Little Kern Lake sits adjacent to the Kern River. The lake was created during a landslide event nearby in the mid 1800’s. Some time after the formation of Little Kern Lake, the upper lake, known as Kern Lake, was formed in the winter of 1867-68. Heavy rains, saturated soils, large snowpack, and steep slopes created the landslide backing up water several hundred feet high. Today one can observe these past landslide events on Google Earth. The most recent landslide in the area is on Leggett Creek which altered the direct of the creek to its present day location. Evidence can been seen on this trip when crossing a dry creek bed with a sign in the tree labeled “Leggett Creek.”
Little Kern Lakes is a long hike. Depending on which trailhead you start at, it is approximately 14 to 15.5 miles! However, this is a perfect trip for a 3 day weekend. Push hard the first day, rest the second and explore both lakes, and than return on the 3rd day. Due to lower elevations, temperatures are warmer then other portions of the wilderness.
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Starting from Trail Route A – (4.1 miles)
Lewis Camp Trailhead is located near the Golden Trout Pack Station at approximately 7,695 feet elevation. The trail heads downhill for approximately 4.1 and arrives at the Little Kern Bridge. Approximately 1.6 miles down from the trail intersects “Trail Route B.” Left goes to Grey Meadow and right goes to Jerky Meadows Trailhead. Proceed straight and within a mile the trail intersects Jug Spring. Another mile later the main trail goes north (left). Users can continue to go straight but the trail is no long maintained. Both paths lead to the Little Kern Bridge, so it is up to the user. Sticking with the main path, the trail will intersect a couple of other smaller “cutoffs.” Proceed right at all junctions and the trail will end up at the Little Kern Bridge.
Starting from Trail Route B – (5.9 miles)
Jerky Trailhead starts and the end of the “Lloyd Meadows Road” (Forest Service road 22S82) at 5,930 feet elevation. Between the two routes, this is the longer one by 1.9 mile (5.9 miles one way). There is a parking and overnight camping. From the parking lot the trail heads in a north to northwest direction for approximately 3.1 miles. The trail is all uphill and is part of a historical livestock drive. Once at the top of the ridge, the trail intersects with the Lewis Camp trail. Take a right to get to the Little Kern River Bridge. Approximately a mile downhill the trail intersects Jug Spring. Another mile later the main trail goes north (left). Users can continue to go straight but the trail is no long maintained. Both paths lead to the Little Kern Bridge, so it is up to the user. Sticking with the main path, the trail will intersect a couple of other smaller “cutoffs.” Proceed right at all junctions and the trail will end up at the Little Kern Bridge.
From Little Kern Bridge Up to Little Kern Lake
The Little Kern River is a dependable source for water. The next few miles will be void of any water sources until you arrive at Willow Meadow. Plan according, proceed across the bridge, and follow the river for about a half a mile. A trail going uphill (northeast) to the left is where you want to go. Hike uphill for about 1.5 miles to a four-way junction. Proceed straight another 1.5 miles and the trail will junction with the northern portion of Trout Meadow. A “cow camp” is located under some trees to your left just prior to the junction. Continue straight (north) half a mile to Willow Meadow where there is a developed spring. Refill your water containers here, if need, and proceed north.
About 2 miles from Willow Meadow you’ll be entering into the Kern River Canyon. A nice vista point provides a great view of the U-shaped valley. Proceed downhill along the trail and pass by the Hell For Sure trail about a mile later.
Now walking along the Kern River Canyon floor, you’ll hear the roaring Kern. Temperatures should be cooler and the trail stays along the western bank. Continue heading north up the canyon for another 5.6 miles. Making your way to the lake, keep your eyes open for a large rocky landslide to the east. When you see the slide, imagine the force and amount of debris it produced to dammed up the Kern River. Just before arriving at the lake, you’ll make a steep, but short climb out of the canyon. However, the trail drops right back down shortly after your ascent. You’ll arrive at Little Kern Lakes and can enjoy the views and sounds of the roaring Kern.