Hwy 178 Places to go
West of Ridgecrest
Note: Inyokern, Brown, and the Sierra Canyons, are listed under “nearby” section.
Highway 178 is called one of our “Scenic Corridors” and runs east-west through Kern County.
West of Ridgecrest – take Inyokern Road west all the way to Hwy 14, turn south 3 miles, then turn west on Hwy 178 as it resumes over Walker Pass and down to Lake Isabella and eventually wiggles down the Kern River Canyon to Bakersfield, 100 miles from Ridgecrest, or you can head up the river to visit Sequoia trees at Trail of 100 Giants (when road is open)
Winter Closures -usaully mid November to Memorial weekend: Hwy 190 is closed from Johnsondale to Ponderosa Lodge – which includes access to Trail of 100 Giants. You could take a snowmobile up there from Johnsondale!
The roads into the high country close due to snow. Kennedy Meadows road is plowed ONLY to the General Store.
Sometimes when it snows chains or snow tires will be required over Walker Pass, 5200′ – watch for signs!
Campground Winter Closures: Redwood Meadow (at Trail of 100 giants) – due to snow; Eshom, 10 Mile, Big Meadow closed due to snow; Cannell Meadow trail and all campgrounds on the Kern Plateau. Kennedy Meadows CG open all year.
Campgrounds Open all year– at Lake Isabella – Pioneer Point, Paradise Cove, Camp 9, Auxiliary, Old Isabella, South Fork;
Upper Kern – Headquarters is the only camp open; rest are closed; Lower Kern – Sandy Flat, upper Richbar Day Use open; rest closed including day use areas; Kennedy Meadows campground USFS has closed it! , the rest are closed due to snow.
Some Campgrounds may be reserved up to 6 months in advance at www.recreation.gov or 877 444-6777.
Walker Pass, Pacific Crest Trail crossing:
*west on Hwy 178, south on Hwy 14 3 miles, west on Hwy 178; 8 miles to the top of the hill. Elev. 5250 ft.
This road passes through lovely Joshua tree forests!! The display of wildflowers in the late spring is spectacular. Snow stays on the top of the pass in the winter. Chains may be required! Good snowplow area in winter.
At the top of the pass, the Pacific Crest Trail crosses the highway. This trail goes from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. You should hike the trail north for about 5 miles for a wonderful view down Indian Wells Canyon to the Indian Wells Valley; continue about 5 miles farther to a good place to climb (a second class scramble) to Owens Peak. Continue north to Kennedy Meadows crossing, through July 2000 fire area; pass Kennedy Meadows the trail heads north to Trail Pass and Horseshoe Meadows, and eventually it joins up with the John Muir Trail through the Sierra to Yosemite. To the south, the trail goes first to a BLM campground (pit toilet, sometimes water) and then into the Scodie Mountains at the tail end of the Southern Sierra Nevada.
Audubon Kern River Preserve (one hour to get there)
The Reserve is in Weldon, just before you get to the lake proper. Watch for small sign on right (north) side of road just before Kelso Valley Road. The gate may be closed, but the preserve is OPEN, just close the gate behind you.
This is the last good stand of Riperian Woodland left in California – native cottonwoods and willow trees living happily along the South Fork of the Kern River. The Nature Conservancy and BLM and Audubon California have been buying up the 100 year old cattle ranches along the river – then the Reserve leases the fields back to the cattlemen but protects the streamside habitat. If the gate is open, you are most welcome to enter the Reserve. You will find a Visitor Center, restrooms, lots of information, and some trails off into the woods, depending upon the flood stage of the river. It’s a birder’s paradise, but it is also great for butterflies and other critters. There are lots of activities going on for families. They sponsor the fall annual Turkey Vulture count when over 50,000 buzzards from all over the west seem to congregate and migrate past the reserve and Kelso Valley on their way to Mexico. Kern Valley Nature festivals held several times per year. See their website for lots of details and maps. http://kern.audubon.org/
Lake Isabella: (1.2 hours to get there)
Hwy 178 over Walker Pass (5250 ft), to the lake area. Elev. 2580 ft.
It takes you an hour + to reach the lake and about an hour to go around it. Why isn’t it full?? 5 years of not enough snow to melt to fill it, problems with the dams, etc. Sorry – it may be a while before it’s a full reservoir again!
