Editor's Note: This story ran in the August 2 edition of the Sun but was cut short in error. The following is the full story.
Residents of the Kern River Valley (or of any home town) frequently take for granted the special recreational opportunities right in their own backyard. Oftentimes, the out-of-towners know the choice vacation spots better than the local folks. They did their homework; they've come to play and they know where to go.
Locals, it's time to get out of your routine and become a tourist in your own little part of paradise. Go to our Chambers of Commerce and find out what the vacationers know. In Kernville, it is at the corner of Kernville Road and Sierra Way, and in Lake Isabella it is at 6416 Lake Isabella Blvd. Also, check out the two locations of the Kern River Ranger District: at 4875 Ponderosa Drive, which is off the 155 near the Keysville South campground entrance, but on the other side of the road; and the one at 105 Whitney Rd., Kernville, at the corner of Burlando. Information awaits you.
For example, sprinkled around the lake are several campgrounds, each with its own special identity, and very unpopulated from Monday through Thursday, barring summer holidays. They are under the auspices of the Sequoia National Forest, Kern River Ranger District (SNF). These are called developed campgrounds, which means they have bathrooms (but none have functioning showers), the roads are paved, and the area is regularly cleaned up. And they have rules governing behavior. Day use is usually free; overnight fees generally run at $25, which covers six guests and one vehicle.
There are at least four types of passes that can save you money at national forests, and other federally managed lands. Getting the proper pass can be confusing. If you're age 62 or older and have an 'America the Beautiful' Senior Pass, which lasts your lifetime, you'll receive a 50 percent discount at Forest Service and other federal campgrounds. Bring proof of age when applying. Note that, as of August 28, the Senior Pass is going up from $10 to $80. An Annual Pass costs $80 and is valid for the Southern Sierra and national parks .The lifetime Access Pass for the legally blind or permanently disabled is free, but requires documentation. The Southern Sierra Pass costs $80 a year, and entitles the bearer to day use at national parks, and shoreline camping at our Auxiliary Dam but is not necessary if you have the Senior or Access Pass. Reservations are strongly recommended, with credit card payment. Campers are limited to 14 days at a site.
Dan and Jan, camp hosts at Tillie Creek in Wofford Heights, continue to be impressed with the quality of their guests. They abide by the rules - quiet time between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., clean up their camp sites, and don't infringe on the rights of others. Jan is plainly pleased at the multi-generational family groups that come from the big city to be in nature for a while.
Tillie Creek is shaded by numerous stands of scrub oak, which also affords separation from the neighbors. The creek is still running, but the near-record rains weakened bridges to other parts of the campground, thus closing them to motorized traffic. There are three bathrooms. Bring your own sunshower, that plastic refillable bag with a rope on one end and a nozzle at the other. Great for a cool down or a clean up. For privacy, hang it up in the shower area of the bathroom. Another wonderful campground is Boulder Gulch. It has an almost Japanese garden aesthetic, with giant rounded rocks naturally displayed in groupings, with wide spaces between them to segregate their serenity. And, water for reflecting and basking and bathing, though if blue-green algae is present, don't go in. Look for horizontal "bathtub rings" along the water's edge as evidence that the Whitney runoff is abating. Just across the 155 is Hungry Gulch campground, which has numerous scrub oaks and is extensively used by summer weekenders.
The Auxiliary Dam at the south end of the lake, bordered by the 178, is one of two exceptions to the free day-use policy, with a $10 charge whether you stay for the day and/or spend the night. The roads are mostly hard-packed dirt and navigable by even the largest motor home. Vegetation and picnic tables are sparse, and porta-potties dot the landscape. There's lots of lakeside parking, and a special, quiet cove lies at the north end of the road.
Old Isabella/South Fork Recreation Area, just up from the Auxiliary Dam, offers free camping year round with the Southern Sierra Pass, Annual, Senior or Access Passes.
Paradise Cove, down by the water's edge, is like a parking lot for giants. In fact, there are 80 RV sites there, with 58 family camping sites just upslope, rimmed by the 178. Those sites are equipped with benches, fire rings and plenty of trees. The algae bloom is keeping swimmers, fisherpersons and pets out of the water. Dinner, drinks and a room are available upslope for those in need.
Swinging around to the North side of the lake on Sierra Way are two undeveloped free use areas, Hanning Flat and Stine Cove. Serviceable dirt roads criss-cross Hanning Flat until you get close to the favorite viewing destination known variantly as Rabbit Rocks or Rabbit Island (depending on lake level) when it becomes deep sand, impassable except by four-wheelers or feet. Stine Cove is just west of Hanning Flat.
We finish up the lake tour with Camp Nine, where Sierra Way turns North. It has fewer trees, and a small part of this large site was prescriptively burned. A $10 pass is required for day use.
Keysville South is a free site and, like all the other campgrounds, subject to a 14 day limit.
Local campgrounds continue up Mountain 99, starting with Headquarters and on to the Johnsondale Bridge, and on beyond there. And more as you travel south on the old road towards Bakersfield.
There are four privately run campgrounds, three of which are in the Kernville area: Camp Kernville, off Sirretta Street; Frandy Park, across the river from Riverside Park; and Camp James, up Sierra Way. The fourth is the KOA in Weldon.
So, become a tourist in your own home town.