High-quality whitewater, blue skies, and smooth granite–California rivers were made for paddlers. It is home to some of the best rivers and creeks in the world. The Sierra Nevada is host to an endless amount of whitewater–classic river runs, steep tributaries, first descents, and multi-day self-support trips. If you are a whitewater paddler, California has it all.
Over the last few decades, paddlers have been exploring the whitewater rivers of the Sierras. Low-elevation runs were the first to be paddled, and since then paddlers have started making their way higher upstream to explore upper runs and steep tributaries. These upper runs and side streams are where most of today’s newest descents and explorations are taking place. Because of the area’s size, as well as the challenges in reaching higher access points, those willing to make the effort are still finding high-quality first descents. In time, the newest descents of today can perhaps become the classic runs of tomorrow.
Here is an attempt to steer paddlers in the right direction for sampling some of the steeper and more adventurous descents flowing out of the Sierras. Some of these runs are well-known day trips, while others are lesser-known overnight self-support trips. For the adventure-seeking steeper paddlers out there, buckle up and enjoy the ride on these runs. All are sure to be memorable and embody what paddling in the Golden State is all about.
Dry Meadow Creek, Kern River Drainage: Dry Meadow is a whitewater wonderland. From the first photos seen, this place captures the imagination of paddlers and gives them something to fantasize about. Perfect clean waterfalls and smooth rock ledges are all set underneath a big blue Southern California sky.
Dry Meadow is a low-volume tributary to the Upper Kern River above the town of Kernville. It is a small-volume creek flowing over distinct ledges that form seven or so unnavigable waterfalls ranging from 8 to 20 feet high. All of these drops are set in a barren landscape of smooth granite slabs and domes. Arriving at the top of the waterfall section feels like peering off the edge of the earth, as the gradient begins to fall off abruptly. Be sure to scout this section and know where you are so that you don’t go too far downstream, where all you’ll find is a big boy who has already caused serious harm.
Access: Paddlers either thrash their way over land, bushwhacking to the creek, or they thrash their way downstream through brush and a few portages. After paddling the waterfalls (usually numerous times), paddlers must portage their way downstream around the last few big falls of the creek before putting back in just above the confluence with the Kern River. A two-mile paddle out on the Kern River gets paddlers back to the take-out bridge.
Other whitewater in the area: The Kern features sections that range from Class II to V, including Brush Creek, a Class IV tributary.