Photograph courtesy Sarah Teed, Kern Outfitters

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Rafters take on whitewater rapids on the Kern River.

Photograph courtesy Sarah Teed, Kern Outfitters

Exploration & AdventureBest American Adventures

Raft the Forks of the Kern, California

See trip details for rafting the Kern River in California, one of 100 best American adventure trips from National Geographic.

Locals describe the Forks of the Kern in two ways: It’s either 80 rapids in quick succession or one really, really long one. These 22 miles (35 kilometers) of nonstop Class IV and V rapids make the Forks of the Kern, only 150 miles (241 kilometers) from Los Angeles, one of the country’s premier whitewater runs. But it’s also a brilliant escape. After the 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) hike in, there are no other people, no roads, no Starbucks, and no distractions from the beauty of the remote granite canyon.

Because many of the rapids are unscoutable, even veteran rafters must bring their A game. Kern River Outfitters don't require experience for their three-day trips, but they do require passing a swim test. On day one, the groups (no larger than 15 people) schlep gear to the put-in, while mules carry the rafts. Soon after launching, the river turns as bumpy as a bronco with a succession of boat-flipping Class IV and V rapids and drops as large as 10 feet (3 meters). Side hikes lead to lush waterfalls and natural 60-foot (18-meter) waterslides, but arguably the best part is the pine-ensconced riverside campsites. Come evening, guides fix three-course meals before tuckered rafters fall asleep under a blanket of California stars.

Need to Know: Kern River Outfitters’ ( three-day all-inclusive trips start at $798, and depart on fixed dates between May and July, depending on flows.