River rafting is a thrilling adventure and the Lower Kern River offers 1 & 2 day rafting trips that are really fun.
The rafting section of the Kern River below the dam at Lake Isabella is about 20 miles long. The upper section (closest to the dam) consists of Class 3 rapids. The lower section has Class 3 rapids and quite a few Class 4 rapids (i.e. thrilling). There are 4 rafting companies that offer 1 day trips on either section or 2 day trips that run the whole 20 miles. The one day trips on the Class 4 section costs around $200 per person.
Everyone paddles the boat and must be able to respond quickly to changing paddling orders from the river guide. Paddling all day is a good upper body workout. This trip is clearly not for the weak or feeble. All rafters wear company provided flotation devices and helmets. The rafts have to be "portaged" around a Class 5 rapid that is too dangerous to run. Make sure to wear some sturdy closed toed sandals or shoes that can get wet and have some reasonably thick soles as you'll be walking up and down slopes to get in & out of the river often over slick rocks. Smooth bottom (i.e.old) tennis shoes will cause you to slip. A fellow passenger wore old tennis shoes and slipped at the "put-in" and smacked his knee on a rock and couldn't make the trip. He never got on the boat!
The Lower Kern is a beautiful river for rafting. There are plenty of boulders in the river and the water flows fast enough to provide challenging rafting. The Lower Kern River flow rate is controlled by the dam at the Lake, thus there is dependable rafting almost every year from April until about late August. Conversely, the Upper Kern River, often doesn't have enough water for rafting after a dry winter. After a wet winter, the Upper Kern River is also a fun river to raft.
On a trip July 1 & 2, 2012, I took the Class 4 rafting trips with two rafting companies, Mountain & River Adventures one day and then Kern River Outfitters the next. Both companies provided great rafting trips, both had knowledgeable guides and first rate equipment. The lunches on the river from both companies were good (sandwiches, fruit and snacks).
Each company splits up their 1 & 2 day "put in" points differently. Mountain River's Class 4 trip is about 12 miles versus about 9 miles for Kern River Outfitters, which resulted in an extra 90+ minutes on the river with the Mountain River trip. Either way, you get a great day of rafting and plenty of opportunities to swim in the Kern River in the "calm" sections. Don't forget to tip your river guide which is traditionally a very low paying job. Most of the guides do this seasonal job because they love it. $20 per person (which is 10% of the trip cost) would be appropriate.
The Mountain & River one day trip starts with check-in at 8:00am and gets back to Kernville around 5:30pm. There is street parking across from the Mountain & River Adventures office. You can leave your car keys with the office.
Kern River Outfitters has a fenced in parking lot which would be more secure than street parking. Again, you leave your car keys with the office. They also meet at 8:00 am and get back around 4pm.
The drive to Kernville from Orange County (Irvine) is about 3.5 hours, taking I-15 and US395 and CA178. The Navigation systems will all send you up the I-5 and US99, which is about 10 miles shorter, but then you have to go through LA County, which can often be congested.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.