Kern - 3) Johnsondale Bridge to Powerhouse #3 (Upper Kern)

Kern, California, US


3) Johnsondale Bridge to Powerhouse #3 (Upper Kern)

Usual Difficulty III-V (for normal flows)
Length 19 Miles

Upper Salmon Falls, NF Kern

Upper Salmon Falls, NF Kern
Photo of Macy Burnham by Ian Buckley taken 05/26/08 @ 1200

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
No. Kern Below Fairview Dam
dream-682 500 - 3000 cfs III-V 01h19m 120 cfs (too low)
No. Kern Above Fairview Dam
dream-681 500 - 2500 cfs III-V 01h19m 407 cfs (too low)

River Description

The excellent variety of whitewater below Johnsondale bridge provides several different options for boaters. Some of it easily rivals the Forks in quality and difficulty, but with more convenient access. The Forks beats this segment for scenery but not by a lot, and when you are staring at the next horizon line, who needs scenery! The river is commonly considered as several distinct sections, especially since Fairview dam forces a portage and then diverts up to 600 cfs of the flow from the river. 

1) Johnsdale Bridge to Fairview Dam: Limestone Run (2.4 miles, class III-IV)
This segment of the run is free flowing so check the flows for the Kern above the Fairview Dam to get an accurate reading for this segment. Because flows are not impacted by a diversion, this section is typically an option when the powerhouse is diverting flow out of the segments below Fairview Dam. The main rapids are Brush Creek (3), Limestone (4), Joe's Diner (4), and Betty's Bakery (3). The scenery of this dramatic canyon is excellent with numerous limestone walls with small caves and dripping water. 
2) Fairview Dam to Calkins Flat: Calkins Flat Run (2.8 miles, class III)
This segment is signifcantly less difficult than the sections upstream or downstream. It's serves as a short intermediate run by itself or a warm up to the Chamise Gorge. Southern California Edison diverts up to 600 cfs from the river for the powerhouse near Kernville. All the runs between Fairview Dam and the KR3 Powerhouse, have shorter seasons and lower flows because of the diversion. Since relicensing, Edison reduces the diversion on weekends under certain conditions to benefit whitewater recreation (check the flow tab for more information on how to interpret the gages and determine if the river is running).
3) Calkins Flat to Gold Ledge Campgound: Chamise Gorge (4.5 miles, class IV/V)
The segment begins with Entrance Rapid. Satan's Slot is another named rapid that comes up just before the river cascades through Salmon Falls. An altnerate access provides a take-out option above Salmon Falls. Flows for this segment are also impacted by the Southern California Edison diversion dam.
3) Gold Ledge Campground to KR3 Powerhouse: Gold Ledge Run (8.7 miles, class V)
This section is the most difficult on the Upper Kern with named drops that include Squashed Paddler, Sock 'Em Dog, The Flume, Fender Bender, The Cable, The Wall, Tombstone, Buzzard's Perch, Tequila Chute (left) or Pepsi Challenge (right) and Powerhouse. Flows for this segment are also impacted by the Southern California Edison diversion dam.


The Johnsondale Bridge put-in has a large parking area with developed river access on the west side (river right) of the bridge. It is located about about 25 minutes north of Kernville and about one hour and 40 minutes from Bakersfield. If coming from the north it is faster to turn off of highway 99 at Earlimart to go through Ducor and California Hot Springs. Allow about one hour and 20 minutes from Earlimart. Sometimes people drive through Springville and up through the Tule River Canyon, but this is a slow drive due to the narrow, windy road. Allow an hour and a half just from Springville, not counting stops for gawking at the Tule canyon.

The Powerhouse take-out is just north of Kernville on river left on the downstream side of the Southern California Edison KR3 Powerhouse. Take Sierra Way (Hwy 521) north out of town to reach the take-out.

Mountain Highway 99 serves as the shuttle route along river left as it parallels the entire run. Along the way there are alternate access points depending on flows and the level of difficulty you are seeking. Intermediate access points include Fairview Dam (take-out above and put-in below), Calkins Flat, above Salmon Falls, Ant Canyon Primitive Area, Gold Ledge Campground, and Camp 3 Campground. Click the map tab to view the location of rapids and these alternate access points.

