Unraveling the Secrets of Kern Canyon Road in California

Kern Canyon Road is a very scenic but dangerous journey located in Kern County, in the U.S. state of California. If you enjoy twists and turns, this is a great option.

Kern Canyon Road

When was the Kern Canyon Road built?

Construction of the road began in the mid-1890s under the direction of Edison Electric for the purpose of building their Kern River #1 powerhouse. It reached completion in 1924.

How long is the Kern Canyon Road?

Located in the Southern Sierra Nevada, the Kern Canyon Road (CA Highway 178) is fully paved but narrow, with sharp turns and steep drop offs alongside the Kern River. The road is 64km (40 miles) long, running from Bakersfield to Lake Isabella. The drive features lots of curves and tight lanes till you hit the 4 lane, half-way through the canyon.

Is the Kern Canyon Road dangerous?

It’s a very fun road but dangerous. Drivers must remain cautious as the journey has been known to claim the lives of careless drivers. It’s currently ranked as one of the top five most dangerous roads in California. Due to the treacherous nature of the road, it has seen an above average number of traffic accidents and fatalities through the Kern River Canyon. The first fatal accident was reported in November 1926. One study reported 551 accidents happened along this stretch of road between 1981 and 1988. This route is not recommended if your passengers are prone to car sickness. The road features a high risk of rock slides as a result of expansion and contraction of the canyon walls due to rains and temperature. The journey is a combination of rocky cliffs, river (dam controlled) and dramatic vistas.

Cautionary Advice: Staying Safe Around the Kern River

Swimming in the Kern River is highly perilous and strongly discouraged. The river's powerful currents, chilly water temperatures, and lurking underwater hazards, such as fallen trees and rocks, pose serious risks even to the most proficient swimmers. Be mindful of swift currents concealed beneath the surface and avoid entering the water without the presence of a trained professional.
Even if you consider yourself a competent swimmer, it's crucial not to underestimate the Kern River's current strength. Always maintain a safe distance of 3 to 5 feet away from the riverbank, as erosion can make it treacherous. Surprisingly shallow water, as little as six inches deep, can still be hazardous.
Supervise children closely and never leave them unattended near any body of water, including the Kern River. Stay vigilant about the river's water levels, as they can rise unexpectedly. If you happen to fall into the river, refrain from struggling against the current. Instead, assume a "lawn chair" position and allow the river to carry you toward the riverbank.
It's important to note that small inflatables are not recommended for the river, as they can easily be torn or damaged by submerged trees, branches, or rocks. Stay informed, stay safe, and enjoy the beauty of the Kern River responsibly.