For a kickback day on a river—all within driving distance from downtown Los Angeles—you can’t beat the Kern and Kaweah Rivers. Southern Californians love to leave the city bustle in the rearview mirror, crank up Merle Haggard singing, “I’ll never swim Kern River again…” and head for the Kern through oak- and sycamore-dotted foothills north of Bakersfield. Further north, near Visalia, the Kaweah offers watery fun.
Adventure seekers can head to the Upper Kern, with a season running April to June. Kern River Outfitters and other companies offer half- and full-day trips on this stretch, with rapids ranging from gentle Class II to heart-thumping Class V. First-timers can book an affordable spot on the all-inclusive three-mile Hollywood Hustle Kern River Rafting Trip—kids welcome. More challenging is the Bakersfield Boogie, which offers six hours of whitewater. From May to July (sometimes later if conditions allow), outfitters also run half- and full-day-day trips down the lively Lower Kern. The river, which is fed with controlled releases from Lake Isabella near Kernville, pulses with Class II-III rapids for most of its 20-mile length, culminating in Class IV thrills near the trip’s end. Two-day adventures include plenty of time to practice the art of (intentional) raft-flipping in inviting pools, and you’ll welcome the chance to swim (river temperature rises to a balmy 70°F).
If you’re an experienced paddler yearning for a full-on adrenaline rush, sign up for a spring trip on the Kaweah River. Beginning in Sequoia National Park, the mostly free-flowing Kaweah tumbles 10,000 feet in 20 miles, creating plenty of Class IV action—crashing waves, big holes, and steep drops over smooth granite slabs. Rafting takes place early, typically April through June. Rafters put in downstream from the national park entrance at Three Rivers, so it’s easy to combine this adventure with a trip to see Sequoia’s goliath trees and soaring peaks. Outfitters including Whitewater Voyages, Sequoia Adventures, and Kaweah Whitewater Adventures run regular trips.