There are campgrounds on the west shore, and you can “primitive camp” at any of the beaches around the lake. There is now a fee, “”Southern Sierra Pass”- either day use, $10 or a year permit, $50. USFS has even put some toilets at the most popular beaches. Boat ramps are available at a couple of places. The lake is “zoned” for activities so that jet skies don’t run over wind surfers or fishermen – get info!! Jet skis and wind surfing are popular in certain areas only as are fishing from shore, float tubes, and boats. Rental craft are available. Get maps and info at the Visitor Center on the SW side of the lake near the “main dam.” be aware that winds can come up in the afternoon and create large waves and make the lake very dangerous! Watch for the warning lights and watch the lake conditions. Wear life jackets any time when on the water!! Don’t add to the drowning statistics – several folks drown each year because they weren’t wearing life jackets! Don’t go out onto the water without a life jacket – jet ski, paddle board, boat – whatever !!
FISH – oh yes, it’s planted with fish. Sometimes there are fishing derbies with large cash prizes if you catch the marked fish. Fishing is actually easier when the lake is low…
The reservoir dam was constructed in the late 1940’s and filled in the 1950’s. It supplies irrigation water for the farmers in the Bakersfield area, so lake levels rise in the spring and drop in the summer and fall. But – it’s leaking and in danger of breaking. The Army Corps is working on it, and the lake will not be able to be filled much until 2018 at least!
Many communities surround the lake with facilities, gas, food. http://www.lakeisabella.net/
http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/sequoia/ for campground info around the lake, and passes.
Kernville: (1.5 hrs to get there)
*west on Hwy 178 toward Lake Isabella, turn north (right) at Kernville sign 2 miles past the Weldon Church; about 15 miles to Kernville area. Elev. 2700 ft.
Visit http://www.kernvillechamber.org/for lots of information about the area!!
This cute little tourist town is fun to explore. Riverside Park provides a nice shady picnic area on the North Fork of the Kern River where you can watch (or be) kayakers play in the river. Fishing opportunities abound all around here. White water rafting trips are available from several commercial outfits in the spring and summer, as long as the water holds out. The Historical Society Kern River Museum, 49 Big Blue Road, is open Thurs to Sun 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (760) 376-6683. The USFS office has maps and permits for wood cutting, river running, etc. The town has many festivals and art shows through the year, but the most famous is “Whiskey Flat Days” over Washington’s birthday weekend in February.
Visit Keysville, site of several gold mines and even gold today along the Kern River – turn west at the sign just near the Main Dam and bridge over the river. Mountain bike races are held in this BLM area often.
Visit the Lake Isabella Visitor Center, USFS, overlooking the lake at the Main Dam. Turn east at the sign. Nice views of the lake too! http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/sequoia/
Walker Basin: (2 hrs to get there)
*west on Hwy 178 to Lake Isabella town, south on Bodfish-Caliente road, past Havilah, into the Walker Basin (can continue on down to Caliente and Hwy 58)
Yearning for signs of the Old West?? Here they are!! This road from Lake Isabella to Caliente is the old stage road which served the gold fields of Keysville, Kernville, and Havilah for many years. Bodfish has the Silver Dollar Museum (private, commercial) with many buildings left over from gold-mining days around the lake, shows, etc.
Havilah was Kern County’s first county seat! (Most of the buildings have been moved to the Museum in Bakersfield). But charm still abounds, so does gold – the Havilah Museum is open on weekends except in winter. There are “doings” several times during the summer. See Kern Valley area info.
The Walker Basin is a glorious little valley of cattle ranches and wildflowers in the spring. On the south side, the old Rankin Ranch house is now a dude ranch. www.rankinranch.com The road on the north and east side of the valley takes you to “the Cowboy Memorial,” a private museum of a former rodeo cowboy who has a vast collection of cowboy memorabilia, videos, branding irons, saddles, etc. etc.
Continuing on around the road east past the Cowboy Memorial takes you to the Piute Mountain School (mostly underground), and Twin Oaks and their roping arena. Caliente Creek is delightful in the spring. You WILL see “real” cowboys!!
Greenhorn Mountains: (2 hrs to get there)
*west on Hwy 178 to Lake Isabella area; from south shore, take Wofford Heights, Hwy 155 turnoff; in Wofford, take Hwy 155 Evans Road uphill to Alta Sierra, Shirley Meadows.
From the north shore, continue through Kernville and around to Wofford Heights; take Hwy 155 Evans road (right).
