modified several times through its geological history. The river originally drained into the San Joaquin Valley further south around what is now called the Walker Basin Creek.

The upper part of the river canyon was deepened and widened in the Ice Ages because of glaciers.


The Kern River is a very popular destination for a variety of water activities such as:

  • Riverboarding
  • Fly fishing
  • Whitewater rafting
  • Whitewater kayaking
  • hiking and backpacking

Fishing enthusiasts may be particularly interested in the different types of fish that are found in the river such as the California golden trout, the Kern River rainbow trout, and the Little Kern golden trout.

The Kern River is an iconic California natural landmark and tourist destination. It is ideal for various water activities that can be enjoyed by outdoor and nature enthusiasts year-round.


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