Secrets of the Sierras: Kernville and Remington Hot Springs

by zara

Remington Hot Springs and Kernville are off the beaten track, but those who find them will have a memorable time in the beautiful Sierra foothills of California

Sometimes the road less travelled will still lead to interesting places: Remington Hot Springs is one such place in California. You will not stumble across these by accident and only a few specialist American guides will take you down their road.

Remington Hot Springs are in the Sequoia National Forest, near Lake Isabella in the foothills of the Sierra mountains in central California. From Bakersfield (where it is worth stopping at Dewars on Eye & California for the yummy mammoth sundaes and shakes), the drive up by car on Highway 178 leads through the spectacular Kern River Canyon, a wild rafting river. From Isabella you thread through suburbs to Bodfish.

One interesting stop here is the small Silver City Ghost Town (Lake Isabella Boulevard, Bodfish.; +1 760-379-5146; $4.00 entry), which consists of original buildings rescued from the old mining towns of the region. A dusty and ramshackle assortment of jails, saloons and brothels nevertheless manage to create quite an atmospheric collection, all presided over by the two ’guide cats’, one sporting a suitably western bandana. The adjacent antiques shop is worth a browse.

A right turn at the end of Bodfish will take you on to Kern Canyon Road, winding up through a steep arid canyon, quite scenic with huge jumbled boulders and a sweeping view to Lake Isabella. Having passed Sandy Creek and Hobo campsites, exactly 1½ miles further on there is a pull-in on the right with a telephone pole (the second of such). Park and follow a steep path down through trees and scrubby bushes, vivid with wild flowers in the spring, until the hot springs are revealed.

Nestled right beside the river are three stone hot tubs. A bath sized one has the hottest water at 105 degrees, the medium one is 98 degrees and the largest 96. The water emerges from the ground at 3.5 gallons per minute and the whole area is maintained by a band of willing volunteers. Much love has obviously been lavished on the project: you will find the walls studded with a variety of precious stones, buttons and jewellery. Under the rippling water ‘blessed waters’ is spelt out in colourful stones and there are children’s handprints in the cement. The place exudes a wild charm and other than the walls is completely natural.

In April the river water is high, rushing past with white peaks from the snowmelt in the mountains above. Lie back in the lower pool and feel its icy splash while you are cocooned in delicious hot relaxing water. Steam rises and there is a faint sulphurous smell. You might be lucky enough to find yourself totally alone: watch the river rushing towards you, gaze up at the hills and the scattered trees and boulders. Enjoy the birds and squirrels and be lulled into a state of deep relaxation by the warmth of the waters and the beauty of the spot. You will never want to leave especially on a cold day when there is a delicious agony between the hot waters and the cold caress of the mountain air. In fact, the ideal visit would be in the cooler months: the waters would be too hot to enjoy in the summer.

Kernville: where to sleep

You can camp here: around the parking area with shady trees and a canyon view or a little way down river on a small flat. Wander back to the hot pools in the dark when the stars are bright and the moon rising over the hills adds a whole new dimension to the experience: a good night’s sleep is guaranteed.

Otherwise the nearby Sequoia Forest campsite of Hobo (Kern River Canyon Road,  Bodfish; contact Kern River Forestry office for further details; +1 760 379 5646;; but no reservations taken) is lovely and open all year, with sites right on the river, picnic tables and loos. However, for the choicest accommodation, travel north 20 minutes to the charming little town of Kernville, which still retains some gentle western atmosphere. Another old mining town, it was once known as Whiskey Flat in a previous existence but now is a pleasant base for hiking, rafting or just relaxing and enjoying the beautiful forests, rivers and mountains of the region. A little square boasts a sprinkling of antique and craft shops, an internet café, coffee shops and a saloon, as well as outfitters who can arrange rafting or climbing.

A good motel choice is the Kernville Inn (PO Box 2026, 11042 Kernville Road, Kernville, CA 93238), which is right in the centre of town, across the road from the square. Comfy doubles start at about $99 in the high season (bargain for less in the winter) and the setting is pleasantly leafy with scattered trees and patios. There is also a small pool and another plus is that they are right next to Cheryl’s Diner (11030 Kernville Road; +1 760-376-6131) who do great breakfasts. I like their pancakes and they have a nice terrace for sunny days.

A step up, on the northern edge of Kernville in a lovely setting amidst trees overlooking the Kern River, is Whispering Pines Lodge (13745 Sierra Way, Kernville, CA 93238; doubles from $199 but halve that in the low season for a brilliant value deal). They do a huge breakfast included in the room rate with such delights as homemade muffins and heaps of fresh fruit. The décor is rather ranch-style pine but the en suite rooms have fireplaces and river views and there is a great terrace pool.

Another pine-y spot is McNally's Fairview Lodge, a local institution and a scenic 15 mile drive north along the river (Box 95, Kernville, CA 93238 or Mt. 99/Sierra Way, Fairview if you are driving). This place isn't pretentious but you will get a friendly welcome and it does great steaks, including the truly impressive 40oz porterhouse ($49) - I think the smallest option weighs in at 8 oz.. There is a small amount of simple lodging, and it is a good stop if exploring the sequoia groves at that end of the valley.

The Kern River Valley is an often overlooked gem only three hours from Los Angeles, but once found it may well lodge in your heart. Sometimes it pays to take the road less travelled…