This is a steep climb up to Greenhorn Summit at 6102 ft. Alta Sierra is full of summer cabins and a small campground. CHAINS NEEDED IN WINTER! From the summit, Hwy 155 takes you down through Glennville (elev 3100 ft) and into the Sierra Foothills. The Glennville area is wonderful for spring wildflower displays – whole hillsides of white popcorn flowers, or yellow goldfield, mixed with blue lupine and brodaea.
South from the Summit is the Shirley Meadows ski area, open for skiing as snow permits. North from the Summit are dirt roads exploring many interesting places in the Greenhorn Mountains. Be sure to get a USFS Sequoia National Forest map so you can keep track of where you are!! Creeks, a few small primitive camp grounds, meadows, peaks, firewood cutting areas, berry-gathering places – much to do in the lovely Greenhorn Mountains!!
CALM – California Living Museum – 2 hrs. to get there www.calmzoo.org
14000 Alfred Harrell hwy, Bakersfield, CA (661) 872-2256 After you head down the hill on Hwy 178, not too long after you leave the Kern River Canyon and things flatten out and you have your breath back, turn north following CALM signs at the signal on Alfred Harrell Hwy. It’s a wonderful collection of native California plants and animals – coyotes, eagles, deer, bobcats, tortoises, etc. Nice place to spend some time, great for kids!!
Giant Sequoia Trees – “Trail of 100 Giants” in Giant Sequoia National Monument: 2 hrs. to get there from here. CLOSED 10/15/15 by USFS because of “Hazard trees”. USFS working on fallen logs. Bridge IS done.
* west on Hwy 178 and north to Kernville; continue north 20 miles on Mtn. 99 to the Johnsondale bridge, another 4 miles to Johnsondale R-Ranch resort; continue west (veer to left) on Mtn. 56 seven miles to a stop sign at Hwy 190. Turn north onto Hwy 190 and go two miles to the Redwood Meadow “Trail of 100 Giants Trail Head” Parking and Picnic Area. Toilet
Do not mix this up with the Giant Sequoia trees found in Sequoia National Park – but access to that is from Porterville north of Bakersfield. This wiggly road is NOT the best way to get to the Park!!
Redwood Meadow campground is another .2 miles beyond. Both are “fee areas.” (Closed in winter due to snow)
This easy paved, wheelchair accessible 1 mile loop trail takes you through the Sequoia grove closest to Ridgecrest and it has some magnificent trees in it!! **Sept 2011– 2 huge slightly bunrned Sequoias fell over across the trail. USFS is making a bypass ramp, so its once again wheel-chair accessible. At least three giants on this trail are 20 feet in diameter and others are even bigger! Feel free to poke around in the grove! Redwood Meadow itself is a delight. The Redwood Meadow Campground is always quiet and a great getaway place for summer and fall use!! 13 sites, $18 per night. Reserve through http://recreation.gov.
Holey Meadow camp and Long Meadow camp are nearby.
Water, toilets only at Redwood Meadow Campground in season. No other facilities nearby. No gas for miles!
From here you can also drop down to the Lloyd Meadows Road using 22S02 (dirt);- about 4 miles on north from 100 Giants, watch for USFS sign. There’s a lovely waterfall half-way down. When you meet the paved Lloyd Meadow road you may continue north, or turn right to go back to Johnsondale and back to Kernville the way you came.
The Lloyd Meadow Road heads straight north from Johnsondale and ends at a trailhead with access to the Forks of the Kern and other wonderful places in the Monument. Just past Pyles Boy’s Camp is a turn to the Freeman Grove of Sequoias. 0.5 mile dirt road leads to a parking area and there is now an accessible (read paved) trail which loops around the huge “George HW Bush Tree”. President Bush was here in 1992 to announce protection for the Sequoia groves. Lovely trails follow the stream through this grove.
On past the 100 Giants, Hwy 190 continues north along the Western Divide of the Sierra to Quaking Aspen Campground, Ponderosa Lodge, and Mountain Home State Forest. (Closed in winter at Ponderosa)
M56 continues over the pass and down, west to California Hot Springs and Ducor. The Portuguese Pass road 2 miles above Johnsondale takes you south along the Greenhorn Ridge eventually to the Greenhorn Summit and Hwy 155.
The road is closed due to snow at Johnsondale R-Ranch each winter. You may use snowmobiles beyond this point, or go skiing, of course.
http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/sequoia/ look for info under Giant Sequoia National Monument