Other Information Sources:
Edison's Kern River flow phone: 877 537 6356
Kern River Festival
Kern River Alliance
Kern Valley River Council
Sequoia National Forest Kernville office phone # 760-376-3781
Sierra South store
Cassady & Calhoun, Holbek & Stanley, Martin, Alan Baty


Permit Information

A Kern River Use Permit is required year round and is valid from May 1 through April 30 each year. Permits are issued on a first-come, first-served basis and are free of charge. A permit is required for EACH craft. Group size cannot exceed 18 people on the river at one time. To obtain a permit, fill out an application IN PERSON at Forest Service offices in Kernville, Lake Isabella, Springville or Bakersfield. Applications will not be mailed out or left in office drop boxes. Upon completion of your application, a waterproof permit may be issued.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2015-10-12 22:31:00

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.7Brush CreekIIIAccess
1.2Joe's DinerIV
2.4Fairview take outN/ATakeout
2.6Fairview DamN/APortage
2.7Bomb's AwayV
3.0Fairview put-inIIIAccess
5.8Calkins Flat AccessN/AAccess
6.0Entrance RapidIV+
7.6Satan's SlotIV+
8.0Salmon FallsVPortage Hazard
9.4Ant Canyon Primitive AreaN/AAccess
10.3Gold Ledge CamgproundN/AAccess
12.9Squashed PaddlerV
13.2Sock 'Em DogV
15.1The FlumeIV+
15.4Fender BenderV
16.2The CableIV
16.6Camp 3 Campground AccessN/AAccess
16.7The WallIV
17.6Buzzard's PerchIII+
17.9Tequila Chute or Pepsi ChallengeIII+
18.6Powerhouse RapidIII+

Rapid Descriptions

Brush Creek (Class III, Mile 0.7)

Brush Creek enters from the left near the end of a class 3 rapid.  There is also a very large parking area and river access here.

Limestone (Class IV, Mile 1.0)

A long class 4 rapid with numerous obstacles has a particularly big, wide hole waiting near the bottom.   Limestone campground is on river left. 

Joe's Diner (Class IV, Mile 1.2)

Many boaters have been "lunch" at Joe's Diner.    At most flows, a ledge hole extends out from the right and draws boaters in like lobsters to a pot.  The river is always hungry, so just drop on in!

Fairview take out (Class N/A, Mile 2.4)

There is roadside parking and river access at the upper end of the Fairview impoundment. 

Fairview Dam (Class N/A, Mile 2.6)

Marks the end of the Limestone section. Southern California Edison diverts up to 600 cfs from the river for the powerhouse near Kernville. All the runs between Fairview and the powerhouse, have shorter seasons and lower flows because of the diversion. Since relicensing, Edison reduces the diversion on weekends under certain conditions to benefit whitewater recreation.

Bomb's Away (Class V, Mile 2.7)

"Bombs Away" is the rapid immediately below the dam. If you want to run it, it takes a little extra work to get up to an access point below the dam.

Fairview put-in (Class III, Mile 3.0)

From below Fairview dam to Calkins Flat is a bit less than 3 miles. This is one of easiest sections to float on the upper Kern. The put-in is downstream of the dam.

Calkins Flat Access (Class N/A, Mile 5.8)

Use this primitive camping area as a take out for the easier upstream run or as a put in for the very pretty, but difficult Chamise Gorge section.

Entrance Rapid (Class IV+, Mile 6.0)

The entry rapid to Chamise Gorge.

Satan's Slot (Class IV+, Mile 7.6)

The passes through two channels.

Salmon Falls (Class V, Mile 8.0)

Upper and lower Salmon Falls are very steep and congested rapids.  They are comparable to rapids found on the Cataracts of the Kern.  This rapid has a bad sieve in the main channel that has resulted in a number of fatalities. Expert paddlers do run Salmon falls if they feel like it, but they are mostly portaged.   The consequences of mistakes in these rapids are lost boats and bodily injury. 

Ant Canyon Primitive Area (Class N/A, Mile 9.4)

Alternate put-in access for the Gold Ledge run that gives you another mile of whitewater.

Gold Ledge Camgpround (Class N/A, Mile 10.3)

Access point below the Chamise Gorge.

Squashed Paddler (Class V, Mile 12.9)

Big holes

Sock 'Em Dog (Class V, Mile 13.2)

Some big holes where the river turns away from the road.

The Flume (Class IV+, Mile 15.1)

Narrow channel through a big drop.

Fender Bender (Class V, Mile 15.4)

A maze through rocks and brush.

The Cable (Class IV, Mile 16.2)

Technical boulder garden.

Camp 3 Campground Access (Class N/A, Mile 16.6)

An alternate put-in access for the Camp 3 and Powerhouse runs.

The Wall (Class IV, Mile 16.7)

The river cascades right then bends to the left.

Tombstone (Class IV, Mile 17.0)

Boulder-choked bend to the left.

Buzzard's Perch (Class III+, Mile 17.6)

Rapid on a left bend.

Tequila Chute or Pepsi Challenge (Class III+, Mile 17.9)

Tequila Chute to the left or Pepsi Challenge to the right.

Powerhouse Rapid (Class III+, Mile 18.6)

A quater-mile long rapid of rocks and holes.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
August 27 2018 (146 days ago)
nprete (157563)
Great run! You can usually meet up with other local boaters at Riverside Park on weekend mornings
around 10am. When there's enough water to hit up some of these sections they are super fun! We ran
Chamise Gorge and Limestone sections, one in a kayak and the other in a raft. Here's a video of it